I came to this book quite late. I don’t always read the bestseller lists, and Penguin didn’t send me this one to review ahead of time, so I only got around to picking it up when I saw the movie trailer and thought it looked pretty good. A friend then recommended it to me, and because we seem to share a lot of the same book opinions, I decided to read it on the train home last night.
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal; her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
This was a weird one, and I’m struggling to describe its effect. I’d heard that it made everyone cry – Genna warned me not to read it on public transport, a piece of advice I discarded because that’s pretty much the only time I get to read these days – and I was ready to have my heart ripped to pieces.
But actually, it didn’t make me cry. It made me think, and there were moments when it nearly made me cry, but it didn’t tip me over the edge. I didn’t sit on the floor with my back against the bed sobbing, like I did when I read The Love Verb; nor did I lie across a bed littered with tissues, trying desperately to pull myself together, like when I read Me Before You.
It also didn’t feel like I loved it as much as I love some books. While I was reading it, I was thinking ‘yeah, this is really good, really well-written, but it’s not unputdownable. It’s not in my top books of all time or anything’. But when I got home and hadn’t finished it, I immediately changed into my pyjamas, sat down in an armchair and finished it, because it somehow didn’t feel right to go to bed and leave it unfinished.
I didn’t cry. But it did hurt. There were a couple of moments when I felt physical pain, a kind of warning behind my eyes and somewhere in the region of my sternum, that this was a Real book, and that it was going to stick around for a while after I’d read it.
I put it down. It stayed in my head. I went to bed. I dreamed TFIOS-themed dreams. I woke up. It’s still in my head. I’m blogging about it. I have a feeling it’ll be in my head for a while to come.
It’s the way the characters are, I think. The way they’re not too glamourised. They love each other, but it’s not soppy. When Augustus does wonderful, romantic things, Hazel appreciates them, but sometimes finds them a bit overblown. They both have cancer, and they both have the gallows humour that often happens when you face the worst situations in your life (if you’re the kind of person who’s that way inclined, anyway), but they’re not these amazing tributes to people with cancer. They’re not immensely appreciative of every passing day, they don’t smile softly at strangers and demonstrate their bravery by being constantly happy. They’re fragile, and sometimes they break. They don’t always maintain their dignity. They are, in summary, actual teenagers with actual cancer. Not a romanticised version of themselves.
And that, in my opinion, is why the book works so well. Because you can imagine these people as human beings, not as clichés of themselves.
It is definitely a book that should be read. Unputdownable even when you think it isn’t, emotive even when it doesn’t make you cry.
The movie’s out soon, too. Here’s the trailer:
can’t really give it less than a 10, can I? It’s just too excellent.