By Megan Whalen
Until recently, you would be hard-pressed to find significant literature buried among the vampires and werewolves that lurk in every shelf of the young adult fiction section of any library or bookstore.
Perhaps that is why my first introduction to John Green was his most recent novel, “The Fault In Our Stars,” despite the fact that he has been churning out novels since 2005. Now, after having read all of his books, it is obvious that this novel marks a significant departure for Green, and perhaps a turning point in young adult fiction.
The story centers on the narrator, Hazel, a 16-year-old girl fighting a long-term battle with thyroid cancer. Although this is not Green’s first foray into the themes of death and loss, it is his first novel with a female narrator.
I was pleasantly surprised by how well an adult man captured the voice of a teenage girl. Hazel is deeply cynical one moment and heartbreakingly hopeful the next, particularly when young love is involved.
While forcibly attending a cancer support group, Hazel meets Augustus Waters, a fellow cancer patient, and love blossoms between the two.
Perhaps the most important message of the story is the notion that love, above all else, is freeing.
While the issue of cancer is certainly a significant aspect of the plot, it serves as a backdrop for the beautiful love story that unfolds between Hazel and Augustus. Hazel is a shoot-from-the-hip cynic who seems to have few expectations for her life.
After meeting and falling for Augustus, the reader sees her open up and embrace life, despite her disease. Likewise, Augustus’s quirky personality is highlighted and amplified by Hazel’s presence in his life.
Green expertly depicts love as it should be: something that brings out the best in those who feel it. However, Green does not shy away the traumas of cancer, which are exacerbated due to the youth of the characters.
Throughout the novel, both Hazel and Augustus experience traumatic episodes as they watch each other and their peers battle the disease. Cancer is ever-present for the two characters, both of whom carry around signs of their illness; Hazel relies on oxygen tanks while Augustus has a prosthetic leg.
While experiencing all of the joys of falling in love, the two must also come to terms with the hard facts of life, death and what Augustus calls the “fear of oblivion.”
Ever poignant, Green uses the plot and its characters to present the realistic way in which lives and love play out, which means both beauty and hardship must be, and are, showcased in equal parts.
It is this poetic realism that makes “The Fault In Our Stars” a standout young adult novel and Green a bestselling author.
This book is a prime example of the turning point in young adult fiction, which is currently trending toward more intelligent, realistic stories, which readers, both teenage and adult, can relate to.
Next time you’re scouring the stacks, bypass the vampires and opt for “The Fault In Our Stars.” You will wonder where John Green has been all your life and be thankful that he has produced four more novels and a YouTube channel for you to sink your non-vampiric teeth into.