Latest John Green novel fresh air for the young adult reader

Feb 6 2012 - 3:51pm


I received my copy of "The Fault in Our Stars" on Jan. 10, six months after my parents pre-ordered it for my 17th birthday.

After discovering the package in my mailbox, I quickly cast aside my English homework and raced through the book. Back when I asked my parents for the gift, I knew I would have quite a wait until the January release date, but having read each of the author's other novels, I knew it would be worthwhile. I can now say, with certainty, that John Green's new novel was well worth the six-month wait, as it was the best belated birthday present I have ever received.

Without giving away too much of the plot, "The Fault in Our Stars" (Dutton Juvenile, $17.99) tells the story of Hazel Lancaster, a 16-year-old girl living with thyroid cancer. When Hazel's parents force her to attend a cancer kids support group, she meets and falls in love with Augustus Waters, a boy with osteosarcoma.

On the surface, Hazel and Augustus' story is about their individual battles with cancer and the way cancer impacts everyday teenage life. However, unlike many young adult novels, this book actually has much more to offer than the plot smoothly summarized on the book jacket.

Many young adult novels -- consider the ever-popular "Twilight" -- are a fun read but would not stand up to much critical analysis. Green's writing, however, is a breath of fresh air in the young adult genre. "The Fault in Our Stars" expertly tackles such subjects as fearing death, meeting one's heroes, retaining independence while coping with disease, and integrating metaphors into one's daily life.

Many other young adult authors attempt to accurately capture the teen's voice through superfluous adjectives or a strong repetition of the word "like." These authors do not accomplish their task and instead sound like a 35-year-old drug awareness counselor trying to sound "hip."

Green is one of the few authors who can find the proper balance between SAT vocabulary and genuine teenage colloquialisms to make Hazel and Augustus sound like the somewhat smarter, definitely wittier kids whose conversations you've always envied. (Think "Glee," with smart kids.)

One of the least spoiler-y examples of this occurs as Hazel sits on the swing set in her backyard. Her father built the swing set when Hazel was younger and healthy, but now remembering this makes her sad. She and Augustus decide to give away the swing online and debate the best way to advertise for it. Eventually they find the perfect wording for their ad:

"Desperately Lonely Swing Set Needs Home: One swing set, well worn but structurally sound, seeks new home. ... It's all fragile and fleeting, dear reader, but with this swing set your child(ren) will be introduced to the ups and downs of human life gently and safely, and may also learn the most important lesson of all: No matter how hard you kick, no matter how high you go, you can't get all the way around."

The "Fault in Our Stars" is Green's fourth novel. I read his first book, "Looking for Alaska," about three years ago. I absolutely loved it and have read all of his books since then. Green's writings tackle a variety of subjects including the death of friends, the acceptance of mediocrity, and the deconstruction of the manic pixie dream girl.

His new novel's frank and realistic voice is both the most striking and the most haunting aspect of the book. Green does not hesitate to remind the reader that his characters are suffering from cancer; their pain feels very real.

Reading "The Fault in Our Stars" is an emotional roller coaster. In this well-written novel, attachment to the characters is unavoidable, as are a few tears. Yet hopefully John Green's writing will become a model to other young adult authors to show that teens have come to expect more from the genre than clumsy girls and sparkly boys.

Katie Byrd is a senior at DaVinci Academy. She is editor of her school paper and an active member of the National Honor Society. Email her at

Author John Green reads from 'The Fault in Our Stars

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