"THE FAULT IN OUR STARS," by John Green, Dutton Books, $17.99, 318 pages (f)(ages 16 and up)
Learning to live a happy, purposeful life is difficult, and exponentially so when your life has been given an expiration date of somewhere in the late teen years.
These are the woes of Hazel, the 16-year-old protagonist of "The Fault in Our Stars." Hazel has already had one near-death experience because of thyroid cancer, which then spread to her lungs. Despite the fact that her lungs spontaneously fill with fluid on a semi-regular basis, Hazel is doing OK.
She's in the same place she's been since she was diagnosed: pessimistic and cynical, but unafraid. On a normal day, she eats, sleeps and repeats, because "sleeping beats cancer." Between her naps, Hazel attends a cancer support group for kids or buries her head in "An Imperial Affliction," a story of a young girl with cancer — just like her.
But her life is stagnant; Hazel has actively chosen to take herself out of life's equation to protect people from getting hurt when she dies. That is, until she meets Augustus. He's a hunky young cancer survivor with a cocky and comfortable attitude toward life, despite his battle with a bone tumor that claimed one of his legs. The two unlikely friends soon become inseparable, and eventually romantic, even with the heavy cloud of cancer looming over Hazel's head.
And so the story goes, weaving in and out of Hazel and Augustus' blooming relationship while Hazel battles her fears of becoming a "grenade" to Augustus when she finally succumbs to her illness. With a huge twist in the plot, their relationship gets redefined, and Hazel learns to see her life through new lenses.
Author John Green eloquently ties into the story the importance of family, love and defining life in your own terms. In every step of Hazel's treatment, her parents are right by her side, reiterating their love for her without prematurely mourning the loss of their only child.
The tone Green gives Hazel is candid, skeptical and often contemptuous, but rightfully so, taking into consideration her inevitable death sentence. Her brutally honest tone is matched with a moderate amount of swearing and cursing, particularly in moments of anger and frustration.
But overall, Green concisely captures the voice of frustrated and beaten down teens, battling an all-too-often unconquerable illness. He matches melancholy with happiness, and a bittersweet ending with a promise of happiness. When death takes its victims, those left standing are only stronger, but those who are lost never died — or lived — in vain.