From the moment I began reading this novel, I knew why it became so wildly popular with teen readers. John Green has a wonderful way with inner dialogue. He uses it so well in developing the character of Hazel Grace, the book's protagonist. She is sassy and sarcastic, intelligent and full of emotion - wise beyond her years. At the same time, she has all the typical characteristics of a typical teen, right down to her TV watching habits, her dress, her sometimes 'attitude' toward her parents, and her classic teen attitude toward bureaucracy and authority. Her observations on life and the vagaries of living with a life-threatening cancer diagnosis are at turns funny and wrenching. She bursts off the page of the book and right into the heart of the reader. I mean, really, who wouldn't feel for a young, smart teenager who is waiting for the shoe of Death to drop, but still manages to yank her O2 tank around and build a romance that will last the ages from an encounter at a cancer support group? Pop in some funny and supportive friends and relations, a 'make-a-wish' trip to Amsterdam, and a turn-about ending that yanks out your heart and squishes it flat on the driveway and I'd say you've got an equation for a teen literary phenomenon.
That being said, this book that John Green has written deals with some age-old issues that everyone will grapple with before their time on Earth is done. Wondering if we will ever be truly and deeply loved, whether we will be remembered when we're gone, and just what meaning our life has had will creep into all our brains at some point. Hazel and her friend Gus are forced to deal with these questions sooner than normal. Having teen characters face them with such honesty and angst is what makes this book so powerful. Of course, when a loved one is lost, there is no happy ending, but when deep life issues are confronted and dealt with effectively, there is a satisfaction that comes with the ending of one's life and the moving on that comes afterward by one's loved ones.
There is an equally popular movie adaptation to the book that I will see at some point, but I find it hard to think that it will equal the book. There were so many well-written passages that were thought-provoking and 'quotable', passages that a reader will find sticking in the back of the mind; for me, it was the following quote. I have pondered it at different points since reading the book - when I contemplate God, when I see some knock-down beautiful view out there in the world, when I felt the unborn kittens in my cat's belly squirm, when I watched friends marry over the weekend and saw that look pass between them while they danced. Yes, the universe demands to be noticed in so many ways.
“I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is improbably biased toward the consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it-or my observation of it-is temporary?”
- John Green
Good book. Not surprised that it has stuck so long on the best-seller lists.