Wednesday, February 5, 2014


Here's a young adult novel about 3 teenagers with cancer, two of whom fall in love.  This premise may sound particularly unappealing, but think again.  Yes, it's a little weepy, but there's way more to it than that.  Our narrator is 16-year-old Hazel, who has terminal thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs, forcing her to tote an oxygen cart around with her everywhere.  Augustus is her 17-year-old love interest, who has a type of cancer that most people survive, but he has already lost a leg to it.  Finally, there's Isaac, who brings the other two together at a support group meeting.  The author handles all this with such a deft hand and with such witty and intelligent dialog that I didn't even mind very much when he rather predictably turned the tables on us.  He never lets us forget that these characters have cancer, while at the same time making us love them for who they are—typical teenagers in many ways but wise beyond their years because they have to look at the world from a perspective that most of us don't have to experience.  The back story is Hazel's favorite book, a novel called An Imperial Affliction, also about a young person with cancer, that ends in the middle of a sentence.  She and Augustus manage to gain an audience with the author in Amsterdam in the hope that he will enlighten them as to what eventually happens to the characters in the book.  The big question, though, is this:  What's the point of loving someone who is about to die?  Given that death is inevitable and often unpredictable, we have to cherish every moment with those we love, and the author makes this point quite eloquently, without heavy-handedness.  He imbues his characters with a gentle thoughtfulness that draws our admiration and our compassion.

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