I am not a huge fan of young adult literature (on account of being an old adult) but once in a while something stupendous comes along and it really does not matter that the ages of the main characters are around half that of my own. Young adult books are usually a very quick read, though, and this conformed to that norm. It took me three days to read it, and from the beginning of the last third or so, I just wanted to hurry it along so that I could stop crying.
The story is of two star-crossed lovers, aged sixteen and seventeen. They meet and fall wholly and completely in love as only teenagers can. Our narrator, Hazel, has terminal cancerous tumours and her boy, Augustus, had a leg amputated to remove the cancer in his young body.
Green has obviously read the wonderful The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee and shares many insightful comments on quite what cancer is. These comments come through the voices of these two intelligent and witty teens, and a fictional writer. The kids both love a book written by a man who has moved to Amsterdam, and the two of them are able to go and visit him. The book in question ends suddenly and they want to find out what happens to the characters, so they go to ask him. The writer explains that nothing happens to them, they are composed of scratches on a page and that they cease to exist the moment the novel ends. Of course, us readers know much better, a good character can stay with us forever.
Many of the characters in the book are rather cynical and matter-of-fact about their situation, which is how I would expect most sensible and intelligent real people to be if they have been affected very closely by cancer. And of course it is all the more tragic when that person is a child. So far in my life I am fortunate enough not to have been affected closely by cancer but I think Green does an excellent job of showing us inside the hearts and minds of children with cancer, and those of parents of a child with cancer.
Death comes to us all, and, sadly, it comes to some of us earlier than others. Ultimately, this novel is about love, and the value of having known and loved someone who you consider to be amazing, and to know that you are privileged to have known them, now matter how long it was for.