I hate crying. But there I sat, crying like a fool in my brother and sister-in-law's kitchen a few weeks ago. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green was open in front of me. (Once again another delightful read for Blogher's Book Club, and while I was compensated for my review, these weepy opinions are all my own, as usual.)
Oh, I expected to cry like a fool while reading this book. After all it's a story about two teenagers with cancer, a story made to evoke enough tears to cause me to run out of the small pack of travel Kleenex always on hand in my purse. In fact, I think John Green owes me a box of Kleenex. But what I didn't expect was the alternating seesaw of emotions that this book provoked. First I'm laughing along with Hazel's dry, sage wit then I'm crying over her pain and physical limitations, then laughing again at the antics of her sarcastic friend with eye cancer at the Cancer Kids Support group, then the tears, you get the picture. (And thankfully everyone else in the house was taking naps or of running errands so no one stumbled upon me having what probably looked like a nervous breakdown while reading in that kitchen, all that goofy laughter followed by mopey tears.) But in contrast to a lot of the maudlin, melodramatic terminal disease books I've read before, there seem to be a lot of those actually, I didn't feel manipulated by this story. I didn't feel like John Green was intentionally setting out to ruin my mascara.
This book feels real. It doesn't feel trite or convoluted. It doesn't feel like some of the hijinks that a certain Mr. Nicholas Sparks throws in his novels, forcing me to never read them again, clearly weak plot devices made to force an emotion in the reader. John Green has created real characters, placed them in painful and dire situations and then written their reactions and connections and emotions in such a way that I feel as if I might actually run into Hazel and Augustus if I happened to stop by a Cancer Kids Support Group. These kids feel real. And because they feel like such real teenagers (ok, improbably witty and sardonic teenagers), but because they seem so real, it doesn't feel false or fake when life happens to them. It feels horribly sad and it feels bittersweet and it feels funny and it feels above all, genuine. So I devoured this book one quiet Saturday afternoon and it was perfect, because it was true. And I made sure to restock my Kleenex supply for my next John Green read.