I had no idea John Green was such a big deal. I stumbled across the vlogbrothers YouTube channel at some point last year and really enjoyed their videos. It took quite a while for me to realise that one half of the vlogbrothers was the same guy behind the book and film I’d been hearing so much about. Anyway, when I came across TFIOS in my local charity shop in January I bought it and went ahead and read it. Here are my thoughts.
I think the word I would use to describe this book is endearing, because that is the effect it had on me. It inspired in me affection for the characters and affection for their respective plights and how they chose to deal with the unfair hand they were dealt. In the end it was sad and tragic, but it was also funny and hopeful and brave and had a balance of exquisite and troubling passages that stay with you long after reading. Like Hazel describing herself as a grenade, or Gus talking about his battle with cancer as a civil war. Or the awful, harrowing descriptions of the brain cancer that took Caroline, with everything about that tragedy playing out like a perfect, horrible example of the grenade Hazel refers to.
But those exquisite passages I mentioned, they really are shot through with sheer beauty, like the conversation Hazel has with her father where he talks about the universe wanting to be noticed, that it is ‘…biased toward consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed’, which is a sentence taken from a wider conversation that is beautifully observed.
Or how about this piece of description from Hazel “And then the line was quiet but not dead. I almost felt like he was there in my room with me, but in a way it was better, like I was not in my room and he was not in his, but instead we were together in some invisible and tenuous third space that could only be visited on the phone.” I distinctly remember reading that part and feeling a tingle of recognition from experiencing the same feeling many times and how nice it is.
Finally, what about this piece of writing that I think is wonderful, “Rather than be searched by hand, I chose to walk through the metal detector without my cart or my tank or even the plastic nubbins in my nose. Walking through the X-ray machine marked the first time I’d taken a step without oxygen in some months, and it felt pretty amazing to walk unencumbered like that, stepping across the Rubicon, the machine’s silence acknowledging that I was, however briefly, a nonmetallicized creature. I felt a bodily sovereignty that I can’t really describe except to say that when I was a kid I used to have a really heavy backpack that I carried everywhere with all my books in it, and if I walked around with the backpack for long enough, when I took it off I felt like I was floating.”
So yes, I think it is a book that is brilliantly balanced and observed. The issues I had with it were small, like my opinion that I didn’t quite like the whole Peter Van Houten dynamic or the descriptions of their kiss in the house of Anne Frank or their date when they first arrived in Amsterdam, which to me both strayed into too perfect, too sentimental territory. But really they’re tiny quibbles because I really did enjoy reading this book and am looking forward to reading more of the author’s books in the future.