Review posted May 27, 2012.
Dutton Books, 2012. 318 pages.
2012 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #9 Teen Fiction
I was already a fan of John Green and his books, but he has surpassed himself with this one. I think it's funny that two books that I hope figure high in next year's awards feature heroes August (in Wonder, a Newbery contender) and Augustus (in this book, which I would love to see win the Printz).
This is a book about teens who are dealing with cancer, but it's not a "cancer book." This is how Hazel, the narrator of this book, defines a "cancer book", as she describes her favorite book, which is about a girl dealing with cancer:
Like, in cancer books, the cancer person starts a charity that raises money to fight cancer, right? And this commitment to charity reminds the cancer person of the essential goodness of humanity and makes him/her feel loved and encouraged because s/he will leave a cancer-curing legacy. But in AIA, Anna decides that being a person with cancer who starts a cancer charity is a bit narcissistic, so she starts a charity called The Anna Foundation for People with Cancer Who Want to Cure Cholera.
Now, Hazel's favorite book does not end well. She wants nothing more than to find out from the author what happens after the book ends. And Augustus wants to make that happen. Meanwhile, their friend Isaac, who has eye cancer, is about to lose his vision, and his girlfriend breaks up with him right before that happens.
But there's a whole lot more that happens, and I don't want to say any more than that. I've heard objections that these teens use words that are too big even for adult readers -- but those objectors clearly were not nerdy teens themselves. I know some nerdy teens, and dare I say I was one myself, and I remember the delight when you actually found someone who gets you, who lets you spout off your existential angst and crazy philosophizing. This book captures all that.
Now, these are teens dealing with life-threatening illness. Normal adolescence has a good share of drama. You're figuring out life and love and your emotions and what's important. Adolescence with a life-threatening illness thrown in has even more at stake. So these are some teens for whom philosophizing is completely appropriate.
I'll say no more, except that I love the way John Green headed off anyone tracking him down and asking what happens after the book ends. He included an Author's Note right at the front:
This is not so much an author's note as an author's reminder of what was printed in small type a few pages ago: This book is a work of fiction. I made it up.
Neither novels nor their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story. Such efforts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species.
I appreciate your cooperation in this matter.
This book is brilliant. I only hope there are enough nerds on the Printz committee for it to get the recognition it deserves. Meanwhile, read it!