This review will contain spoilers. I suggest, if you have not read this wonderful, amazing, beautiful novel, you stop reading this, get the book (buy it, if you must - YOU MUST), and read it. It's only 313 pages. It's a fast read. I read it in less than two days.
If you read the book, you would know that "okay" is Augustus's and Hazel Grace's "always". That's what my "Okay" means.
The novel is about a sixteen girl, Hazel, who has terminal cancer: thyroid with 'mets' in the lungs. She has been out of school for about three years because, well, she's terminal. She has to breathe with the help of oxygen.
She's pretty depressed but occasionally attends a cancer support group, especially at her mom's urging to socialize. It is here that she meets Augustus, friend to Isaac, the only kid she seems to 'bond' with, where they both sigh to one another at any support attendee's cheesy cancer story.
Augustus has recovered from osteosarcoma but lost his right leg to it. He is now NEC (no evidence of cancer) and totally enamored with Hazel. Hazel is wary but eventually, falls to his charming ways.
And Augustus is very, very charming. When he sees her for the first time, he stares at her. She is uncomfortable because, well, Augustus is very hot and she's not used to this kind of attention. But, she stares back and 'wins' the staring contest. After the support group meeting ends, she confronts Augustus, who continues to look at her:
"Why are you looking at me like that?"Also, after Hazel shares her favorite novel with him, An Imperial Affliction, he decides to read it. She promised to call after reading the book he recommended to her:
Augustus half smiled. "Because you're beautiful. I enjoy looking at beautiful people, and I decided a while ago not to deny myself the simpler pleasures of existence."
So I called.
"Hazel Grace," he said upon picking up.
"So have you read it?"
"Well, I haven't finished it. It's six hundred fifty-one pages long and I've had twenty-four hours.:
"How far are you?"
"Withholding judgement! When can I see you?"
"Certainly not until you finish An Imperial Affliction."
"Then I'd better hang up and start reading.
He affectionately calls her Hazel Grace, while she is "Just Grace" to his dad (after she tried to correct the introduction) and to Isaac, she's "Hazel from Support Group". I just love the wit involved among these kids, and the wit in the mind of Hazel, and of course, in John Green.
As David Nicholl's was for One Day, John Green has written amazingly from the point of view of a female. Just spot on. I so enjoyed reading the mind of Hazel, the myriad of things that went through her head, and her relationship with Isaac, her family, and especially with Augustus.
Even more powerful was the intimacy of cancer and death. How he could write such pain, or such dark comedy, about dying, losing your eyesight, terminal illness, and the roster of dead people, and make it beautiful and haunting is just incredible.
I think about 100 pages in I started crying. Maybe even earlier. I don't know. But I didn't stop crying until I finished. It was just sad and beautiful at the same time.
There are WAY too many profound moments in this book. The entire book is just a great book of quotes. I'm glad I bought it.
“That's the thing about pain," Augustus said, and then glanced back at me. "It demands to be felt.”
“What a slut time is. She screws everybody.”
“You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I'm grateful.”
"Even cancer isn't a bad guy really: Cancer just wants to be alive.”
“You say you're not special because the world doesn't know about you, but that's an insult to me. I know about you.”The other main 'character' of this wondrous book is Hazel's favorite book, An Imperial Affair. The book, by the reclusive author, Peter Van Houton, ends abruptly...as in mid-sentence. And Hazel's 'dying' wish is to find out what happens to Anna (the main character, who also has cancer), her mother, the Tulip Man (who her mother is dating), and Sisyphus the hamster.
The problem is that the reclusive author, who has not published anything, not even a blog post, in 20 years, has sought exile in Amsterdam. Augustus has surprised Hazel by finding a way to communicate with him through his assistant, despite the fact that Hazel has never heard a peep from him from the many fan letters she has sent the author over the years.
Hazel then emails the assistant and asks the important questions: what has happened to Anna, did she die? Did her mother move to Holland with the Tulip Man? Where did Sisyphus go? Van Houten actually replies and tells her he will not answer her questions through writing for fear that she puts it out on the dreaded internet for others to see. If she wants to know, she must come to Amsterdam to hear it from him.
Because finance is low due to her illness, it looks dismal...and she has used up her Genie wish (aka Make A Wish) on a frivolous trip to Disney World. Augustus, on the other hand, has not used his and has made his wish to visit _his_ favorite author, with the person who introduced him to him...yes, Hazel. So he made his wish her wish.
And after a near-death ICU experience for Hazel, she gets the OK to go to Amsterdam, with her mom and Augustus. Only to find out that Van Houten is an alcoholic asshole who doesn't answer any of her questions and insults the both of them. His assistant quits out of disgust but the trip ends up being memorable for the two young lovers anyway.
It is beautiful...until Augustus reveals that his cancer has returned...full body.
And that's where we end up...it's not Hazel that we lose but Augustus. Isaac loses his best friend, and in a wonderful pre-death eulogy that Augustus had asked for, this is what Isaac said...Isaac, who had gone blind after losing his other (good) eye to cancer:
...The "robot eyes" came from Augustus, who had Hazel take a picture of him and blind Isaac standing next to a car that Isaac had just egged (his ex-girlfriend, who dumped him before his surgery because she didn't want to do it afterward...) so that Isaac could see it when robot eyes were created. :)
"But I will say this: When the scientists of the future show up at my house with robot eyes and they tell me to try them on, I will tell the scientists to screw off, because I do not want to see a world without him."
It's a beautiful story that I will read again. MiMi actually read this one before me...and asked that I read it before I went on to my next virtual book club selection so that she could talk to me about it.
It makes me want to re-read Looking for Alaska, the first John Green book I read last December that I neglected to write about. But I have a new-found appreciation for this great man.