Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Star-Crossed Lovers

This beautiful, heart-tugging, mind-stretching Young Adult novel centers hauntingly around cancer-stricken students, especially focusing on Hazel Grace and her cancerous lungs and Augustus (Gus) who befriends her. They meet at a cancer anonymous center in an old church, where Gus, who has beaten cancer but lost a leg in the process, mesmerizes Hazel, who slowly falls in love with him.
Their parents are very supportive.
Hazel has read a book obscurely entitled An Imperial Affliction, by Peter Van Houten, numerous times that ends abruptly without a conclusion. She and her male friend make use of his Cancer Wish to make a trip to the picturesque Netherlands, with her mother, to visit the reclusive author to find out what happened to the characters in the book after the alleged death of a child with cancer.
The meeting is a disaster. Hazel and Gus find the author insulting, somewhat irrational, and unwilling to talk about his book, and he detests Americans, even though he is one. However, the star-crossed lovers' visit is not completely wasted. Thanks to Houten's assistant, they find themselves exposed to the scenic beauty of the city of Amsterdam and romantic dining. The author through his character Hazel treats the reader to a vicarious experience of the delights of the country.
There are numerous thoughts about the meaning of life, youth angst, and related references to various famous authors like Anne Frank and T. S. Eliot. The novel is both sad and emotion-wrenching but also inspiring through the unquenchable spirits of the characters, whom the author John Green has fleshed out well. I was so impressed by the star-crossed lovers that I immediately ordered two more of Green's works: Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns, the latter an unusual mystery, both focusing on troubled, free-spirited girls.
The following passage from the book emphasizes the poignancy and resilience of the story and its characters in an intimate scene between Hazel and Gus:
"The space around us (Hazel narrating) evaporated, and for a weird moment I really liked my body; this cancer-ruined thing I'd spent years dragging around suddenly seemed worth the struggle, worth the chest tubes and the PICC lines and the ceaseless bodily betrayal of the tumors".
In a scene from the Support Group, Hazel underscores the horror of one member's type of cancer to illustrate the pain and anguish he experiences but stoically deals with. This person, named Isaac, has cancer of an eye: "... his eyes were the problem... One eye had been cut out when he was a kid, and now he wore the kind of thick glasses that made his eyes (both the real one and the glass one preternaturally huge, like his whole head was basically just this fake eye and this real eye staring at you... From what I gather on the rare occasions when Isaac shared with the group, a recurrence had placed his remaining eye in mortal peril... "
What is cancer? Gus, when he and Hazel arrive in Amsterdam, reveals shocking news and adds that it is a war between a disease and a person: "... My cancer is me. The tumors are made of me... It is a civil war, Hazel Grace, with a predetermined winner".
Have some tissue handy--you who are prone to tears! I guarantee that the reader will find it almost impossible to lay the novel aside once he or she starts reading it.
A final note: Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, the brother and sister Tris and Caleb in the film Divergent, by Veronica Roth, co-star in the film version of The Fault in Our Stars that is due out in theaters in June.
Copeland is the author of The Patient Quest, a novella available Print-on-Demand, and four books published electronically through Kindle. The writer is a former journalist, editor, and teacher.

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