If Staff Sergeant Max Mayhem were here, he’d know exactly what to do. It doesn’t matter that you can’t shoot cancer, because he’d probably find a way. Maybe there’s a spectacular shrinking device that could put Staff Sergeant Max Mayhem (along with Specialist Manny Loco, Private Jasper Jacks and the rest) into the blood stream of someone afflicted with cancer so that a rain of heavy weapons fire would lay decimation to the root of the problem. Maybe there’s another type of bullet, a medicine bullet that would know when to hurt (i.e. “there’s cancer”) and when not (i.e. “no cancer”). Maybe it’s as simple as kicking the crap out of a bio-terrorist cell calling themselves the Chemo-Goblins. Remission Complete. But sometimes stories (particularly the ones about cancer) aren’t simple, and sometimes they just end.
Sometimes they’re more like An Imperial Affliction. They’re comfortable, familiar, little-known, and maddening in how they end. In fact, most stories about cancer are probably like this. They’re important to the family and friends of those affected, but rarely get heard of beyond that immediate circle. There are success stories, but even those usually come at a fairly high cost. When the story of a cancer victim ends, we don’t get the luxury of knowing how the rest of it goes. The author is a bitter drunk who refuses to tell us, and even if we can get some glimpse, it won’t be what we were really looking for.
I’ve lost family to cancer. Chances are that you’ve lost family or friends to cancer. If not, maybe you’ve at least seen a movie or read a book that dealt with cancer, its survivors, or its victims. Maybe it was maudlin and treacly, or maybe it was hopeful and triumphant, or maybe cancer was just the start of the largest Meth empire in New Mexico. Cancer’s a part of life, and given that just about any kind of story can be told about life, just about any kind of story can be told about cancer. John Green decided to tell a young adult romance about cancer in The Fault in our Stars. If you don’t care for young adult romance, I’m not entirely sure that the addition of nasal cannulas or the lingering specter of a young demise will be enough to get you to change your tune. If you do care for young adult romance precisely for the fact that it’s young adult romance, sweet and light and frothy with the nostalgia of youth, the very real possibility that one or more of the characters in it are going to meet tragically unavoidable ends might not be what you want out of the genre.
That’s not to say that I’m not sure who this novel was written for; it’s good. It’s got good dialogue, it’s got good melodrama, it’s got good actual melodrama. The characters are mostly spectacular. The sojourn to Amsterdam that takes up a decent chunk of the plot is suitably wonderful and romantic, even if Peter Van Houten is a character that threatens to throw things off the rails here or there. Once again, far more people than I have extolled the virtues or detriments of The Fault in our Stars as a novel, and with enough cross sections, you could likely piece together the plot and the beats of the story with nothing but said reviews. That largely leaves it upon me to decide how I felt about it.
Conflicted’s a good word for it. I liked it. Young adult romance isn’t really my usual wheelhouse (at least not with a dystopian fight for survival attached to it, or at least something with some dragons in it), but I liked Hazel quite a lot as a protagonist. Augustus never truly grew on me with his affectations, but the reality behind them was a good bit stronger. Nothing to me read more true than shortly after meeting Augustus, Hazel finding herself in his car, and he stopping and starting with enough ferocity to suggest ‘What is Love’ ought to be playing from the radio. The bits about living with cancer, with disabilities, with the burden of Something Bad potentially happening at any given time were never difficult to read, and yet didn’t shy away from the difficulties inherent in what was happening. Fault isn’t a particularly sad book unless you allow it to be one; while I’m not sure I’d call it optimistic, that’s largely because Hazel is the viewpoint protagonist and is not someone I’d describe as an optimist. You’ll probably cry, if you let the book take you (I did, and I did). But while I liked it, in some ways, the book felt .. meandering? Plotless? Neither seem to fit the bill. I’m not sure what I wanted out of Fault that wasn’t given to me, to be quite honest.
Some vague thing keeps me from loving the story wholeheartedly. Maybe it’s that we never do find out how An Imperial Affliction ended, or more likely, it’s that I hated Peter Van Houten both as a person in the world of The Fault in Our Stars and as a character in the novel The Fault in Our Stars, and it left a sour taste on what’s otherwise a soft, honest, sad, genuine look into the lives of the sick and the young.
Maybe it’s that after spending most of my time around family or friends who contracted cancer trying to keep a comfortable distance where I could maintain my memories of whole and healthy people made me want to keep the book at a comfortable distance as well.
Shooting cancer in the glowing weak spot would be a lot easier.