By John Green
Dutton. $17.99. Ages 14 and up
Hazel Lancaster and Augustus Waters are very different: She’s a sensitive poetry aficionado; he’s a hunky ex-basketball player. But their paths (and stars) cross in a cancer support group for teens. Unlike the sudden passion of Romeo and Juliet, their Shakespearian counterparts, the love between Augustus and Hazel is tentative and tender, thwarted not by feuding families but by the warring cells in their own bodies. Hazel yearns to travel to Amsterdam to meet her favorite author, and Augustus leaps to help even as their respective cancers threaten to derail her dream.
What makes this novel compelling is not a thrill-a-minute plot but the authenticity of characters deeply engaged in trying to live “forever within the numbered days.” Cranky, funny, sad and scared, Hazel and Augustus buck society’s desire to type them as models of heroic suffering, an “Inspiration to Us All.” They remain fiercely, distinctly themselves. As he did with his Printz-winning “Looking for Alaska,” John Green deftly mixes the profound and the quotidian in this tough, touching valentine to the human spirit. Green neither romanticizes illness nor sentimentalizes loss but brings readers into the hearts and minds of two teens pondering life, death, love and the strange beauty of a universe that includes orange tulips, sweet-pea sorbet and an oxygen tank named Philip.