Back when I sent Looking for Alaska to Rejectville, I wrote off John Green as a half-talented, Gladwellian media darling. When my book club decided to read The Fault in Our Stars, which is about two kids with cancer falling in love (/vomit), I was going to just read the Kindle sample for free and call it a day.
Except that the first chapter is weirdly good.
And then the rest of it continues to be weirdly good.
The story is about Hazel, a 16-year-old girl who likes to watch trashy TV on bad days. Most of Hazel’s days are bad; she’s had terminal cancer for three years and counting.
Hazel carts around her oxygen tank and puts words in just the right places. Here’s Hazel narrating her kids-with-cancer support group: “Osteosarcoma sometimes takes a limb to check you out. Then, if it likes you, it takes the rest.” About twenty minutes later: “I think he’s hurting her boob.”
I don’t know if this book will make you cry (some of you are bastards), but I’d bet my hard-earned cash that it will make you laugh. Laughter: the secret ingredient of the most effective tragedies, the soft rain that penetrates your tarmac so that ice will crack you in half when winter comes.
And winter, it comes.
Honestly, after Looking for Alaska, I was anxious that John Green might go cheap into that good night. I half-expected him to climb up the center stage of the Great Mortal Dilemma, panic, and make an undignified dash for the exit while I politely averted my eyes. Instead, Green stands that stage and gives the eulogy of every lifetime: There are an infinite number of numbers between 0 and 1, and although there may be a larger infinity between 0 and 2, or 0 and 1000, the infinity between 0 and 1 is still infinite. It’s enough room to fill with meaning; it has to be.
Whether we live 0 to 1, like Hazel and her love, or 0 to some other fragile single digit, the set is always both bounded and infinite. Pain demands to be felt, and the world is not a wish-granting factory.
UPDATE: The author has a “secret” Tumblr where he answers people’s questions from the book. http://onlyifyoufinishedtfios.tumblr.com/ (Password: Darnielle)