{the side effect}

Hey strangers. Let’s get started.

I’d had John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars on my to-read list for ages, but like every other new and decent book, it had a library waiting list a mile long. Luckily, I have friends with more disposable income/propensity to spend said income on books than I do. So I borrowed it, read it fairly quickly, and then held onto it for weeks until I finally got around to blogging about it (and, for the first time, missed an entire month. Sorry, February).

TFiOS is a book about young adults and (arguably) written for young adults, without being a young adult book. Like the metatastic An Imperial Affliction, it is a book about cancer without being a cancer book. It’s a book about death without being a death book. (Is that a thing? Who cares.) It’s a book that, basically, doesn’t try to be anything—and is beautiful for it.

Hazel is 16 and terminally ill with cancer. She loves her parents, ANTM (but I mean, who doesn’t), and the book An Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houten. She doesn’t love Support Group, which her mother makes her attend to attempt a normal social life. It’s at Support Group that she meets Augustus Waters, known as Gus, a 17-year-old in cancer remission with a prosthetic leg. The two strike up a friendship that—slowly, agonizingly slowly—becomes a romance.

I really can’t say too much more about the plot without major spoilers. Luckily, though, I found there was a lot more to this book than merely the plot. As the narrator, Hazel is biting, sassy, and not afraid to sound like the angsty teenaged girl that she is. The thing she struggles with throughout the entire book, though, is that she’s not really a teenager—she’s constantly, painfully aware that she is closing in on the finale of her very short life. How do you contain a life, a love story, a first kiss, a soulmate, to such a truncated timeline? Hazel’s and Gus’s physical and emotional states are chaotic and often humiliating, the stakes of every day are unbelievably raised, and it’s all far more romantic and unflinching than an expected lifetime.

…depression is not a side effect of cancer. Depression is a side effect of dying. (Cancer is also a side effect of dying. Almost everything is, really.)

Hazel and Gus’s flirtation is adorably familiar to any survivor of a high school romance. At the same time, though, it’s constantly punctuated with agonizing abruptness. Hazel and Gus aren’t startled by this—it’s their entire life, every aspect of it, and they’re not spending it pointlessly wallowing—which makes it both refreshing and tragic. At one point, Hazel talks to a fellow cancer kid who’s been dumped by his girlfriend:

“To be fair to Monica,” I said, “what you did to her wasn’t very nice either.”

“What’d do to her?” he asked, defensive.

“You know, going blind and everything.”

“But that’s not my fault,” Isaac said.

“I’m not saying it was your fault. I’m saying it wasn’t nice.”