Better known amongst my group of friends as “The Blue Book” (for obvious reasons), this book took me completely by surprise. A friend of mine recommended it, saying that he loved it, that it made him all emotional and that I should definitely read it. So one Sunday when I was recovering from a horrible case of the flu, I decided to give it a try. And there went the whole rest of the day. I could. not. put. it. down.
The book is about a teenaged girl, Hazel, who has terminal cancer. One day at the support group she attends, she meets a boy called Augustus. The two begin hanging out and, over the course of the novel, become partners in adventure. They set off to find the author of Hazel’s favourite book to find out what happened to the characters after the somewhat sudden end to the book – most notably the pet hamster, Sisyphus. (Can you get any better than a hamster names Sisyphus? Seriously.)
But before you roll your eyes and assume that it’s a book about cancer that will be saccharine and paint an angelic picture of a cancer kid, or that it’s going to be full of depressing, agonizing moments where the family confront their anger at how unfair it is and the cancer kid realizes she’s ready to let go – let me set you straight (because I would have found that off-putting as well). It’s about a kid who has cancer, but it’s not about cancer. I think of it as a backdrop – kind of like how if a book is set in Alaska, there’ll be references to warm clothing and cold weather, and people won’t go swimming in outdoor pools a lot. But other than that, the fact that it takes place in Alaska doesn’t necessarily factor in. The cancer in this book is like Alaska. It’s there, but it’s not the point.
What I loved most about this book was the characters. By the end I had grown irrevocably attached to them – despite my best efforts not to because, you know, CANCER. But I just couldn’t help myself. The book was written with such delicacy and raw honesty that at times I felt almost voyeuristic – as if I were peeking into parts of the private lives of the characters I wasn’t meant to see.
By the end of it I both couldn’t stop reading but never wanted it to end. Before I reached the final page I was already wondering how long I’d have to wait before re-reading it. And so far everyone I know who has read it feels the same way – and that’s coming from a pretty wide range of people. High praise.