HAD WE BUT WORLD ENOUGH, AND TIME: It took me about a week's worth of train rides to read John Green's The Fault In Our Stars, and now I really want to recommend it. It's the story of Hazel, a sixteen-year-old girl with terminal cancer who falls in love with a cancer survivor who she meets at a support group. Green does a clever thing with the story. His narrator (Hazel) acknowledges that in the "cancer-kid genre," the struggle against cancer often becomes the cancer kid's only character trait. This never happens with Hazel, a keen observer with a sardonic wit who struggles not only with her own cancer but also with the suffering it imposes upon others. And the other kids from her support group, Augustus and Isaac, two cancer survivors who came away from the disease with varying degrees of loss (physical and emotional), are equally well realized. Green's trick, though, is reducing most of the remaining characters to single-trait tropes -- the supportive parent; the supportive friend; the supportive stranger -- and then measuring Hazel, Augustus, and Isaac's delight or shock or hurt when people break character for moments of insight, pique, or selfishness.
Green's other trick isn't really a trick; it's just excellent writing. He manages to build leading characters who are loveable without being flawless, to mock teenage pretension gently while at the same time giving it the dignity of understanding its importance, and to let his characters find humor and happiness while never, not even for an instant, forgetting about impending mortality. This is, at times, a very funny book, and a happy one as well, but it also is an agonizingly sad book from beginning to end. Green shows, and his characters struggle to articulate, that you can have both at exactly the same moment, melody and counter-melody.
But did I mention that the main character has terminal cancer? If you don't like sad books, skip it. And if you cry when books are sad, this is not one to read in a public place. You have been warned.
Now I'm out of books until Hilary Mantel's next Thomas Cromwell comes out. Anything to recommend?