The Fault in Our Stars

At the end of the first chapter of The Fault in Our Stars, I was literally laughing out loud over a joke about the "incorrect use of literality," shared between two cancer kids -- one terminal, one in remission -- shortly after a scene in which the two bond over one's philosophical answer to the other's stated "fear of oblivion" and both learn that a third friend is about to lose a second eye to cancer.

Hazel Lancaster, sixteen, has incurable thyroid cancer, with an "impressive and long-settled colony" of cancer cells in her lungs, but to Augustus Waters -- mahogany hair, "aggressively bad posture," and a slight limp from a prosthetic leg nicknamed Prosty -- she looks like "a millennial Natalie Portman." But what really brings them together is a joke about their Support Group director's well-intentioned prayer in which he describes the cancer-ridden children as "literally in the heart of Jesus."

"I thought we were in a church basement," says Augustus. "But we are literally in the heart of Jesus."

"Someone should tell Jesus," says Hazel. "I mean, it's got to be dangerous, storing children with cancer in your heart."

Three years (and one near-death experience) removed from high school, Hazel knows she will die soon, and this certainty has shrunk her world to her three best friends: her two parents and Peter van Houten, the reclusive author of her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction. To do otherwise, she feels, is to become a human "grenade" -- the fewer people who love her now, the fewer lives she will shatter when she inevitably goes. But Augustus has other ideas, and soon the two are on an international quest to Amsterdam -- oxygen tank, Prosty, and parental chaperon in tow -- to meet van Houten himself.  

Hazel's beguiling voice is utterly believable as a thoughtful, prematurely somber teenager who borrows from Shakespeare, Eliot, Dickinson, Anne Frank, and the fictional van Houten in telling the story of a romance of "the young and irreparably broken." But it's the crackling humor between the two lovers that makes them most human. "You have a choice in this world," says Hazel, "about how to tell sad stories, and we made the funny choice." This book, already a bestseller, is every bit as good as its reputation and easily one of the best of this or any other year.

April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.