So, book, you decided not to play fair, huh? You used Tearjerking 101, huh? You armed yourself with adorably precocious teenage characters delivering insanely quotable lines while dying from cancer, huh?
Well, guess what - "I'm not cryyyyying! It's just been raining on my face..."
And so my hard-won cool image of a cold-hearted cynic has been saved by this line, courtesy of New Zealand's 4th most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo:
Seriously, book, you know that most heartstrings cannot resist being tugged on in this fashion, especially when you are using kids who are off the charts on the precocious cuteness scale with all their precocious irony, precocious sarcasm, precocious world-weariness and precocious vocabulary.
Are you tired of reading the word 'precocious' yet? Too bad, since adorable and fragile precociousness is at the 'literal heart' of this book. That's what alienated some readers - but I'm a sucker for precociousness in literature; guilty, your Honor!
Like with any literature, what you get out of this book varies based on how you choose to interpret it. You can see it as a shameless use of a serious medical condition in children in order to make money and get recognition (because it's kids dying from cancer, c'mon!)
Cancer in kids has been used as a tearjerker before. Google 'TV tropes Littlest Cancer Patient', please. Here, I will save you the trouble. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LittlestCancerPatient
You can see it as a cutesy young adult love story. You can see it as a collection of quotable lines clearly put into the speech of teens by the middle-aged author. You can see it as yet another coming-of-age novel (there's even a requisite trip/adventure in there, really). You can even see it as a book trying really hard to NOT be a stereotypical 'cancer book' - to the point where characters are stating so at length.
And you know what? All these are to some extent true.
But what I got out of it, what made me tear up a bit was the motif of fragility of life as seen by the children who have a limited supply of that life, basically a limited 'infinity'. Reading it, I got a few flashbacks to Pediatric Oncology - the time in medical school when I realized that I'm not strong enough to be a pediatrician and see kids suffer and die.
Hazel Lancaster and Augustus Waters are the two children with cancer. She has terminal thyroid cancer and is tethered to an oxygen tank; he falls victim to metastatic osteosarcoma (before you scream 'Spoiler!' in outrage, I sincerely ask you - how could you not have seen in coming?) They introduce themselves in their cancer support group by stating their diagnoses - and my heart breaks a little at the thought of children learning to define themselves by their disease. Even their favorite book is the cancer book. But no, "I'm not cryyyying...."
This is not a perfect book. It relies a little too heavily on tearjerking. Frequently, it gets to be a bit too full of itself, occasionally cringeworthy - sometimes to eye-rolling extent. But with the quotability factor and the smart precociousness still comes the real sadness and cuteness and feeling that clawed its way into my heart and made me love it despite the imperfections. Maybe I liked it because of associations and memories it brought with it rather than for its own merits - but hey, the emotions will stay with me for a while, whatever the reason for them may be.
I think this book would have a huge appeal to teenagers, its intended audience. The characters are relatable, they are intelligent, and the male lead manages to transform from 'oh, rly, jerk?' to a considerate and lovely young man. The parents are present in the lives of both teens and are portrayed in a very sympathetic light; definitely no 'absent parent syndrome' here! Plus, it has a healthy portrayal of teenage sexuality, unlike what we frequently see in young adult literature.
So, great book? No. But I easily give it 3.75 stars and therefore rounding up to 4 stars (Is the fault in them? Go figure.)
"The pleasure of remembering had been taken from me, because there was no longer anyone to remember with. It felt like losing your co-rememberer meant losing the memory itself, as if the things we'd done were less real and important than they had been hours before.”