Green’s realism aids romance

All I knew about John Green’s latest work, “The Fault in Our Stars,” was that two of my friends — people whose opinions I trust — said that it was brilliant and they cried. I borrowed a copy and read it in a day.

In case you need more than that, I’ll provide a summary. “The Fault in Our Stars” is narrated by Hazel, a 16-year-old cancer patient who meets Augustus at her support group for teenagers with cancer. Gus is a survivor, one-legged from an amputation to treat his bone cancer, and Hazel is on oxygen and terminal. It is love at first sight. Kind of.

Gus is the most compelling love-interest character I’ve encountered in fiction in a long time. He pursues Hazel without being creepy or pushy, the trap so many romance heroes fall into. He’s thoughtful and tender, and most, if not all, readers of the book will be in love with him halfway through.

The charm of “TFIOS” is in its alternative take on a familiar concept. For a book about teenage cancer patients, it is remarkably unsentimental. Its insights are cutting and realistic, and Hazel constantly references the genre of cancer kid books that demands that the dying kid become introspective and wise, never lose his or her kindness and sense of humor, and never whine or throw tantrums. This book sets itself apart by its willingness to be ugly, as humanity so often is.

When I began this book, I was not sold on it. Hazel’s acerbic tone was off-putting on page one, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend very long with her. Luckily for me, I am not the sort of person who routinely gives up in the first chapter, and John Green has never disappointed me in the past — his emotional young-adult dramas like “Looking for Alaska” are skillful and resonant. Sure enough, by chapter four I was hooked, and by the midway point, my few hours of reading had turned into a read-all-night adventure.

I’m still not sure when I became enthralled by “TFIOS.” Somewhere along the way it went from being a book about cancer kids to something so much more: a believable love story. Hazel and Gus made a couple I was invested in, because their love was very real. They are not perfect. They have flaws, separately and together. Their relationship is beautiful and heartrending — but at no point is it perfect.

This is what makes their grand gestures so affecting. Hazel and Gus trade one-liners and favorite books. Gus wants to use his Genie Wish (the fictional equivalent of a wish granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation) to take Hazel to meet her favorite author. They grow together slowly, and even if the book is not unpredictable, it is awe-inspiringly lovely.

It was a privilege to have my heart broken by “The Fault in Our Stars.”

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