The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Not many authors can sell out Carnegie Hall. So when I heard that someone named John Green (never heard of him), the author of the YA novel The Fault in Our Stars (never heard of it) had done so in January of 2013, I was curious. It also reminded me of just how big our country/world/reading public is and how many ways there are to be successful without ever appearing at the top of my Google News page, but that's another topic altogether.
I was late to the party, obviously: The Fault in Our Stars was published in 2012 and was an instant bestseller. I finally read it - it's only $3.99 for the Kindle version, for Pete's sake - and I now understand all the fuss. If you think you wouldn't enjoy reading a novel about two smart-alecky teenagers who meet in a cancer support group, you're probably wrong. Yes, they're smart-alecky (Augustus, the Romeo to Hazel's Juliet, insists on calling her "Hazel Grace," which made me roll my eyes every time) and yes, the idea of young people - heck, any people - battling cancer makes me sad, but Green makes it work.
I think he does it by endowing his protagonist, Hazel, with enough skepticism and humor to make the cancer parts bearable, but with a sweetness that reminds us how vulnerable she - and all of us - are. At one point Hazel posts a For Sale ad on a Craigslist-type site and the passage is a nice example of how this book can be funny and charming and emotional but not maudlin, all at once:
Desperately Lonely Swing Set Needs Loving Home
One swing set, well worn but structurally sound, seeks new home. Make memories with your kid or kids so that someday he or she or they will look into the backyard and feel the ache of sentimentality as desperately as I did this afternoon. It's all fragile and fleeting, dear reader, but with this swing set, your child(ren) will be introduced to the ups and downs of human life gently and safely, and may also learn the most important lesson of all: No matter how hard you kick, no matter how high you get, you can't go all the way around.
Yes, it's a sad story: I cried at the end. But as Hazel says, "You have a choice in this world, I believe, about how to tell sad stories, and we made the funny choice." According to my Kindle, 2,214 other Kindle readers have highlighted that same passage. That fact, and the popularity of this lovely novel, are good signs for humanity, I think.