by John Green (Dutton Juvenile, $17.99) Hazel and Augustus are teens struggling, as all teens do, with the meaning of life and love. But unlike most teens, they are “cancer kids,” already intimately familiar with suffering and highly attuned to the arbitrariness and unfairness of the universe.
When they meet at a support-group meeting, it’s fascination at first sight, and over discussions of everything from anime to the afterlife, those feelings deepen. But Hazel’s illness is terminal, and she knows she doesn’t have much time left. She’s resolved not to let Gus get too close, hoping to spare him from the inevitable grief ahead.
Gus, however, is determined to seize the moment. In a grand romantic gesture, he arranges for Hazel to travel with him to Amsterdam to meet her favorite author, an eccentric recluse whose sole book, about a cancer-stricken girl much like herself, Hazel looks to as a bible. It’s a trip that will have unexpected repercussions for them both, revealing bittersweet truths about the world and each other.
Filled with raw honesty and wry humor, this is a book hilarious and heartbreaking by turns, often philosophical but never maudlin or facile. Hazel’s edginess is leavened by empathy and compassion; she’s fatalistic but not bitter, sarcastic but not sullen. She’s as interested in the joys of the world as she is in its absurdities. Gus too is a believable teen-boy mix of poetry-quoting idealist and videogame loving couch warrior. These feel like real people, which makes their fates ache all the more.
Thoughout the book, Hazel and Gus use “OK” as a shorthand for the complicated feelings they can’t always express in words. It’s an apt metaphor for the way they approach their difficult lives: It’s OK to be brave and hopeful, and it’s also OK to be angry and scared. It isn’t easy and it isn’t fair, but it’s OK. ¦