Let me start by recommending that you just go read this book IMMEDIATELY. I opened it on Friday evening a couple weekends ago and finished it on that Sunday morning. I couldn’t put it down. I inhaled this book and it was so.damn.good. Unlike my previous book reviews (examples here, here, and here) this is not a part of any online book club. I just read it on my own and simply HAD to write about it.
Quick Synopsis: Fundamentally this book is about a teenage girl, Hazel, who is living with terminal thyroid cancer. She begrudgingly attends a support group of young people who are either living with, in remission from, or dying of cancer. Here she meets Augustus, a teenage boy who lost a leg to osteosarcoma but is currently NEC (No Evidence of Cancer). To boil the story down to it’s complete bare bones… they fall in love and experience a life of love, loss, death, heartbreak and disappointment together. I won’t spoil any of the plot for you since I sincerely encourage you to read the book yourself, but get ready to laugh and cry all within the same chapter because this book is an emotional roller coaster.
How did it make me feel? Well, let me start with a little peek into my history. There isn’t a person out there who hasn’t been touched by cancer, so I won’t insult anyone by saying that I “felt this book” more personally than anyone else. But it struck pretty close to home in probably more ways than I would’ve liked. When I was 14, my older brother (then 17) was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma. Unlike Augutus’s osteosarcoma, which typically presents in large bones (like the femur – hence why many children with this cancer are amputees), my brother’s Ewing’s Sarcoma fell into the soft tissue of his spinal cord. There was a time when we weren’t sure he would walk again. Although his prognosis was always good, I don’t think anyone in my family would describe the year that followed as anything less than complete hell. Obviously, I wasn’t the one who was sick so I won’t even begin to equate my feelings on the situation to how my brother felt during that time. But cancer struck all of us in some way that year.
Personally, I hated talking about it. I wanted to compartmentalize it, but it felt like cancer invaded every aspect of my life. While I imagine some might find Hazel’s sarcastic and course attitude towards her illness, her family, and everyone around her off putting, I completely related to it. I think her portrayal was just so… honest. I couldn’t help but smile when they would sarcastically refer to things as “Cancer Perks” because even I got them! I was excused from being late to school, an older boy who previously bullied me suddenly stopped, and everyone was feeding us lasagna (To be clear, I am grateful to everyone who brought food to our home because that is thoughtful and caring. But my dad and I ate lasagna every night for a week early on in treatment. To this day, I have a slight aversion to lasagna).
I feel like this is the book that everyone was afraid to write about kids with cancer. They’re not always strong and sometimes people praising their strength only makes expectations even harder to meet. Augustus and Hazel were so unabashedly unapologetic in the book, it was so refreshing. The scene where Isaac is smashing the trophies on the ground was just… perfect. Cancer blows and it’s freaking unfair. And that’s just the honest truth. This book was nothing short of cathartic.
Note: To end things on a more positive note, I wanted to be clear that after spinal surgery, one year of chemotherapy, a course of radiation my brother has been cancer free for almost 10 years (it’ll be 10 years this June if I’m not mistaken… what what!). I also wanted to thank my fiance’s super awesome brother, Dave, for giving me this book for Christmas this year. It was an awesome gift 🙂