I hadn't originally intended to write a review of John Green's "The Fault in Our Stars" (Dutton Juvenile, 2012). Not because I don't adore Green (I do) or his books (ditto), several of which I've reviewed for this paper. But I like to spread the love to authors who might not have received the attention they deserve. Green's fans, aka nerdfighters, are legion. I thought I'd give some other deserving authors a few column inches.
Sorry, other deserving authors. I'll get to you later. You might say it was in the stars that this week's review is for the audio version of "The Fault in Our Stars" (produced by Brilliance Audio, 2012; narrated by Kate Rudd).
I generally write about print books in this column, but I had hardly removed the earbuds after listening to Green's most recent gem when I learned that it had just won the American Library Association's Odyssey Award for best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults. Well done, judges, well done.
Hazel Grace Lancaster, the narrator, is 16. She has cancer and must carry an oxygen tank with her wherever she goes. Despite an experimental drug that has bought her a few years, she is terminal.
She meets Augustus Waters, who has lost a leg to cancer ("I had a little touch of osteosarcoma a year and a half ago") at a support group. The two kindred spirits, sharing an irreverent sense of humor and a searching intelligence, eventually fall in love.
Augustus manages to arrange a trip to Amsterdam so that Hazel Grace can meet the author of her favorite book, "An Imperial Affliction," to find out what happens to the characters after the book's abrupt ending. What happens during the trip should remain a surprise, but it's significant.
In the hands of a lesser author, a story about two teens with cancer would be sentimental and maudlin. While "The Fault in Our Stars" deals quite honestly and often heart-wrenchingly with the problems of kids with cancer, it also is filled with Green's trademark humor and intelligence.
As any listener of audiobooks knows, the narrator can make or break the listening experience. Rudd does a wonderful job of bringing the characters, especially Hazel Grace, to life. At 31, she is young enough to sound quite convincing as a teenager.
In an interview, she admits that there were at least 100 pages where she is actually crying as she's reading. So that explains Hazel's very convincing breathlessness and the frequent catches in the voices of the parents.
Listen to this book in a place where you won't mind if anyone catches you weeping or laughing out loud. If they do, just share one of your earbuds.
Sara Latta is a children's science writer and author of 17 books. You can learn more about her work and link to past reviews athttp://www.saralatta.com.