Narrator: Kate Rudd
Published by Brilliance Audio on 1/10/12
Genres: Literary Fiction, Young Adult
“Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs… for now.
Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.
Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.”
Sometimes life collapses around your ears and it can happen with cancer, it can happen like it’s described in the book, and it can – to use the analogy Hazel does – go off like a hand grenade and send shrapnel flying into the hearts of those you least want to cause pain. With that, though, there can still be beauty and humor and love and I think that’s what makes this book more than a cancer story or a tear-jerker (and boy was it ever) or a YA book. It encompasses the full measure of messiness that life can be in a story told with grace and humor and not a few tears.
Hazel’s and Augustus’ battles with cancer are obviously the focal point but we don’t just get a self-absorbed or micro-perspective. The struggle their parents go through and the guilt Hazel feels over that are also part of the story. Facing an uncertain future and rejecting love because of that, the process of falling in love anyway, how the world looks at cancer patients and sees the disease more than the person… there are a lot of strands to this story. The thread of humor that runs throughout this book balances out the tragic moments and while I wasn’t completely sold on the storyline regarding the author Peter Van Houten (although I understand how it tied up in the end) and I might have experienced a momentary sense of disbelief at the level of erudition and whip-like humor that flowed through Hazel and Gus’ dialogue, it was still very amusing to listen to and not a stumbling block to my enjoyment of this audiobook.
I wish I had more to say about the book itself in terms of storyline or writing or the character development or any number of things but this book spoke to me on an emotional level far more that an intellectual one so although the writing was smart and the dialogue clever, I flounder in describing it because it’s the wrenching emotional impact of the story that burns brightest in my mind. That’s also why I feel compelled to write a review of it, even though mine will hardly be the most eloquent recommendation – this book just moved me that much. It was a very good book about a serious subject with enough humor to balance it out and I highly recommend it.
I have to ask myself: why have I never listened to a Kate Rudd narration before now? Excuse me for one moment… *pulls out newly acquired fan-girl soapbox* To put it simply, her narration of this audiobook was my idea of perfection. I’m tempted to tell you that the only person I heard narrating in this book was Hazel and leave it at that but that wouldn’t do justice to the skill that let me forget about the narrator and hear only Hazel’s very authentic voice. Ms. Rudd has an extremely natural sounding delivery and when voicing Hazel and Augustus she hit the humorous lines that alternated between wacky and deadpan perfectly. Hazel runs the gamut of emotions in this book and each minute I listened I heard a pure perspective of her point of view based on the inflections, emphasis, and a myriad of subtle vocal cues that were employed. The struggle to breathe that Hazel sometimes battled with would start out gradual and become more apparent without ever overwhelming the narrative or dialogue and I found myself tensing at the quiet onset of each of those scenes. The moments of grief or anger or exhaustion were never overdone and the emotional wallop that lives in the text of this story was allowed to resonate with the listener without overwrought narration getting in the way. The character voices were nicely distinct and Gus’ voice brought him to vibrant life with his goofy humor, bravado and burning desire to be a hero and live a life that leaves a mark. The dialogue was crisp and flowed organically and, in contrast to a common grumble of mine with YA audiobooks, the inspired casting meant the teenage characters sounded young but not childish and the adult voices didn’t sound artificially aged in order to contrast. In short, the voices just sounded natural. This was an excellent narration. *puts fan-girl soapbox away.*