16 year old Hazel Graze is permanently attached to an oxygen tank that now keeps her alive after her most recent bouts of cancer. If knowing that her days on earth are severely limited isn’t bad enough, she has to cope with her well-meaning parents and their enforced sunny dispositions to just get through each day. It’s no wonder that this sweet teenager is so depressed as she is dragged from counsellor to group therapy because the adults in her life tell her this is what she needs.

It isn’t of course, but as stoic and brave as she is, Hazel is not sure that anything beyond her favourite post-modern novel (about cancer), will ever remotely make her happy. That is until one day in the Youth Cancer Group she meets Augustus. A clever tall and handsome 18-year old whose potential career as a baseball player was cut short when cancer took his right leg. He’s a carefree optimistic soul with a very quick acerbic wit who takes an instant shine to Hazel and pursues with an energy and enthusiasm that totally throws her.

He takes her out on a few very chaste dates, reads the novel that she is addicted too and starts courting her with long late night phone conversations and they gradually morph into a couple in love. A few weeks into this budding relationship Augustus springs a surprise. He’s fixed it with the ‘Make a Wish Foundation’ for the two of them to take a trip to Amsterdam where Hazel can meet Van Houten the author of the book she will not put down. The elusive writer never produced the sequel he promised and Hazel has always been desperate to know what happened next in this unfinished story.

Meanwhile, before she can go she has another close call with death when she suddenly gets very sick again. It turns out that she will recover to fight another day only to realise that Augustus’s cancer has reappeared and this time there is going to be nothing to stop it being terminal, and soon.

If that is not enough grief, Van Houten is a major disappointment and breaks her heart too, and just to ensure that we use up at least two boxes of Kleenex watching this high-octane tearjerker, when the young couple are in Amsterdam they visit the Anne Franck house, giving us another reason to sob out loud.

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However what makes this melodrama work and keep our sympathy remaining high throughout is a beautifully understated and mature performance by Shailene Woodley who so carefully avoids any temptation to milk the part and make Hazel a tragic figure. She imbues her with such a serenity and a dignity, makes her warm and funny and never once makes this poor dying teenager a pathetic figure. She is a sheer joy to watch. Ansel Elgot has a slightly easy task as Augustus and he does it exceedingly well demonstrating such great chemistry with his co-star.

Based on the best-selling novel by John Green who used his past experiences as a chaplain in a children’s hospital for the groundwork of his story. Adapted for the screen by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, who previously wrote ‘The Spectacular Now’ together, and it is director Josh Boone’s sophomore feature.

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Highly recommended.

About the author: Roger Walker-Dack
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