The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is a young adult novel that I strongly suggest everyone read at least once. It’s brilliantly written, amusing, heartbreaking, and you leave it looking at the world with new eyes. Fresh eyes. When I finished the book a weird sort of peace had encompassed me and for a moment I was content.
It is a short read and I say that being a slow reader. Once I picked it up it was hard to put it down and the next 27 hours were devoted to trying to get in a page or a chapter whenever I could.
The story is about two teenagers, Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters, who are both struggling with cancer. When we meet Hazel she is in remission from thyroid cancer but the affects of this cancer are a permanent part of her life; she has trouble breathing, walking or standing for too long a period, and must carry an air tank around with her. Augustus Waters is in remission from osteosarcoma which took his right leg but not his spirit. He is a healthy, mouthy, lovely boy who is a sort of inspiration to Hazel.
The two become bonded first by friendship and then love as they try to battle with an adolescence of fear, sickness, and difference. One of the most stunning parts of the book is when Hazel Grace first meets Augustus and he says he is afraid of Oblivion:
“I fear oblivion,” he [Augustus] said without a moment’s pause. “I fear it like the proverbial blind man who is afraid of the dark.”
I looked over at Augustus Waters, who looked back at me. You could almost see through his eyes they were so blue. “There will come a time,” I said,” when all of us are dead. All of us. There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything. There will be no one left to remember Aristotle or Cleopatra, let alone you. Everything that we did and built and wrote and thought and discovered will be forgotten and all of this” — I gestured encompassingly — “will have been for naught. Maybe that time is coming soon and maybe it is millions of years away, but even if we survive the collapse of our sun, we will not survive forever. There was a time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be a time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does.”
“Goddamn,” Augustus said quietly. “Aren’t you something else.”
Hazel’s speech from above comes from a book she is obsessed with, a book that Augustus becomes obsessed with when she insists he read it, called An Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houten. This book and the author become the centerpiece of the novel when Augustus manages to contact Van Houten and use his “The Genie Foundation” Wish to bring Hazel to Amsterdam to meet him.
“Do you have a wish?” He asked, referring to this organization, The Genie Foundation, which is in the business of granting sick kids one wish.
“No,” I said. “I used my Wish pre-Miracle.”
“What’d you do?”
I sighed loudly. “I was thirteen,” I said.
“Not Disney,” he said.”
I said nothing.
“You did not go to Disney World!”
I said nothing.
“Hazel GRACE!” He shouted. You did not use your one dying Wish to go to Disney World with your parents.”
“Also Epcot Center,” I mumbled.
“Hazel Grace, like so many children before you — and I say this with great affection — you spent your Wish hastily, with little care for the consequences. The Grim Reaper was staring you in the face and the fear of dying with your Wish still in your proverbial pocket, ungranted, led you to rush toward the first Wish you could think of, and you, like so many others, chose the cold and artificial pleasures of the theme park.”
“But I saved my mine.”
But as amazing as the plot points and the language of this novel are, it is so much more. It is about how knowing you’re dying changes you, it’s about the other people in your life, it’s about family and love, it’s about how Augustus always calls Hazel “Hazel Grace” and she calls him Augustus despite the nickname “Gus” most use for him. It’s about two people finding connection and comedy in what otherwise could be a horror story. It’s about giving teenagers a voice and this bit of interview from John Green:
Earlier this month, the Daily Mail took it upon itself to publish a rather scathing critique on the so-called ‘sick-lit’ genre. They claimed that books about teen terminal illness, death and bereavement are becoming a worryingly popular phenomenon, and that youngsters are too undeveloped to deal with issues such as cancer. I asked John what he thought of it and he had this to say:
“The thing that bothered me about it… was that it was a bit condescending to teenagers. I’m tired of adults telling teenagers that they aren’t smart, that they can’t read critically, that they aren’t thoughtful, and I feel like that article made those arguments.”
But I will talk more about how much I love John Green in my next post. I will leave you with a bit of advice and my favorite quote from the novel. First, have some tissues on hand. If your eyes don’t well, be concerned for your heart. And a quote that stopped me in my path so I could reread it again:
“It occurred to me that the voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better and again.”
One last thing: After you read the book, and ONLY AFTER YOU READ THE BOOK, then can you get excited for the upcoming movie. No release date has been set but the adorable Shailene Woodley has been cast for the role of Hazel.
(All bolded print is credited to John Green.)(I cannot emphasize enough how much you should read this book.)(Seriously, read the damn book.)