The Shakespearean title of John Green’s #1 New York Times bestseller not-so-subtly hints at the dramatic romance that is the core of this story for young adults.
In The Fault in Our Stars we crawl into the skin of sixteen-year-old Hazel Lancaster who is suffering from thyroid cancer with metastases in her lungs. Although her cancer is under control, it is not curable. Her mother worries that she isn’t doing ‘teenagery’ stuff and not meeting and making friends; that she is depressed. She encourages Hazel to go to a support group for kids between twelve and eighteen who have suffered or are suffering from cancer. Hazel reluctantly goes. She is an extremely bright girl – maybe a bit too smart at times, reminiscent of Rory Gilmore or Joey Potter – wielding a vocabulary sharp enough to cut iron. When she first meets seventeen-year-old Augustus Waters at Support Group (he had suffered from osteosarcoma), and he expresses his fear of ‘oblivion’, she says:
“There will come a time […] when all of us our 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 […] 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 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.”
Augustus, or Gus, and Hazel strike up a friendship which – at least for Gus – quickly develops into something more. They exchange their favourite books. Hazel’s is a book by Peter van Houten called An Imperial Affliction, which curiously ends mid-sentence leaving her wondering at what had become of the characters in the novel. These kids get each other and have in common the tendency to deflect pain with humour. At one point in the novel Augustus’ best friend Isaac, who is also a member of the Support Group, has to be operated to remove his remaining eye leaving him blind. Right before he has to go into surgery, his girlfriend of fourteen months breaks up with him and Isaac goes to Gus to vent.
“Dude, pillows don’t break. Try something that breaks.”
Isaac reached for a basketball trophy from the shelf above the bed and then held it over his head as if waiting for permission. “Yes,” Augustus said, “Yes!” The trophy smashed against the floor, the plastic baseball player’s arm splintering off, still grasping its ball. Isaac stomped on the trophy. “Yes!” Augustus said. “Get it!”
And then back to me, “I’ve been looking for a way to tell my father that I actually sort of hate basketball, and I think we’ve found it.”
Hazel tries to keep Augustus at arm’s length, because she doesn’t want him to get hurt because of her illness and her inescapable premature death, especially since she discovered he had already been through it once with his former girlfriend. However, Hazel is no match for Gus’ charms and ‘hot bod’ and she falls in love with him.
When I closed this book after reading the last page, I could not help but be astounded at how John Green so believably captures Hazel’s thoughts and feelings. Hence, it does not surprise me that this man has several bestsellers and prizes to his name. Within 313 pages, Green manages to make you laugh out loud and cry your eyeballs out; the humoristic realism of the teens makes their story all the more heartbreaking.
It’s probably because we see Augustus through Hazel’s eyes that we can’t help but fall in love with him, too. On the one hand he’s a typical guy. After Hazel gets the news that she won’t be able to go to Amsterdam with Augustus to pay a visit to Peter van Houten, he tells her he should have just taken her, to which Hazel replies:
“But then I would’ve had a probably fatal episode of deoxygenation in Amsterdam, and my body would have been shipped home in the cargo hold of an airplane […]”
“Well, yeah,” he said. “But before that, my grand romantic gesture would have totally gotten me laid.”
But Gus has another side to him and he is, in fact, capable of grand gestures for the girl he loves even though she is reluctant to let herself be loved by him. To me, this is also one of the most moving segments in the book. It is where Hazel refers to herself as a grenade.
“I’m like. Like. I’m like a grenade, Mom. I’m a grenade and at some point I’m going to blow up and I would like to minimize the casualties, okay?”
It’s honest, it’s brutal, it’s philosophical. I couldn’t help being swept up in Hazel and Augustus’ love story, making this YA novel a true page turner. Since it is a love story, though, it is probably more a girls’ novel than anything, which does in no way mean that boys shouldn’t pick it up and read it as well!
P.S. John and his brother Hank make vlogs and own the website nerdfighters.ning.com. Go check that out!
P.P.S. Fox 2000 currently has an option on making this book into a movie. I think they should think of casting Saoirse Ronan to play the role of Hazel (although maybe she’ll be too old…) and Logan Lerman as Augustus.