The Fault in Our Stars is a story about many things. It’s about love and loss, yes, but it’s also about so much more. Hazel and Augustus are just teenagers, yet already deciding who they are and what mark they will leave on the world. Will it be a heroic and inspiring legacy they leave in which the universe will remember them? Or will it be a hurtful and selfish stain thrown on humanity that keeps their memory alive? Or when they leave this world, will the memories of them also fade?
Hazel has known she will die for years now. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, she has been given a gift in the form of a drug trial that has managed to keep her tumors from growing. She goes through her teenage life carting around an oxygen tank, watching America’s Next Top Model, and devouring her favorite novel An Imperial Affliction over and over again. When she meets Augustus, a cancer survivor who lost his leg as a side effect, her life changes.
Although this book is full of death and Hazel’s focus on death could be incredibly depressing, it doesn’t feel like your typical cancer book. Hazel is not a character out of a Lurlene McDaniel book, positive all the time, with inspiring goals and an I-can-do-this attitude. She is bleak about her life and honest about her fears of hurting everyone around her. She tries to minimize the inevitable pain by making as few connections as possible. This isn’t done in a loving and selfless way. Instead this fear is about herself, about what type of person that makes her if she allows others to be hurt by her death. She is a whiny teenager, arguing with her parents, annoyed by their hovering, and desperately trying to keep herself out of a relationship with Augustus. Small spoiler: they get together.
All the characters in this novel are lovely. They are real. Hazel, Augustus, and their friend Isaac talk openly and honestly about the people in their lives and how much it truly sucks to have cancer. I appreciated this. You see their flaws, but love them all the same. And your heart breaks along with theirs.
The most intriguing thing about An Imperial Affliction, the book with which Hazel and Augustus are obsessed is the way it ends, without an ending at all really—the main character just stops midsentence. Hazel is haunted by this, needing to know, not what happened to Anna, the main character (it’s obvious that this character has died) but what happens to everyone else. Are they okay? Do they move on? Are they happy? This all reflects back on Hazel’s own fear of hurting her family and friends by dying and leaving them behind. She refers to herself as a grenade that will tear everyone near her apart, and she needs the assurance of An Imperial Affliction’s author to give her that.
There is so much I want to say about this book. The language is so beautiful, and although in most circumstances I would roll my eyes at the words these teenagers use, it’s believable here. It’s obvious that Hazel is very smart and she devours books, so it makes sense that she would speak with such verbosity and confidence. There were moments when I had to pause and go back and read a line or paragraph because it was so beautifully written that it deserved another look.
I was taken by this book and angry at it as well. What I assumed when I started reading the novel did not happen and as soon I realized what would happen in this book, I was so incredibly angry. The characters are written so well and we become so attached to them and we think we are prepared for the worst. In fact, the entire book has been set up to prepare us, to ease us into the inevitable. Instead we’re blindsided with reality and it crushes. I’m not sure if I feel tricked or not. I’m not sure if I really like this novel for doing this, for eliciting such emotion, or if I feel as if John Green and I had an agreement and then he broke it. I guess I feel a little bit like Hazel and Augustus when they finish reading An Imperial Affliction. Cheated.