Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same books over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.
Meet Hazel. She’s got cancer. It started as thyroid cancer, but now it’s in her lungs. There is no cure, but there is this miracle drug, Phalanxifor (Green points out in his acknowledgements that it’s a made up drug.), and although Hazel’s lungs are practically useless and she has to be hooked up to her oxygen tank all the time, she does okay. Except for, you know, the depression. Or whatever.
Her parents insist that she go to the cancer survivor’s support group meeting – which she had grown to “to be rather kicking-and-screaming about” – and it is there that she meets Augustus Waters. He’s in remission after losing his leg below the knee from “a little touch of osteosarcoma.” Her immediate reaction: he’s hot. From this point on, I flew through the pages of John Green’s YA novel The Fault in Our Stars, alternately laughing and crying.
Telling you much more about the plot won’t actually do the book any justice. Besides, it isn’t so much about what as it is about to whom. The Fault in Our Stars is driven by the magic that is Hazel and Augustus.
Their relationship begins over an exchange of books (be still my heart). Hazel lends Augustus her favourite novel, An Imperial Affliction, the story of Anna, a girl with a rare cancer of the blood. But, Hazel says:…
it’s not a cancer book, because cancer books suck. Like, in cancer books, the cancer person starts a charity that raises money to fight cancer, right? And this commitment to charity reminds the cancer person of the essential goodness of humanity and makes him/her feel loved and encouraged because s/he will leave a cancer-curing legacy. But in AIA, Anna decides that being a person with cancer who starts a cancer charity is a bit narcissistic, so she starts a charity called The Anna Foundation for People with Cancer Who Want to Cure Cholera.
Hazel has some unanswered questions about An Imperial Affliction. She has tried for months to get in touch with the book’s author, Peter Van Houten. When Augustus actually makes contact with Van Houten, it sends the pair on the trip of a lifetime.
But much of that is plot and while the story might be predictable in many ways, there is nothing ordinary about this novel. Nothing. Hazel has been sick for a long time; she has already come to terms with her mortality. What she doesn’t know how to do is live. Augustus is the perfect antidote to her doldrums, beautiful and funny.
And make no mistake – this book is funny. These kids know how to laugh at themselves. When Isaac, another member of the support group, loses his remaining eye to cancer he says: ” …people keep saying my other senses will improve to compensate, but CLEARLY NOT YET. Hi, Support Group Hazel. Come over here so I can examine your face with my hands and see deeper into your soul than a sighted person ever could.”
As if navigating the thorny path to adulthood weren’t difficult enough, the teenagers in this book must also contend with bodies that have forsaken them. It is also heartbreaking to watch Hazel’s parents try to protect their daughter, even when they know they can’t. As a mom myself, I can only imagine how horrific it must be to care for a terminally ill child.
Augustus sums it up best: “…the thing about pain…it demands to be felt.”
Absolutely my favourite book this year.