This is an open love letter to John Green:
It has taken me weeks and five readings to even sit down to write this review. I think I feel a bit like the main character in this book about this book. She notes that “Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. And then there are books…which you can’t tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal.” Oddly I am stuck between the two. I do want everyone to read it, but my experience with this The Fault In Our Stars is so personal and so mine that it’s difficult to put my love and affection into words. Not since Betsy Cromer Byars The Pinballs have I had such strong feelings about a book.
The last time I did a read through, I used the highlight function on my Nook for the first time. As I began to run through my highlights to pick out some quotes, I realized I’ve highlighted probably two-thirds of it! So when I say that if you can only buy one book this year, you MUST buy The Fault In Our Stars, I REALLY mean it. If you can’t buy it, beg, borrow, or steal to get your hands on a copy. This book will change your life – or at least change how you think about your every day. Even those of you with cold black hearts will shed a tear and ponder the meaning of oblivion.
Green’s author’s note at the beginning of The Fault In Our Stars is in and of itself a major discussion point. Green says, “Neither novels nor their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story. Such efforts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species.” Wow. Just wow. Four for you Green, four for you. And I tell you now Green, your fictional story in fact DOES matter.
The book opens with an introduction to Hazel Grace Lancaster. Hazel is a sixteen-year-old who has Stage IV thyroid cancer. Her disease will never go into remission but for now it’s being managed in a way that makes life limited but liveable. During a kids with cancer support group meeting (which is Hazel’s mother’s way of making her socialize), we meet Augustus Waters. Augustus is a seventeen-year-old who had osteosarcoma. His disease is in remission and while he lost a leg, he is on a “roller coaster ride that only goes up.” At this meeting, August admits that he fears oblivion. Hazel, for the first time ever in support group, decides she needs to address Augustus’ fear with a response of her own:
“There will come a time, 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 on left to remember Aristotle or Cleopatra, let alone you…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.”
Snap! And what do you know, Augustus fell in love.
Augustus is no intellectual slouch himself. Upon first seeing Augustus put a cigarette in his mouth, Hazel exclaims that Augustus just ruined “the whole thing” (cute intelligent boy hitting on her, cancer girl). Augustus’ response is, “They don’t kill you unless you light them. And I’ve never lit one. It’s a metaphor, see: You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don’t give it the power to do its killing.”
From that moment, Hazel and Augustus begin a beautiful journey of discovery. The two of them have normal teenage desires and needs, but they also have the needs and thoughts of their cancer selves. They explore their individual needs, desires, and realities. They explore their relationships with their parents. They explore relationships with their teenage friends – some being cancer kids and some “normal”. They explore their relationship with their cancer. And they explore their relationship with each other.
Now some people say teenagers would never speak like Hazel and Augustus nor have the intellectual thoughts and conversations they have. I call bullshit. Many of the general themes Hazel and August touch upon are ideas my friends and I discussed when I was in high school. Add on the reality of death, I think they’ve earned a viewpoint that might be more advanced than the majority of their peers.
While I could talk about The Fault In Our Stars forever and continue quoting memorable passages (because seriously, there is a lot of profoundness in this book), I won’t. Each reader should experience Hazel and Augustus and their worlds for themselves. But after you’ve read it, if you want to talk about it, you know how to find me.
Oh one final quote that I just love from Hazel. Augustus’ parents have platitudes all around their house. His mom sits down by Hazel one day and says how she loves the saying she has posted above the TV – Without Pain, How Could We Know Joy?. Hazel’s internal monologue tells us, “This is an old argument in the field of Thinking About Suffering, and its stupidity and lack of sophistication could be plumbed for centuries, but suffice it to say that the existence of broccoli does not in any way affect the taste of chocolate.” Oh Hazel, I so get you.