The Fault in Our Stars finds its inspiration in a young adult blend of Shakespeare and cancer survival, mixed up in a relationship between Hazel and Augustus. Told from Hazel’s perspective, the book tracks their romance, their banter, and their struggle with both cancer and those who they care about. John Green’s delivery is humorous, dramatic, snarky, tragic, and, ultimately, insightful.
Hazel has cancer that have stripped her lungs of their useful purposes, and may or may not be in remission. Augustus is in remission, but he’s lost a leg, and a girlfriend, to cancer. The two of them trade barbs, slowly exploring the other’s view of cancer, and find a mutual admiration for a fictional book about a teenager with cancer. Asking questions about the fictional girl’s life lead them to pursue the author of that book, and unify them in a mission that gives them purpose in the midst of all of their doubt and frustration.
Green’s characters are alarmingly realistic. We care about their loss and their struggles, and when they talk, we recognize the wisdom that they’ve acquired at a young age. Even while they shrink from the platitudes, they find themselves holding to hope in the darkest nights, with quotes like these: “without pain, we couldn’t know joy.”
But the glimmers in the negative (my goodness, this could be completely depressing if you can’t see the hope), come in the form of inverted negatives. “Don’t tell me you’re one of those people who becomes their disease,” Augustus chides Hazel early on, and we recognize that most people do identify with their problems more than the solutions.
Later, Augustus says that “you don’t get to choose if you get hurt… but you have some say in who hurts you,” which sounds a lot like Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes.” Still, it’s true that we will be hurt by life and in some relationships, but we can still choose to love, to struggle, and to recognize the best that our lives could be.
The Fault In Our Stars is the best young adult fiction I’ve read since reading the first Hunger Games, and it’s just as heavy. While I don’t agree with all of Green’s points, I find my best moments from the book in the ways that the couple expresses themselves verbally, and then finds out they’re wrong. They initially see themselves as no more than side effects, but they come to recognize that they’re so much more. (Of course, theologically, I want them to recognize their worth as the children of God, as loved by Jesus, but the truth is that we’re not supposed to get there!)
A stunning novel that will keep you engaged (I burst through the majority of the book over several hours one morning), it will leave you wrestling with the way you see cancer, cancer survivors, your life, and death itself. It’s a gift for those who are willing to read, to struggle, and to laugh with the star-crossed couple of Hazel and Augustus.