Allison's Book Bag

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Posted on: March 14, 2014

Readers can learn plenty from The Fault in Our Stars about the daily struggles and emotional angst that come with having cancer. But not even John Green can land a novel on the best-seller list for a year by writing about cancer alone.

Sixteen-year-old Hazel is terminally ill from what started out as thyroid cancer, a disease which has now settled into her lungs. For that reason, she has to wear an oxygen mask and tires easily, which she sometimes she uses to her benefit. Because her illness makes her different, Hazel has lost touch with her school friends, and so her parents encourage her to attend a support group. Hazel would prefer they buy her a fake ID so that she can go clubbing, drink vodka, and smoke pot. But she also wants to make her parents happy.

In the support group, Hazel meets Augustus. (How can one write about two teenagers and not including a love story?) Augustus is still well enough to attend school which means that, although he has lost one leg, he’s considered a cancer survivor. The two immediately hit it off. They watch movies and play video games together, and share their favorite books. They also enjoy the occasional “cancer perk”, which is what allows Augustus to have a driver’s license and for the two to drink champagne. Due his unique blend of realism and sarcasm, Green handles teen romance as well as any author. But this wouldn’t be a Green novel if it was only about love.

Hazel’s favorite book is called An Imperial Affliction. Naturally, she likes it because the heroine has cancer, but she also loves the abrupt, realistic ending. And yet she wants to know what happened to all of her favorite characters. For that reason, she writes the author. And so does Augustus. Eventually the author replies, and a wish-fulfillment charity sends Hazel and Augustus to Amsterdam in search of him. The journey leads to the couple’s first night together. And to a number of revelations, leading to unique plot twists in The Fault in Our Stars. One never knows what will happen in a John Green novel, which is part of what makes him a terrific writer.

That said, I’ve read enough of John Green’s novels to know that there are a few constants. Ponderings about meaning of life are one of his staples. In the cancer support group, each attendee shares their fears. Augustus says, “I fear oblivion.” In response, Hazel tells him that, “There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did….” After Hazel’s little speech, the two hook up and share many happy moments together. They also battle cancer in their own ways. And they also sometimes talk about what it means to make one’s mark on the world. For example, when the two visit the Anne Frank house, Hazel is most taken by all the names of Holocaust victims forgotten by the world at large; among them, only Anne Frank is memorialized by historical markers and museums. By the end of The Fault in Our Stars, I don’t agree with all that Green preaches, but I do love the idea that each of us gets to choose who we hurt and who we help in our short or long lifetimes.

Writers always face a risk when they write about things that they have not experienced themselves. And yet John Green has never had cancer. So then, what of the book’s authenticity? Well, I know that after college Green worked as a student chaplain in a children’s hospital where he got to know a lot of people with cancer. And in researching this book, he talked with many families about cancer. Moreover, I know that The Fault in Our Stars was inspired by a real teen, who Green knew. For these reasons, I don’t have reason to doubt the authenticity of his characters’ cancer experiences.

And yet… My favorite read about cancer remains Regine’s Book. Perhaps because it’s a true story, it made me bawl the way that few books have. The Fault in Our Stars at times feels too preachy and philosophical. Maybe the reality is that no fiction book can get it completely right when it comes to cancer. Green however comes extremely close. So, my only remaining question is: When is the next book coming out? 🙂

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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