“That’s the thing about pain,” Augustus said, and then glanced back at me. “It demands to be felt”
That’s the thing about this book. It demands to be felt.
The Fault in Our Stars was published by John Green through Penguin in 2012, and created a whirlwind of energy throughout the world when it hit our shelves. The story is, essentially, a love story. Yet there’s a slightly more complicated twist- the protagonist is a teenage girl living with cancer. As is the only boy she’s ever loved. This ingenious masterpiece combines the things we love to admire and the things we fear to explore; romance and death.
At the onset of the narrative we meet Hazel Grace Lancaster, sixteen, expressing typical teenager tantrums about wanting to stay in bed and watch America’s Next Top Model. Except Hazel isn’t your average teenager, and the thing she wants to skip by having a reality TV marathon is actually attending a Cancer Kids Support Group. Green uses his signature staccato style to portray Cancer’s Sting by dramatising it in a smartly crafted explosion of acerbic, achingly beautiful characters. This electric, enchanting story will encapture you in a truly devastating tale of life and loss.
Our protagonist soon realises why going to Support Group that evening was such a good idea: ex-cancer patient Augustus Waters. When Hazel feels unmoving eyes on her as she pours herself some lemonade into a plastic cup at the snacks table, she can’t help but feel under pressure (and a little creeped out). The eyes, however unwavering, result in belonging to the hottest boy in the room. Looking at her. With Hazel not used to this sort of male attention, Green utilises a comedic element to balance the tense atmosphere and Hazel gazes back fearlessly. The staring contest finally draws to a close and the pair’s first conversation isn’t the usual. When Augustus remarks that he fears oblivion and the inevitability of the death of the human race above all, Hazel responds with an intellectual speech, convincing the reader it was almost pre-planned as the words roll smoothly off her tongue. With an initial flame sparked, Green invites us on a witty, whimsical journey of friendship and attraction.
However, at times in the novel, the pairing seems slightly unbelievable. They are meant to be teenagers but they talk to each other like 50 year old philosophers. To say that Green attempts to inspire the younger audience by conveying a seamless love story between two intellectual, dying kids, is an overstatement. It’s understandable that he wants to create a more adapted society where teenagers aren’t visualised by adults as smelly, grumpy, lazy slobs, but it’s sad to say that using exaggerated characters in an extremely rare and unlucky situation just isn’t going to do the trick.
Hazel’s distracted mind often wanders to the inevitability of her death, which is encouraged and supported by her unconditional love for the fictional book created by Green for the novel: An Imperial Affliction, by Peter Van Houten. The protagonist in this novel is also suffering from cancer, just like Hazel. Her ideologies about everything in life being a side effect of dying prove important to Hazel, and sticks with her through her days. Her cancer, her depression, and everything, is a side effect of dying. Depression is also probably a side effect of reading this book, as the tragic, heart breaking plot rips its way through the reader’s soul and destroys every happy memory they’ve ever experienced. Okay, so it’s not that bad, but still, read with caution.
As the story rolls on, we become more and more confident that things are going good for Hazel. Even though she’s re-admitted into hospital for extra fluid in her lungs, she’s soon better again and on her way to Amsterdam. This ‘bump in the road’ reminds the reader of the harsh truth behind the seemingly simple, sweet, summery love story that the protagonist is actually seriously ill. However, things are going well for Hazel and Augustus gets to come with her and her mother to the ‘City of Freedom’, as Green charmingly puts it.
But when Augustus admits to Hazel that his cancer is back and he’s just got months to live, the fun of Amsterdam drowns like the petals from their candlelit dinner in the canal. This massive plot twist stirs up a tornado of panic for the protagonist as she realises that even though the severity of her medical case is worse than his, he’s still going to die first. The rest of the plot follows Hazel mainly feeling sorry for herself as Augustus’ parents are strict with visitors because he’s so ill, until his impending death hits us all like a sack of bricks. Even though we know for certain it’s going to happen, it’s still difficult to stop the tears from flowing as the death of her boyfriend finally impacts Hazel. She attends his funeral, and around a week later she finds a letter that he wrote to her in his days where he knew he was deteriorating fast. The book finishes at the end of the letter and as the last page is turned, you feel a sense of loss yourself, as if you were part of the story and lived through the high times and the low times with the characters.
The novel creates an air of melancholy through constant philosophical and intellectual ideas about life and death from the protagonist, lamenting the loss of her soul mate with an elegiac style of writing. It’s a heartfelt story of love and loss, and is suitable for any reader with an enthusiasm and an appreciation for real life tragedies and the rollercoaster of emotions they bring with them.