The Fault in our Stars is not a book I ever expected to read. I knew so much about it peripherally. I knew the author John Green through his Mental Floss videos (not discovering the equally educational and more interesting Crash Course videos until later). I had known Shailene Woodley would play Hazel and was utterly confused as I saw her act next to her film brother and future film lover Ansel Elgort in Divergent. Out of sheer curiosity, I read the Wiki page for the movie never expecting to watch it nor read its source. But here I am, having read the book (still behind on the movie), and I am so glad I did.
This book is about Hazel, a 16 year old girl who has terminal cancer. She meets 17 year old Augustus Waters, who lost a leg to cancer but has seemed to beat it. They grow closer and closer together and are able to go to Amsterdam to visit Hazel’s favorite author Peter Van Houten. Amsterdam is a life-altering trip for the two, but how long could love last between two teenagers who have the spectre of cancer looming over their shoulder?
This book is a sad book. There is no getting around that. Augustus and Hazel realistically will not have a happily ever after, even if they are happy now. Cancer is a bitch.
But this story is also heartwarming. Cancer is a massive bitch, but it never defines the protagonists. You are always given reminders of the toll that cancer takes on the characters’ bodies. Isaac’s blindness. Augustus’ prosthetic. Hazel’s reliance on an oxygen tank. But when we are reminded of their affliction, we feel sadness but not pity. We see them beyond their cancer.
It is a credit to John Green because I think that he nailed the characterization of his teenage characters. They lack a general decorum as teenagers often do. They do not have a solid grasp of emotions or feelings outside of their own. They have some grand expectation from life. I loved Augustus’ rambling of naive philosophies of life. I loved Hazel’s rebellious behavior towards her parents. I loved Augustus’ and Hazel’s obsession with a book that literally has no ending. I loved that Augustus and Hazel used “Okay” as their implied “I love you”. I loved that Hazel used a Venn Diagram as a romantic post-sex message. These are all things that I would’ve tried to copycat as an adolescent. At times, are these “teenager-y” things over the top? Of course. But, for me, sometimes over the top is just right, and it gives depth to the characters outside of their sickness.
After a disastrous meeting with the alcoholic Peter Van Houten, Hazel remarks that we have the ability to tell our sad stories in funny ways to make them seem less sad, and I think John Green does that in his book. All of these adolescent quirks lighten the overall mood of the book, and it makes it less sad for a while. But by doing so, he also makes us more involved with the characters. I found myself with a heightened sense of engagement with the actions of Augustus and Hazel primarily because of their idiosyncratic nature. And this makes the really heavy-hitting scenes all the more tearjerkingly sad, but in a somehow heartwarming way. You never feel like the characters lost a part of their lives. You feel like they were happy to have experienced something like this, however so brief.
I would recommend this book though it has its faults (I couldn’t resist). The characters are over the top in their teenageriness. The angst, the borderline-arrogance, the pretentiousness, the saccharine nature of the romance is dialed up a few notches (no one talks like Hazel and Augustus talk in real life unless they are trying to be Hazel and Augustus). But you will know early on if you can tolerate the characters. If you do (or if you are like me and grow to love them), you are in for a story that will likely make you smile, cry, and say I love you (or Okay or Always or your own special saying) to the one you hold dearest to your heart.