Have the tissues ready. This is not your typical teenage love story
Seventeen-year-old Hazel is our straight-shooting, badass heroine. She was diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer and lung tumors at thirteen. After a radical neck dissection (“which is about as pleasant as it sounds”), radiation, and chemo, she came very close to dying when her lungs filled with water and she was admitted to the ICU with pneumonia.
My mom knelt by the side of my bed and said, “Are you ready sweetie?” and I told her I was ready, and my dad just kept telling me he loved me in a voice that was not breaking so much but already broken…and I couldn’t catch my breath, and my lungs were acting desperate, gasping, pulling me out of the bed trying to find a position that could get them air, and I was embarrassed by their desperation, disgusted that they wouldn’t just let go.
Hazel’s Cancer Doctor managed to get the fluid out of her lungs and she survived. A new drug (her Cancer Miracle) has shrunk her tumors but she lives her life attached to an oxygen tank, perpetually tired and weak. Her case has always been nothing but terminal; the drug merely buys her time.
Hazel meets Augustus Waters, a survivor of osteosarcoma, to which he lost his leg, at Support Group. A thorough intellectual, Augustus is quirky, outspoken, and very attractive. He takes an interest in Hazel right away although she is hesitant to reciprocate because of her disease (i.e., she doesn’t want to die on him). They hang out doing typical teenager stuff: watching V for Vendetta, playing video games, seeing an art exhibit at a neighborhood park – their relationship evolving and growing. Augustus uses his wish (from the Make A Wish Foundation) to take Hazel on a magical trip to Amsterdam to meet her favorite author.
As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.
What follows is an unconventional yet beautiful love story between two teenagers, one with an oxygen tank, the other an amputee, who face their disease, defeats, and triumphs together. Hazel is not one to sugarcoat, so we see all of the emotional and physical layers of being a teenage cancer patient – the pity, the indulgences, the overbearing and cautious parents, the aloof doctors, the recurring and endless health issues. The novel also provides an unflinching look at dying from cancer – a horrendous, humiliating, and painful ordeal. Hazel and Augustus teach us (and each other) that they are much more than their disease and they find complete and unadulterated happiness in the time that they are given.
Almost all the teenage characters we meet – Hazel’s friend from support group, Augustus’s ex-girlfriend – are cancer patients. These kids have lived with the enormous burden of disease and death for most of their lives. It pervades the whole novel. When Augustus notes at Support Group that he fears oblivion, Hazel replies:
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…Maybe that time is coming soon and maybe it is millions of years away, but even if we survive the collapse of our sun, we will not survive forever. 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.
Beautifully written in straight-forward, simple prose, The Fault In Our Stars is the most tragic novel I’ve read in years.
P.S. They’re making a movie! Of course they are, this book is insanely popular. Here is the trailer.