By Ekta R. Garg
June 11, 2014
Rated: Bookmark it!
Several months ago I read about the movie release of the book The Fault in Our Stars, and then I read articles written by people who the book had affected so deeply that they said they would hang on to copies for their pre-teens to read at the right time. The book had caused tears and joy and had changed life views. When a friend recommended it with the same level of enthusiasm, I just had to satisfy my curiosity and read it.
I took a chance and actually bought my own copy. Normally I wait to buy hard copies of books after I’ve read them and determined that they do, indeed, deserve to sit on my shelves. I form lifelong friendships with my books, and I only want those friends who enrich my life to live with me.
So I bought the book and began reading. Given the idea that it’s about a girl who has cancer, I fully expected that someone would die. When I read further and discovered that the boy she loves also has cancer, as well as a good friend, I started wondering who would leave our circle by the time I closed the back cover.
Someone does, but I won’t ruin that part of it. I can give you a quick recap of the story, which is about sixteen-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster who suffers from thyroid cancer that spread to her lungs. Because her lungs don’t function the way they should on their own, she must use a portable oxygen tank with cannulas in her nose at all times. The book begins with her mother urging her to attend her teen cancer support group. Hazel considers the group a waste of time, but she goes to get her mom off her back.
Normally when Hazel goes to the group, she does her best to keep from succumbing to the mind-numbing effects of the entire experience. On this day, however, she meets someone new: Augustus (Gus) Waters. At 17 Gus has battled osteosarcoma and lost part of one leg to it, but that doesn’t dim his wry wit or his eagerness to speak his mind. He senses something in Hazel, and almost reluctantly Hazel begins sharing her time and energy and her life with him.
Slowly but surely the two start to fall in love. Hazel tells Gus about her most favorite book in the world (the fictional novel An Imperial Affliction about a young girl who lives with and dies from cancer) and encourages Gus to read it. When Gus discovers the author, in a literary device, ended the novel mid-sentence, Hazel confesses that it bothers her as much as it did him and that she’d love to meet the author to find out what happened next. The problem is that the author lives in Amsterdam, and her family doesn’t have enough money to go there.
Gus makes it happen and goes with her, driven by curiosity as much as Hazel. The meeting turns into a huge disappointment, but the trip to Amsterdam cements their relationship. It also signals the beginning of the end when one of them reveals something about a recent visit to the hospital.
The relationship between Gus and Hazel would make Romeo and Juliet jealous. I can see why it appealed to so many people, teens and adults alike. I’ll have to admit, I wasn’t as comfortable reading about the intimate encounter between Gus and Hazel. That might have to do more with my own ideas of the parameters of relationships than anything else; given that, though, I really appreciate how tastefully Green handled it. Not everything has to be hot and heavy, and Green gets that.
Cancer and death are hard for anyone; when they have to do with kids and teens, it only gets that much harder. Green handles the entire thing with grace, ease, and just the right balance between realism and snarkiness. I finished the book feeling sad, but it also made want to smile for the fact that Gus and Hazel got to share their love.
I’d love to go see the movie to compare. Given its box office impact this past weekend, it looks like fans of the book wholeheartedly approve of the film version. Read the book for sure. It definitely deserves the hype.