WARNING. If you are the type of reader who becomes embarrassed when you realise you have been laughing aloud on the train while you read, then don’t read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green in public, because there is nothing worse than getting to the sad parts, and gulping, sniffing or outright sobbing while your fellow commuters look at you in amusement.
Anyone who isn’t familiar with this young adult novel has probably been living under a rock for the past year.
However, for those who do live under a rock, or who don’t read youth fiction, you are missing out. The Fault in Our Stars is deservedly a best-seller and the movie also very successful. Give this book a go and see if you don’t laugh and cry too.
Hazel Grace is the main character in The Fault in Our Stars. Hazel is living with a terminal cancer when she meets Augustus at a Cancer Kid Support Group meeting. Augustus had a leg amputated from cancer, but is at the meeting to support his friend Isaac, who is about to lose his eyesight following surgery to prevent further spread of his cancer. (I know it all sounds morbid and gruesome so far, but trust me, it is not).
Hazel and Augustus share a sarcastic sense of humour and quickly become friends. Their voices are a lot more grown up and articulate than I expected from 16 and 17 year olds, but in fairness, due to their illnesses, they live in an adult environment. I asked my 12 year old niece, S, who recommended this book to me, if she understood everything in the book, and she said she did, although I suspect a lot of the humour and references went over her head.
Hazel has a favourite book, An Imperial Affliction, which Augustus reads to please her. An Imperial Affliction ends suddenly, leaving unanswered questions, which Hazel is desperate to know the answers to. Augustus tracks down the book’s author and starts an email correspondence with him. Eventually, the author invites Augustus and Hazel to visit him in Amsterdam. Augustus uses his ‘Wish’ from a foundation who grant wishes to sick children to take Hazel to Amsterdam.
Hazel and Augustus travel to Amsterdam, accompanied by Hazel’s mother, to meet with the author. When they arrive they learn the visit was arranged by the author’s assistant, who thought it would be good for him, but the meeting turns out to be a disaster. The author is an alcoholic who does not want to answer Hazel’s questions about his book’s characters. They all become angry with each other, and Hazel and Augustus leave feeling disillusioned.
Up until the visit to Amsterdam, Hazel avoided romance with Augustus, not wanting to leave him hurting when she dies. In Amsterdam though, they become lovers, and Hazel learns that Augustus’s cancer has returned and that it is terminal.
This book is everything a story should be, happy and sad and funny and like all good books, left me feeling inspired by the characters, who were clever and courageous. (Hazel and Augustus were much more than just that, but going on and on about their qualities gets boring).
Perhaps my niece S understood more of The Fault in Our Stars than I thought, as while I was reading her copy I found a note she wrote which said, “page 139. 2nd paragraph. Favourite bit. Start of sentence: We stared at the house for a while.” The paragraph goes on to describe how from the outside, houses look as if nothing is going on, but inside, we live our lives.