Mortality. It’s natural to think about it in old age, especially if elders become seriously ill. What’s not natural is when young children and teenagers think about dying. Not hypothetically thinking, but for real, while looking death in the face. It is heartbreaking when teenagers who are supposed to have many years ahead of them plan their own funerals—with eulogies, caskets, dress, the works.
Hazel is only sixteen, but her thyroid cancer that has metastasized to her lungs prevents her from having a normal life as a teen. The oxygen tank that she carries with her at all times makes her the object of curiosity for people wherever she goes. She says, “That was the worst part about having cancer, sometimes: The physical evidence of disease separates you from other people. We were irreconcilably other…” 144
At the meeting of cancer patients’ support group, Hazel meets Augustus, a seventeen-year-old cancer survivor. Like any star-crossed lovers, they’re immediately attracted. They talk, text each other, and visit. They’re both well-read and sharp-witted. Their verbal exchange is a treat for the reader. They are smitten. But Hazel shuns away from love. She’s thinks of herself as a “grenade” that will eventually go off, so she wants “to minimize the casualties.” 99
Still, Hazel and Augustus can’t stay away from each other. They swap books they love. Hazel gives him her favorite novel, An Imperial Affliction, about a teenager Anna, afflicted by cancer, whose life mirrors her own. The book ends abruptly, and Hazel has been obsessed with finding out what happened to Anna and her mother. But the author has moved to Amsterdam and doesn’t respond to Hazel’s letters of inquiry.
Together Hazel and Augustus embark on a journey to Amsterdam to meet the author and get answers to their questions. Their trip is an adventure filled with both exciting and heartrending discoveries.
The Fault in Our Stars touches a painful subject, yes, because it’s hard to read about doomed kids dying way before their time. Yet this story is uplifting too, because it shows the courage of these kids, their early maturity. Their suffering and fighting the disease, their will to live, can put us to shame when we whine about some mundane problems in our lives.
Favorite lines: “The sun was a toddler insistently refusing to go to bed: It was past eight thirty and still light.” 167
“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.” 157