The Fault in our Stars is a teenage romance novel about not surviving cancer. It also examines existential questions – the pain of watching your loved ones die before you. about that! Hazel and Augustus are young of years but have to face questions about death and love, both of them being afflicted with cancer.Hazel at seventeen and failing lungs
Hazel is seventeen and her failing lungs need to be propped up at all times with her anthropomorphised oxygen cylinder, Phillip. She is chaperoned by her mother to a cancer support group and hospital visits Hazel has made peace with the fact that she will die sooner rather than later. A book lover she considers ‘An Imperial Affliction’ by Peter Van Houten as her bible and possible future. She obsesses over the endings and futures of the characters in the book after the protagonist Anna who like her suffers from cancer.
Hazel’s has good days, bad days and very bad days. Hazel enters a cancer support group due to her mother’s insistence which is in the heart of Jesus. The sessions are conducted in a church shaped like cross with a heart at its centre. Here she meets other young, cancer patients. The group is headed by Patrick a survivor of testicular cancer. The author John Green best describes the group when he says:
The support Group featured a rotating cast of characters in various states of tumor-driven unwellness. Why did the cast rotate? A side effect of dying.
It is here that Hazel meets the one-legged Augustus Waters (Gus). When Augustus turns his attentive gaze to Hazel of the water filled lungs she becomes aware of her jeans sagging in places, her unbrushed hair, her plump cheeks and other real and imagined flaws. In the midst of the dismay and darkness, love and hope sprouts.
Augustus a recovering cancer patient intrigues and interests Hazel. Soon a friendship evolves, with both parties becoming very fond of each other. The two teenagers get along and it heralds the start of interesting conversations between two young people in the peculiar position of being terminally sick. Hazel explains how she feels about Augustus.
He smiled with half his mouth.”The day of the existentially fraught free throws was coincidentally also my last day of dual leggedness. I had a weekend between when they scheduled the amputation and when it happened. My own little glimpse of what Isaac is going through.”
I nodded. I liked Augustus Waters. I really, really, really liked him. I liked the way his story ended with someone else. I liked his voice. I liked that he took existentally fraught free throws. I liked that he was a tenured professor in the Department of Slightly Crooked Smiles with a dual appointment in the Department of Having a Voice That Made My Skin Feel More Like Skin. And I liked that he had two names. I’ve always liked people with two names, because you get to make up your mind what you call them: Gus or augustus? Me, I was always just Hazel, univalent Hazel.
As they learn more about each other at the emergency room and the backyard Augustus starts to make some ambitious plans. He uses his ‘Get a Wish’ granted to children with a terminal illness to travel with Hazel and her mum to Amsterdam to meet the reclusive author of An Imperial Affliction. Here amid tubes and falling elm leaves, Gus and Hazel enjoy a dinner under the night sky in their finest, with Augustus debuting his ‘death suit’ – the suit he intends to be dressed in at his funeral.
Their dinner talk isn’t light either with Hazel and Augustus debating over death in exchange for a suitable life.
The oblivion fear is something else, fear that i won’t be able to give anything in exchange for my life. If you don’t live a life in service of a greater good, you’ve gotta atleast die a death in service of a greater good, you know? And I fear that I won’t get either a life or a death that means anything.”
“It’s really mean of you to say that only lives that matter are the ones that lived for something or die for something. That’s a really mean thing to say to me”.
Here are two young people who would have otherwise talked about plans for their career, or their life together. Instead, Death makes for dinner talk. In a passage in the book Augustus notes:
People will say it’s sad that she leaves a lesser scar, that fewer remember her,that she was loved deeply not widely. But it’s not sad Van Houten. It’s triumphant.It’s heroic. Isn’t that real heroism? Like the doctors say: First do no harm
The real heroes aren’t the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention. The guy who invented the smallpox vaccine didn’t actually invent anything. He just noticed that people with cowpoxdidn’t get smallpox.
John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars can only be faulted for making us sad about the randomness and perhaps the cruelty of indifference of the universe. This book can be read from many different perspectives. I read from the perspective of Hazel’s mother with a very sick child in her care. I could feel the helplessness and hopelessness of a mother who has raised her child only to see her fading well before her time. I could identify with her realisation that she must go on. She does this in the book by taking up a course in social service, at the end of which she hopes to help families who have a person suffering from cancer in their family.
The book is never melodramatic though there are ample chances to do so. It tries to present the characters as best as possible with their dilemmas. It is a book as much about living as it is about dying.
The Fault in Our Stars will make you stare and address your own mortality and rethink the way you spend your today. It brings to mind the verses of the great poetess and thinker Maya Angelou who in her poem ‘The Caged Bird Sings’ so famously said:
The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing
Yet the caged bird what it does best…it sings. Buy The Fault In Our Stars, you will not regret it.