“I wanted more time so we could fall in love. I got my wish, I suppose. I left my scar.”
I can’t read the line above without tearing up. I don’t know… I do know that I absolutely loved this book in a way I haven’t loved a book in a long, long while. I treasured it. In fact, John Green’s young adult novel The Fault in Our Stars might just be one of my all-time favorites. I’m not alone, by the way. Included on countless “best of” lists, TIME magazine even hailed it the number one piece of fiction of 2012. So, for your own sake, don’t dismiss the genre. Sure, I snuck pages by nightlight in the wee hours, half expecting my parents to catch me and faux-grumpily demand I go to sleep. But the thing is, Green’s work speaks more honestly, wholeheartedly, and (best of all) humorously about both the complexity and simplicity of love than anything I’ve encountered in, well, a long, long while. I wish I could read it again for the first time.
The Fault in Our Stars tells the story of sixteen-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster. Hazel is bookish, bright, and sweetly sullen—an unaware beauty and terminally ill. Diagnosed three years earlier with Stage IV thyroid and lung cancer, Hazel is on borrowed time. While a (fictional) miracle drug, Phalanxifor, has indefinitely shrunk her tumors and extended her life, she has come to terms with her unjust fate. Depressed and lonely with only the companionship of her slightly smothering parents, it isn’t until she meets Augustus Waters, a seventeen-year-old hottie in remission, that she starts to feel truly alive.
Their mutual attraction is instantaneous. Across a circle of attendees in a support group meeting, tall, muscular, puddle-eyed Augustus stares at Hazel and she stares back. Better yet, in conversation, they each match the other’s wit and irreverence. She’s into poetry and he’s into metaphors. When he asks to see her again, she requires he first finish her favorite novel, An Imperial Affliction, the only book she’s ever read that accurately conveys what it feels like to be dying. It’s so deeply important to her, and he intrinsically understands. Still, despite his ongoing persistence and their endless, amusing banter, she keeps a comfortable distance. He makes it difficult, though, with his genuine charm, goofy grin, and utter devotion. After all, it’s hard to resist a crush who says things like “you are so busy being you that you have no idea how utterly unprecedented you are.” [Sigh. Swoon. Stomach flip.]
But her caution, of course, is warranted. Hazel is duly aware of the pain she will unavoidably cause him given her incurable condition. A self-described “grenade,” she holds back to protect him. “To be with him was to hurt him—inevitably. And that’s what I’d felt when he reached for me: I’d felt as though I were committing an act of violence against him, because I was.” And yet Augustus is undeterred. He tells her, “all efforts to save me from you will fail.” Ultimately she relents, and it is an abiding interest in the precarious conclusion to An Imperial Affliction that cements their bond—and sets them off on an adventure to Amsterdam to meet Peter Van Houten, its reclusive author. Somewhere along the way, they fall in love. As Hazel describes, “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.” But when Augustus reveals a shadowed truth, their emotional journey together is indelibly redirected as they learn that “some infinites are bigger than other infinities.”
Funny, wise, and deeply romantic, this tragicomedy is undoubtedly a celebration of the best of love and the worst of life—a beautiful, bold depiction of how those two narratives are ever-entangled, securely written in the prolific stars as they magically align or devastatingly cross. The universal themes of Green’s work transcend illness—a thoughtful, nuanced appeal to readers young and old alike. If, as Augustus contends, cancer is an act of civil war—a cellular battle of the self—we can all relate on some level to those affecting fears. For we all struggle with ourselves and our own sense of fragility and worthiness. We all battle our own, specific “imperial affliction” as well as the residual concern of imposing and absorbing hurt. But what these two young, improbable lovers prove is just how worth pain can be for the right person. To paraphrase Hazel, true love is knowing you can’t unlove someone even when confronted with his “hamartia,” his fatal flaw. And, more importantly, knowing you don’t want to.
Those glorious, faulty stars. What would our lives be without them?
Citation: Green, John. The Fault in Our Stars. New York: Dutton, 2012. Print.