Cancer fighters, Hazel Grace, and Augustus, sixteen and seventeen years old, meet in a cancer support group in this coming of age novel. The characters, both adult and young adult, grow as they learn how to live and how to die knowing the “fault in our stars” was something over which they have no control. They all struggle to lean into good, to make caring choices by being responsible with their freedom to choose their paths rather than letting that free choice lead them to self-destruction. The stars have already made that choice for them, and it is out of their control. Augustus tells Grace that cancer “is a civil war with a predetermined winner.” p.216
Hazel Grace narrates the story with an insight that touches any aged reader. As a parent, she touched my heart by noticing the way Augustus’s parents looked at him, “watching him, never looking away, like they just wanted to enjoy the The Gus Waters Show while it was still in town.” p.235 I must say I adore listening to my children talk with their comical thoughts and deep emotions, and John Green conveyed the feeling so well.
I often ponder the idea of not knowing when something is the last. Hazel Grace reflects that “there’s no way of knowing that your last good day is your Last Good Day.” p.253 Sometimes I know that something special is happening, and I know it’s a moment I will never see happen again, the birth of a child, graduations, special ceremonies, a long visit with your son before he marries, but what about those wonderful afternoons when you share the best time ever with your child, a friend, or your pets not knowing it will be your last. You look back and wish for one more moment. I take from this book that life is precious and precarious, and we have but one chance to walk through this world as Augustus sums up for his friend, knowing that “you are going to live a good and long life filled with great and terrible moments that you cannot even imagine yet!”p.272, and understanding that these are all part of life and to make each moment count.
In some ways this book connects with another of my very old favorites, A Separate Peace, by John Knowles. The book begins with one of the characters looking back on his youth and his regrets, thinking, “It’s time to come in out of the rain.” Augustus is good-looking, witty, athletic, and charismatic like Phineas in A Separate Peace, but Augustus’s friend, Isaac, did not resent Augustus’s ease with living as Gene did with Phineas.
The characters in The Fault in Our Stars are mature beyond their years, like so many young adults who are dealing with cancer and trying to protect the hearts of those they love. The perspectives that John Green shares through Hazel, Augustus, Hazel’s mother, and Van Houten resonate innocence, love, protection, bitterness, selfishness, and forgiveness. Augustus says we have choices in this life. We choose who we love, who we hurt, who we let hurt us, and whether to hang on to things or let them go. Green brilliantly writes a book that a reader can use throughout his or her life to help get through what our stars hold for us.
Things to ponder: If authors of fiction include some truths in their tales, could the Tulip Man in AIA be Van Houten, himself? How did cancer change Van Houten? Who are the brave ones in this story?