Did you know everything is a side effect of dying? It’s true, but the opposite is also true – everything is a side effect of living as well. This idea comes from the delicious novel by John Green entitled “The Fault in Our Stars.” It is a cancer novel, but it is different than any other cancer novels I’ve read so far. The protagonist is Hazel, and she has “never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosed.” She’s sixteen and has thyroid cancer, with metastases in her lungs. John Green put an “author’s note” in the front of the book – one that “is not so much an author’s note as an author’s reminder of what was printed in small type a few pages ago: This book is a work of fiction. I made it up.” (Meaning: Thyroid cancer isn’t one of the cancers children get.)
The novel opens on a scene in which Hazel attends a Cancer Support Group in the “Literal Heart of Jesus” (the church is shaped like a cross, and the group meets in the middle aka “the literal heart of Jesus,” which is a misuse of “literal” too, as Hazel is sure to point out). One of the boys at the meeting just stares at her the whole hour and after the meeting, he introduces himself as “Augustus Waters. He is an osteosarcoma survivor (a real childhood cancer) and is a year older than Hazel. Augustus also has a prosthetic leg because of his cancer. He claims Hazel looks like his dead girlfriend (she died of brain cancer) and also, Natalie Portman in V is for Vendetta. They go to his house to watch it, and end up talking about books.
Hazel is very obsessed with this one book in particular, “An Imperial Affliction,” which is by Peter van Houten. She had read it over and over more times than she can count, and has written to the author wanting to know what happens next to the characters. The book itself is about a young girl with cancer, and since Hazel knows herself what living with cancer is like, she feels a kinship with this character – who is called Anna. The novel ends rather abruptly in mid-sentence, and Hazel thinks it is because Anna either dies or becomes too sick to write. She wants to know what happens to Anna’s mother and she wants to know what happens to Anna’s hamster. She has loads of questions and has written to Peter van Houten over and over to no avail.
She ends up recommending it to Augustus and he reads it and is very upset about the ending too. And to Hazel’s great surprise, he got in touch with Peter Van Houten’s assistant, who had typed up the author’s reply to Augustus’ letter. Hazel asks for the email address and of course, Augustus gives it to her. And she writes a message out and gets a reply inviting (or so she thinks) her to Amsterdam where the author lives. Sadly, she had used her Wish on Disney when she was thirteen, but Augustus says he still has his, and would use it to get them to Amsterdam. Because, evidently, he loves Hazel.
I absolutely loved this book – the best things in life often make you laugh and cry both, and this book is one of those things. I loved the way Augustus spoke to Hazel – or Hazel Grace, as he called her – and I loved his grand gesture of love – using his Wish on her when he really didn’t have to. That is what love is, after all, isn’t it? Putting the other person’s happiness before your own? I really think this is the best cancer novel I’ve read thus far – because it is not bogged down with sadness. There a moments I giggled. There are moments where I cried. There were even moments when I had to put the book aside because I couldn’t read through the tears. It is a beautiful story, a masterpiece. And it is now on my list of Favorite Books Ever.
Read it. You won’t be sorry. Pain demands to be felt, just like this book demands to be read.