Summary (Amazon): In The Fault in Our Stars, John Green has created a soulful novel that tackles big subjects–life, death, love–with the perfect blend of levity and heart-swelling emotion. Hazel is sixteen, with terminal cancer, when she meets Augustus at her kids-with-cancer support group. The two are kindred spirits, sharing an irreverent sense of humor and immense charm, and watching them fall in love even as they face universal questions of the human condition–How will I be remembered? Does my life, and will my death, have meaning?–has a raw honesty that is deeply moving.
My Review (Spoilers!):
Executive Summary: realistic
I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while as I like to try to fill in my pop culture gaps, especially when it comes to books. I finally got the chance when I borrowed this book from one of my friends in book club.
The story is pretty simple, and really not that unique. However, the success of the book is in the details. The general premise is that the main character, Hazel, has cancer and has an unknown amount of time to live. She meets a boy, Augustus “Gus”, at her therapy group and they click. See, like I said. Not that unique. But the characters have a compelling mixture of optimism and sarcastic realism that is enticing.
Hazel’s favorite book is a (fictional) book called An Imperial Affliction. (I love book within book stories. I can’t help it.) She lends it to Gus who also loves it, but they are both shocked by the ending–or lack thereof. In “AIA”, the main character, Anna, has cancer and decides to start a charity for people with cancer who want to cure cholera. Her mother meets a rich Dutch man, who might be a fraud, but her mother is going to marry him. The book ends abruptly, mid-sentence, and Gus and Hazel discuss what happened to the remaining characters. Was the Dutch man a fraud? Did they end up getting married? Hazel has already written the author, Peter van Houten, a bunch of letters with no replies, so she is stunned when Gus tells her that he has tracked down Peter’s email address and has received a response! Hazel summarizes her numerous letters into an email which she also sends. van Houten tells her that he cannot tell her the ending of the story except in person because he doesn’t trust that she wouldn’t publish it without his consent.
Hazel tells her mom who assures her that they would let her go to Amsterdam to meet him in person if they could, but they just do not have the money. However, Gus has saved his Wish (Make a Wish), and he surprises Hazel with a trip. (Hazel used her wish at age 13 to go to Disney World, and Gus justifies including her as she is the one who introduced him to the book.) Despite some hiccups in Hazel’s health, she is approved to go with her mom as a chaperone.
They arrive in Amsterdam and Gus and Hazel have dinner at a fictitious restaurant (yes, I looked) overlooking a canal. The meal was paid for Peter van Houten, and they are excited to meet him the following day. The next day, they arrive at his doorstep and he all but shuts the door in their face. It turns out that his assistant, Lidewij, approved the trip, and he had no idea that they were coming. He proceeds to down a couple glasses of scotch, speaks philosophically to them, and refuse to answer most of Hazel’s questions. They storm out dejectedly, and Lidewij comes out after them. She explains that she thought having people arrive who were lovers of his book would help re-ground him (but obviously that didn’t work). She offers to take them to see the Anne Frank house as a consolation, and they accept. Overcome by emotion in the museum, Hazel and Gus begin a mega make out session that they continue after the tour in his room. Cue the Marvin Gaye music.
The next morning, they have breakfast with Hazel’s mom and tell her about meeting Peter. Honestly, I’m not sure what they were expecting. The ending of a book is the ending for a reason. You don’t get to know what the characters do. Maybe the author doesn’t even know. It’s a book of made-up characters.
And then Gus starts acting weird. And you just know what is happening. His cancer has returned and is all through his body. He found out before they left, but he still wanted to go on the trip. They return to the states and he begins chemo and other experimental treatments. His health declines quickly, but there are still some good days in the midst. When he has one of his last good days, he invites Hazel and Isaac (another friend of theirs who is blind due to his cancer that attended the group sessions) to a pre-funeral so they can read him their eulogies while he can still hear them. He dies soon after.
Hazel speaks at his funeral, although she determines that funerals are for the living, and she revises the eulogy that she read to Augustus. But the biggest surprise at the funeral is that Peter is there. Augustus had been in contact with him after their trip and convinced Peter to attend his funeral to make amends for his terrible behavior during their visit. Hazel refuses to accept his apologies or endings to the story, but she does finally realize that the main character in Peter’s book was based upon his own daughter. She died at age 6, and he has never recovered.
Hazel, understandably, is having a hard time getting over the fact that Augustus has died, and she decides to hang out with Isaac. He tells her that Augustus was writing her a sequel to AIA in his last few days. She decides to go to Augustus’s house and check his room, where she finds nothing. A few days later, his mother calls her to say that she found a notebook with some missing pages. Hazel realizes that perhaps he sent those pages to Peter, so she emails his former assistant for help. Lidewij finds the missing pages, which were a request for Peter to write Hazel’s eulogy. She makes Peter read the letter and then send it to Hazel. You don’t get to choose whether you get hurt in the world, but you do get the choice of who hurts you. Augustus liked his choices, and he hoped that Hazel liked hers. She did.
Verdict: 4 Stars
In terms of young adult books, this is one of the better ones that I have read. Like I mentioned, the story itself is not particularly original, but there are a lot of things that I liked about it. In many YA books, the teenagers run the show. That might be motivational, but it’s not very realistic. In this, all people are strong and fragile, and therefore a lot more believable. Despite the fact that Isaac and Hazel appeared to be the sickest, in the end, Augustus is the one who dies. And throughout the book, he is the one who wanted to leave a legacy after he died, however, through Hazel, he realizes that it’s quality over quantity. I also appreciate the balance that the book took with regard to making the most of the time that you have. I enjoyed the philosophy interspersed in the book (not overbearing like philosophy can be) and the author’s ability to write a book that was a love story, a tragedy, and yet humorous without being too swayed in any one direction.
A few quotes throughout the book that I loved:
“Come quickly: I am tasting the stars.” (Also I did not know prior to this book that Dom Perignon was a real person)
“There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. … You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”