The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, Dutton Books, 2012, ISBN 978-0-525-47881-2
Hazel is a seventeen-year-old girl with cancer and strong dislike of support groups and life affirming mantras like LIVING OUR BEST LIFE TODAY. When she meets fellow cancer survivor, Augustus Waters, she is immediately drawn to him, despite his habit of mocking death by keeping an unlit cigarette in his mouth. She is reluctant to get too involved, however, knowing that her life may be cut short and having just witnessed her friend Isaac’s heartbreaking breakup. But Augustus is as persistent as Hazel is cautious. Slowly, Hazel begins to open up to him and allow herself to care. She introduces Augustus to her bible, An Imperial Affliction, a mysterious book about a girl with cancer written by Peter Van Houten and the two decide to use Augustus’s Make a Wish money to travel to Amsterdam to visit the reclusive author. When they get there, they find their idol is an inebriated, bitter old man who wants nothing to do with the two teens with cancer. The experience only fuels Hazel’s conviction that caring for things only leads to disappointment. This feeling is only confirmed when they return home to even worse news: Augustus’s cancer has returned. Now Hazel must find the courage and strength to love in spite of death and make the most of her and Augustus’s time together.
“Cancer books suck,” says Hazel, the narrator of John Green’s excellent novel, The Fault In Our Stars. In cancer books, the protagonist always rises above the crushing weight of his or her disease and finds hidden strength to accomplish great deeds. Lucky for readers, Hazel is not this kind of protagonist. She deals with her illness with a mixture of realism and sardonic humor. She finds little comfort in false platitudes, whether they’re spoken in her support group or sewn into decorative pillows. It’s this fresh perspective that makes her such a sympathetic character and The Fault In Our Stars such a great book.
Having seen many of her friends and acquaintances die before their time, Hazel is cautious about attaching herself too deeply to anything or anybody. What better obstacle to place before a girl who has sealed herself off from her feelings than an attractive, charming, and trustworthy boy like Augustus. As their relationship unfolds, readers will recognize the barriers Hazel faces in allowing herself to be vulnerable. Green doesn’t make it easy for either of his main characters and the story is filled with a lot of disappointment and sadness. (This Library Dude got teary eyed on more than one occasion.) But the novel is also filled with Green’s characteristic humor and deep sympathy for his youthful protagonists. What Green has done in The Fault In Our Stars is take his traditional formula of “Boy Loves Girl. Boy Loses Girl” and tweak it so that it feels fresh and more meaningful. This cancer book does not suck. On the contrary, it is a profound and poignant look on the nature of love and loss.
As a teenager living with cancer, Hazel is wary of attaching herself too deeply to anything or anybody. Augustus, another cancer survivor, is just the opposite and lives every moment as if it were his last. As their relationship develops, Hazel must decide if she’s strong enough to love someone she knows she may lose.
Information about the author
From the author’s Wikipedia page we learn that “John Green is a New York Times bestselling author who has received numerous awards, including both the Printz Medal and a Printz Honor. John is also the cocreator (with his brother, Hank) of the popular video blog Brotherhood 2.0, which has been watched more than 30 million times by Nerdfighter fans all over the globe. John Green lives in Indianapolis, Indiana.”
Contemporary Young Adult novel
English / Health
Compare and contrast Hazel and Augustus’s response to their illnesses
Discuss the different ways adults treat sick children
Reading Level / Interest Age
Grade 9 and up
Mature content – The book deals with children and cancer, and there is some sexual content.
Response – Numerous book reviews praise best selling author’s treatment of issues as mature and responsible.
Why did I include this title?
John Green is one of the most popular authors among teens at my school. He is one of the authors I have followed since the publication of Looking for Alaska. The Time magazine review of this book was so enthusiastic (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2105454,00.html ), I couldn’t wait to read it.