originally published on Goodreads in April 2012
The Fault In Our Stars by John Green is a difficult book to classify. On one hand, it’s a cancer book. This fact is as inescapable to a reader as the disease is for the characters. But to call it “a cancer book” somehow diminishes the work as a whole. At its core, The Fault In Our Stars is a novel about inevitability, about things that don’t last, and more than anything, about the things that do.
Hazel Grace Lancaster is the protagonist-cum-narrator, an astonishingly intelligent and terminally ill teenage college student whose view of life is necessarily colored by the fact of its brevity. For Hazel, the course of her illness and treatment means that she is effectively living on borrowed time. To a large degree this applies to most other characters as well, whom she meets regularly at a psychologist-mandated teen cancer support group. Her friend Isaac, for example, previously lost an eye to cancer and eventually loses the other. Augustus Waters, a newcomer to the group and the eventual object of Hazel’s unwilling affection, is three years in remission from osteosarcoma. Hazel herself, though in limbo due to the “miraculous” affects of an experimental fictional drug, is permanently fixed to a portable oxygen tank.
This real and accepted fact of death frees Green to break the tension and infect the book with much needed humor. Granted, it’s grim and morbid humor, but it is appropriate to the characters and nevertheless effective in maintaining a balance between heavy introspection and actual readability. Having accepted death for themselves, Hazel and her friends instead grapple with more existential crises: the durability of the marks they leave on the world and other people, the inevitability of oblivion, and the scars their inevitable and untimely passage might leave behind on the people they love. Not to mention the fact of living with obvious and pitiable disability, interacting with the well-intentioned though tactless masses. (The most surprising element of the book for me was its side theme of tolerance, specifically through the delicate balance of attention, inattention understanding, and the difficulties in relating on both sides.)