Book review: The Fault in Our Stars

With some books you just know it isn’t going to end well. The Fault in Our Stars is one of those books.

This popular novel was made into a movie a couple years ago. As with most things that are uber popular, I shied away from it. But recently my curiosity got the better of me.

I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. (Though about three-quarters through the book I was mentally screaming “Noooooo!”. Things for our heroes were not ending well.)

The author John Green, a Hoosier and current Indianapolis resident, sets the story in his home city. He mentions different places throughout the metro area in the book: North Central, Castleton, Holliday Park (and The Ruins there), the White River, Broad Ripple, the 100 Acres park behind the IMA, Meridian Hills, and Crown Hill Cemetery (and if you have read my blog before, you know how often I visit Crown Hill Cemetery).

I love books set in places where I have lived or know well. (The books in Michael Scott’s series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel are other such examples.) I can easily visualize the story occurring at the locale…and wonder where the next scene will take place.

Hazel and Augustus are teenagers trying to live normal lives in Indianapolis as they battle cancer. They encounter each other in a support group. Augustus has been cancer-free but shows up to support another member of the group, Isaac, whose remaining eye needs to be removed because his cancer returned. Hazel and Augustus quickly click and become support for each other and combined support for Isaac.

Hazel is short of obsessed with a particular book, The Imperial Affliction, where the main character Anna seemingly dies. Hazel writes the author numerous times to find out what happens to Anna’s mother, her mother’s boyfriend, and her hamster. (Gotta love her for her concern for the hamster.)

Alas, to no avail.

After reading the book, Augustus emails the author, who strikes up a conversation with him and invites both Hazel and Augustus to Amsterdam to discuss their questions about what happens to the characters after the book ends.

The problem is a lack of funds to get to Amsterdam. Hazel no longer has her wish (from the Make a Wish foundation that fulfills wishes of children with cancer). But Augustus still has his and convinces the foundation to pay for him, Hazel, and Hazel’s mother to travel to Amsterdam to see the author Peter Van Houten.

The trip isn’t quite what you would expect. Nor is the meeting with the Van Houten. Or encounters with Van Houten back in Indiana. However, the outcome for Hazel and Augustus is expected. (Re: with some books you just know it isn’t going to end well.)

As I read, I often ran across a gem of a sentence that made me pause and ponder the ideas contained in it. Often these observations are Hazel’s thoughts, but others are comments from Augustus or Peter Van Houten.

Hazel ponders how alienating illness is: “The physical evidence of disease separates you from other people.” How true that is.

After a death, she realizes: “The pleasure of remembering had been taken from me, because there was no longer anyone to remember with.” Yes! The loss of the other results in the loss of joy from memories of shared experiences.

She describes what falling in love with Augustus was like: “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.” What an interesting analogy between love and sleeping but apt.

Or Augustus’ observation about a deceased former girlfriend: “The thing about dead people…The thing is you sound like a bastard if you don’t romanticize them.” Yup. That is pretty much spot on.

Or Peter’s observation about grief: “Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.” Hmmm…something to ponder and compare to times when I have encountered grief.

I also loved the source of the title: a refutation of lines from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” In contrast, the fault for Hazel and Augustus is in their stars—their fate—not in themselves.

The Fault in Our Stars is an easy read that draws you in and makes you wish that it didn’t have to end. With many novels, you can read the last page and shut the book, assuming that the characters in the book continue to live in the universe that they inhabit within its pages.

You cannot do that with The Fault in Our Stars. The story of Hazel and Augustus, like the story of Anna in The Imperial Affliction, which stops in mid-sentence with Anna’s presumed death, does not continue. Their story ends when you finish reading and close the book.

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