February is the month we glorify “love” and “The Fault In Our Stars,” by John Green, is a glorious love story. A love story not just between a boy and a girl, but with life itself. You’ll find this book in the Young Adult section, but don’t let that keep you from reading it; its message is universal to all ages because it is about living each day to the fullest, as if your days were limited.
The main characters, 16-year-old Hazel Grace and 17-year-old Augustus (Gus) Waters, live and love that way because they have cancer. They don’t fall into the trap healthy people do of thinking they have all the time in the world. As one review says, (Gus) was “carpe diem” personified.
Hazel and Gus meet at a cancer support group, which Hazel goes to reluctantly at her mother’s urging because Hazel has few friends these days and prefers the company of books, particularly the fictional “An Imperial Affliction,” by Dutch author Peter Van Houten. I mention this book and its author because they play a critical role in the plot, both externally and internally. As Van Houten tells Hazel, “Grief doesn’t change you; it reveals you.”
Also at the support group is Gus’ best friend, Isaac. Isaac loses an eye to cancer and finds solace in Hazel and Gus (and his video games) when his girlfriend dumps him. So here’s the cast of teen characters: Isaac who is blind, Gus who is in remission from osteosarcoma, which cost him a leg and a starting line-up on the Hoosier high school basketball team, and Hazel, a thyroid cancer patient on a “miracle” drug that can supposedly lengthen her life — a life that consists of having oxygen tubes in her nose 24/7 with a tank she hauls around with the grace of a trendy purse. If you are thinking you don’t want to read a downer book, let me assure you that although you may shed a few tears, you will also laugh and be inspired as these three banter and face life with amazing courage and valor. Hazel herself admits on page one, “cancer books suck.” She is referring to clichés and sentiment that conceal hard truths. The voices of these three characters, however, ring brutally true with no sugar coating.
Narrated in first person, Hazel’s voice is unforgettable. It could also be described as insightful, honest, witty and genuine. Hazel’s one normal high school friend, Kaitlyn, provides comic relief, but Hazel considers her mother her best friend as she takes every opportunity to be enthusiastic at small occasions, such as half-birthdays and Bastille Day. Their relationship, however, is tested when Hazel starts spending most waking hours with Gus, leaving little energy to be with her loving and supportive parents. As Hazel rebuttals, “But you said I spend too much time alone ... you wanted me to have friends.” Inside Hazel fears for her parents’ welfare — she would do anything to spare them grief. She read a statistic that half of all marriages result in divorce after a child’s death. As an only child she fears, “What will happen to them if she dies?” This is the same reason she is initially reluctant to go beyond friendship with Gus — to spare him further sadness and angst. Gus’ persistence, however, wins her over, especially when he shares her love for An Imperial Affliction and together they take on a mission and journey inspired by the book — with a little help from the Genies (the fictional Make-A-Wish foundation).
The title of the book, according to the author’s blog, is inspired by a line from Shakespeare’s play, “Julius Ceaser, where the nobleman Cassius says to Brutus, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
His blog also tells us that he named the main character Hazel “because it’s an in-between color, and she has an in-between life, in-between health and sickness.”
It’s challenging to comment fully on the beauty of this story without plot spoilers so you’ll have to trust me on this one. Or better yet, trust the millions of readers Green has. “Fault In Our Stars” debuted in January 2012 as No. 1 on the New York Times Best Seller list for Children’s Chapter Books and remained in that spot for seven consecutive weeks. It was No. 1 on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list, and as of January 2013 had one million copies in print world-wide. In February of 2012, film rights to the book were optioned by Fox 2000.
Also, an interesting note that speaks volumes of the author’s amiable character, as well as his fan loyalty: On December 21, 2011, Barnes and Noble accidentally shipped 1,500 copies of the book three weeks before its release date to people who had pre-ordered the book. Green released a statement saying, “Mistakes happen. It is not my wish to see any employees vilified.” Many fans who received the book pledged not to read it until its release date, as per a request of Green’s to not spoil it for other readers.
As of January, Green has three other spots on the New York Times Best Seller list: “Looking for Alaska,” “An Abundance of Katherines,” and “Paper Towns.” Green is somewhat of a paradox. All of his novels are about serious subjects portrayed with wit and soulfulness through the eyes of highly intelligent teenagers. Yet, his sideline is funny stuff. He is one half of the Vlogbrothers (youtube.com/vlogbrothers), a popular online video, social media project. He co-founded a still running public reading series, “Funny HaHa,” when he lived in Chicago. You can join John’s 1.2 million followers on Twitter (@realjohngreen), or visit him online at johngreenbooks.com.
Although these characters have a fault in their stars, when finished with this book you are left grateful that you knew them and that the stars of those you love are healthy.
• Former bookstore owner Vy Armour has been a resident of Ahwatukee Foothills for more than 20 years. She is an adjunct instructor in communications at the University of Phoenix and reviews books on her blog, http://serendipity-reflections.blogspot.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.