Reading the final lines of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars you can’t help but wonder: How did the novel veer so far off path? Yet as you reflect on it an hour, a day, a month later, you feel its inevitability; you just didn’t want to see it.
Hazel Lancaster has battled Stage IV thyroid cancer for years; a miracle drug has kept her alive—but hardly living—for three years. One night, one boy changes everything.
Augustus Waters “had a little touch of osteosarcoma a year and a half ago.” He lost his leg, but is now cancer free. Hazel and Augustus save each other. They fall in love, swiftly and full-heartedly. Cancer is no longer their whole story; but just “a side effect of dying.”
Green’s prose is full of wit and passion. The narrative does not offer sympathy, even when perhaps it is warranted. Hazel knows her fate and loves in spite of it, with a grace and strength that the healthy seldom, if ever, display.
“Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. …. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”
Green allows Hazel an adventure that her illness might preclude, but the oddity of the story, teenaged cancer patients visit Amsterdam to meet their favorite author, melts seamlessly into the sincerity of the prose. It becomes plausible: one good day before the safe haven of love cannot protect either of them.
… [H]e broke down, just for one moment, his sob roaring impotent like a clap of thunder unaccompanied by lightning, the terrible ferocity that amateurs in the field of suffering might mistake for weakness.
As the novel ends, you try to be as strong as Augustus and Hazel, and all the others you’ve met. You put the book down and follow the instructions Hazel has laid out for you.
You clench your teeth. You look up. You tell yourself that if they see you cry, it will hurt them, and you will be nothing but A Sadness in their lives, and you must not become a mere sadness, so you will not cry.
That is a feat of strength at any age.
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