The idea of a cancer support group makes Hazel Grace Lancaster roll her eyes. The protagonist of “The Fault in our Stars” has better things to do, and cancer just gets in the way.
Lancaster is a 16-year-old living with thyroid cancer. According to author John Green, her name is Hazel because “it is an in-between color, and she has an in-between life.” True to her name, Lancaster struggles to live a life beyond her illness — “an infinity within the numbered days.”
Lancaster does find some benefits to attending support group meetings; Augustus Waters is one of them. The two meet in support group and suddenly, Lancaster isn’t sure that she wants to hide behind books anymore.
The charming 17-year-old Waters, sometimes labeled “Gus,” lost a leg from osteosarcoma when he was young. As the healthier of the two, Waters gives Lancaster his leftover wish from the Genies, an organization resembling the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The two travel to meet Peter van Houten, author of Lancaster’s favorite book, “An Imperial Affliction.”
Somewhere between trips to the hospital and games played on a blind friend’s computer, Waters and Lancaster fall in love. At first, Lancaster is reluctant to open her heart — she calls herself a grenade waiting to explode. Waters confronts her from a different perspective; he tells her it would be “a privilege” to have her break his heart.
The consequences of that statement are more severe than either of them could have guessed.
“The Fault In Our Stars” beckons to readers much in the same way that “Romeo and Juliet” does — no one can write a book about cancer without exploring the theme of death. Green makes a great choice by attacking the genre and telling you the story of the girl, not the sickness.
Although she cannot help it, Lancaster is a grenade who, upon exploding, will change the lives of everyone around her. The reader doesn’t sympathize with Lancaster because she’s dying or sick, though; they sympathize because she is a normal teenager.
In fact, Green’s novel is more a coming-of-age tale than anything else. This is a book about friendships, adventure and struggle. Lancaster’s “numbered days” just seem to make relatable plotlines more poignant. By the end of the book, even the word “OK” has been made more beautiful to the reader.
However, Lancaster’s advanced vocabulary sometimes distracts from the action. Green’s use of language makes his heroine sound a bit precocious for her age, but perhaps that’s because she reads. Maybe it’s another side effect of dying. At least Lancaster’s inner monologue, if not her words, feel true to form.
Green’s portrayal of a family dealing with illness is accurate. The wide range of emotions Lancaster experiences with her family and friends allow the reader to firmly plant his or her feet in Lancaster’s shoes.
There are times when it feels as though the water in Lancaster’s lungs has entered your own — somehow it doesn’t discourage the reader. Rather, the emotional and physical openness Lancaster shares with the reader strikes a connection as strong as the one between herself and Waters. When Lancaster laughs, the reader laughs. When Lancaster mourns, the reader mourns. It’s the closest thing to friendship a book can offer.
The comedies and immense sorrows of “The Fault In Our Stars” are impossibly intertwined; such is life. There are many ways to tell the story of someone’s death, but telling the story of someone’s life is the best way of all.