The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green, is not a typical teen cancer book. It is told from the perspective of smart, sassy, and sarcastic Hazel Lancaster, a sixteen-year-old who likes reading poetry more than writing it (thus setting her apart from pretty much all teenagers, including my high school self). Hazel is an interesting enough character to carry a book without anything else, but central to the novel is her cancer. For Hazel, dying from her illness is not a question of if but when. Her limited days and her physical limitations are always present.
The story really begins, when Hazel meets August Waters at a cancer support group for teens. Augustus is a former basketball star who lost a leg to osterosarcoma but at the start of the book is seemingly healthy. The chemistry is instant and really gets going when they trade favorite books. In fact, much of the novel’s plot revolves around their mutual quest to discover the ending to Hazel’s favorite book, “An Imperial Affliction” a story that ends mid-sentence about a girl with cancer.
The realities of cancer are present throughout the novel: Augustus’s prosthetic leg, Hazel’s oxygen tank. But the book does not paint either character as saint like. They don’t sit in hospital beds and write letters to their friends about the higher truths they’ve discovered through tragedy. They don’t live every day to the fullest because it might be their last. They try to play video games and flirt and talk on the phone like normal teenagers. They are loveable for their flaws and the frailty of their personalities – not their bodies. As I said before, it is not a cancer story. It is a story about growing up, about falling in love, about how a book can change your life.
That being true, I think the cancer elements are probably what made this book more popular than John Green’s. For whatever reason, teens (and obviously adults) love cancer book. There is a catharsis in reading about tragedy. Everyone I know that has read it was sobbing by the end of the book. If you read the book, you probably will cry too.