In The Fault In Our Stars, John Green skillfully maneuvers the beautiful thin line between comedy and tragedy. I never expected a novel about teenagers with terminal cancer to be so funny.
The novel’s narrator, sixteen year-old Hazel Lancaster, is scared out of her mind even while she faces her disease head on. She meets Augustus Waters at a cancer victim support group meeting in a church shaped like a cross. Their little support circle is located in what Hazel and Gus refer to as the “Literal Heart of Jesus”. The leader of the support group has difficulty with the difference between “literal” and “figurative”.
While the novel centers around Hazel and Gus, along with their friend, Isaac, I enjoyed the fact that Hazel and Gus’s parents were intricately involved in the novel. Here, Green walks another line between portraying the parents as quirky and weird (as many parents are to teenagers) but also as caring, involved and just as courageous as their children. Hazel’s dad seemed to be the one I related to most. During a conversation in which he is comforting Hazel, he says:
You are amazing. You can’t know, sweetie, because you’ve never had a baby become a brilliant young reader with a side interest in horrible television shows, but the joy you bring us is so much greater than the sadness we feel about your illness.
In a deeper conversation, he explains to Hazel:
I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is improbably biased toward consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it – or my observation of it – is temporary?
Hazel responds with “You are fairly smart” and her dad responds with “You are fairly good at compliments”.
As Augustus deals with his cancer, in a particularly poignant moment, Hazel describes his crying as a “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”.
Hazel and Gus’s romance develops as they embark on a literary quest that takes them to Amsterdam as a result of Gus’s Wish (granted by an organization that makes wishes for younger cancer victims). Their quest becomes a metaphor for the questions they are really dealing with: the meaning of life in the face of horrible circumstances and suffering. However, their quest is so real and funny that I didn’t take it for a metaphor until I finished the book and thought “Oh, wait, that was a metaphor.”
In determining favorite books I’ve read this year, this one will rank up there near the top.