Have you ever read a book that with its last word just stunned you into tears? I have, and it’s called The Fault in Our Stars.
John Green’s book follows 17-year-old Hazel, a teenager with terminal cancer, as she meets and falls in love with Gus, who has lost a leg to cancer. Their story is surprising, touching and full of love. And above all, it’s full of humour, surprising considering its subject matter.
Intelligent and clever, Hazel’s life is changed when Gus walks into it at a support group for kids with cancer. The pair bond instantly, and are brought even closer by the suffering of their friend Issac, who has his second eye removed due to cancer after losing the first a while ago, and a trip to meet the reclusive Peter Van Houten, who wrote Hazel’s favourite book An Imperial Affliction – a book about a girl, who has cancer, which ends mid-sentence.
Hazel and Gus may not have the most conventional of teenage romances, but theirs is one of the most powerful love stories I’ve ever read. Despite their young age, the two are both more grown-up than many grown-ups, and more immature than many children. They are living all stages of their lives in this one teenage stage, because the future is not guaranteed.
Green writes convincingly about both love and cancer, and his descriptions are second to none. In a confessional moment between the couple, Green‘s description of Gus‘s pain hit me like a punch to the chest:
“…and then he 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.”
Later, when Hazel is describing the pain she feels in hospital, Green’s description is vivid and makes it easy to imagine how Hazel is feeling, even if we can’t feel it ourselves:
“I called it a nine because I was saving my ten. And here it was, the great and terrible ten, slamming me again and again as I lay still and alone in my bed staring at the ceiling, the waves tossing me against the rocks then pulling me back out to sea so they could launch me again into the jagged face of the cliff, leaving me floating faceup on the water, undrowned.”
It’s easy to think The Fault in Our Stars is a miserable book. It’s not, it’s full of beauty and love, and even plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and it’s full of deep thoughts that are put across in simple, non-pretentious ways, like Hazel’s description as she has a picnic with her parents:
“You could hear the wind in the leaves, and on that wind travelled the screams of the kids on the playground in the distance, the little kids figuring out how to be alive, how to navigate a world that was not built for them by navigating a playground that was.”
Yes, The Fault in Our Stars is very, very sad, but it’s also very, very hopeful about life in general and how much meaning our lives can have regardless of how short they are. My reaction on reading the final words of The Fault in Our Stars was to let the tears flow, but they were good tears, full of happiness for Hazel.