Book: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
“My thoughts are stars I can’t fathom into constellations.” –Augustus Waters, The Fault in Our Stars
I have read TFiOS three times now, and no number of times can prepare me for the knife of emotion that I know will inevitably sink into my soul and cut through my heart, pouring my feelings out like blood spilled on the floor. (I, obviously, have strong opinions on this one.) I begin my books and booze journey with this novel because it 1) aligns with my timeline and 2) is something I thought I could let the words flow for. I did not expect to find myself at a complete loss of words for an interpretation of this novel.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
For those of you who have not read TFiOS yet, let me give you the run down (or skip several paragraphs to the tl;dr). We begin with our protagonist, a 17 year-old girl with terminal thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs. After being given a terminal diagnosis (even before the story begins) Hazel begins taking a (fictional) drug that has extended and improved the quality of her life. However, as a classic cancer girl, she can no longer attend regular school and has instead received a GED and takes classes at a community college. More or less against her will, Hazel is also made to attend a cancer support group in the basement of a church in the “literal heart of Jesus.” It is here that she meets the love interest, Augustus Waters, another cancer teen. He was once a basketball star but later lost his leg to osteosarcoma.
Augustus is charming. He has a smooth way with words that creates this air about him that says, “Oh yes, I am intelligent and attractive, and I am well aware of it.” Hazel was aware of it, too. From the first moment they see each other, there is obvious chemistry between Hazel and Augustus, by John Green does a wonderful job of never making it seem forced. Hazel and Augustus begin to hang out following the their support group meeting, and become quick friends. In conversation, they begin talking about books in which Hazel discloses (somewhat begrudgingly) that her all time favorite novel is An Imperial Affliction.
An Imperial Affliction becomes an extremely important part of TFiOS and the main thing that pushes many actions forward. It’s a book about a girl with cancer but not “a cancer book,” as Hazel is quick to note. In cancer books, you follow the hero that has cancer but through it all is brave and humorous and never gives up and everyone loves them. Cancer, however, is rarely like this. Cancer is grueling and miserable and can destroy the spirits of even the most charismatic humans. An Imperial Affliction, much like TFiOS, does an excellent job of portraying cancer patients as they really are. It is this raw and honest depiction that draws Hazel into the novel. However, the novel doesn’t end. Well, it does end. Right in the middle of a sent
Yeah, just like that. How annoyingly clever of the author to show that the narrator of An Imperial Affliction had died. This ending has always bothered Hazel, not necessarily because of the implications of her own terminal diagnosis, but because of her desperate need to know what happens to the other characters in the novel.
Since it is Hazel’s favorite book, Augustus takes it upon himself to read it as well and finds himself with the same frustration and the need for closure. He writes to the author of the novel, Peter van Houten, to get some answers and is instead invited to visit him at his home… In Amsterdam. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and through the magic of “cancer perks” (Hazel’s words, not mine), Augustus and Hazel (and Hazel’s mom) are able to travel to Amsterdam to meet van Houten. When they arrive there, they are sorely disappointed as the once brilliant author was now nothing more than a washed out drunk with a biting tongue. He refuses to give any sort of answer as to what happened at the end of the novel, and sends them on their way.
The trip, however, does have it’s romantic moments of innocent love and a sense of companionship that seems to only strike when you have nothing left to lose. Then we hit the plot twist. And bad things happen, that I will not state here as I want you all to read the book. There is an event that occurs, and everything from there on is nothing but an honest depiction of what happens at the end of your days. I have nothing but the utmost respect for that.
So there you have it, TFiOS summed up until the twist.
tl;dr: Girl with cancer meets perfect boy with cancer. They bond over a book that has no closure at the end. They adventure to Amsterdam to find the answers and fall in love along the way. Tragedy hits, and everything goes downhill from there. It’s raw. It’s poetic. It’s beautiful.
My Thoughts (somewhat fathomed into constellations)
A couple of questions that this novel brought to mind:
- Should knowledge of an artists/author/musician change your opinion of their work?
- Is it unfair to let someone fall in love with you, or love you at all, if you know that you are dying?
These are hard questions. Looking at the novel, we see the example of van Houten as an absolutely conceited toe-rag. He’s drunk and rude and blunt, but managed to pen one of the most incredible books of Hazel’s life. As she realizes that the author she once adored, she begins to lose respect for him but never for the novel itself. It is still a work that speaks deeply to her and she can connect with it on a level that she can’t connect to anyone or thing else (except perhaps Augustus). Sometimes, it is not so easy to separate the artist from their work. In the real world, one example is Martin Freeman. He portrays several of my favorite on screen characters (Watson, Bilbo, etc), but from the media I absorb I’ve found that he’s a truly insufferable human. Because I have no deeply formed connections to the characters he plays, I have often found myself thinking about him as a person while watching him on screen. It’s hard to watch Sherlock without thinking, “Martin Freeman, you kind of suck.” So to this question, I have decided to take each scenario on a case by case basis. Should I be able to separate artist and work? Sure. You might create something beautiful, even when you’re an ass. That doesn’t the diminish the quality of your work.
I feel a lot more strongly about this second question. Is it unfair to let someone fall in love with you, or love you at all, if you know you’re dying? It doesn’t matter if it’s unfair or not. The people who love you will love you whether or not it’s right. If you are truly dying, let them love you. Let them cherish you. These last days will be what they hold onto, and God forbid their last memories are you pushing them away. The fight is so much easier when you have people to love you too, and when you can just accept that love. Stop fighting it. Let them remember your smile and your laugh. Let them worry about you when you hurt. Let them hurt when you die. These emotions make us human, and if you are so blessed to have people that feel that strongly for you, how can you deny them that humanity? Yes, when you die, it will hurt them. But as someone once said, “It is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.”
Beverage: The Stars (champagne vs. sparkling wine)
In TFiOS, there is a scene in Amsterdam where Hazel and Augustus find themselves at a beautiful restaurant courtesy of van Houten’s assistant. The scene goes like this: Augustus and Hazel are at the table, and each given a flute of champagne as a gift from the restaurant.
A sturdy young waiter with wavy blond hair appeared. […] “Do you know,” he asked in a delicious accent, “what Dom Pérignon said after inventing champagne?”
“No?” I said.
“He called out to his fellow monks, ‘Come quickly: I am tasting the stars.’ Welcome to Amsterdam.”
So in honor of that, here I sit with a glass of Wilbur’s cheapest bottle of sparkling wine. Sparkling wine and champagne are often used interchangeably and there’s really only one subtle difference between the two: location. That’s right folks! The $20 difference is due to where it was made. Champagne can only be called champagne if it was made in the Champagne region of France. Otherwise, it’s sparkling wine. So, to steal a quote from The Wine Company: In other words, all Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne.
I’m a fan of sparkling wine. The one I’m drinking is a tiny bottle perfect for me and Manfriend to have two full flutes each, for the glorious price of $4.99. It has almost a cider taste to it, and leaves just the lightest tingle on your lips. I weigh a grand total of 105 pounds, so these two glasses have me feeling pleasant. Maybe it’s the wine. Maybe it’s the atmosphere, but I’m feeling warm and tingly down to my toes. It’s the kind of beverage that calls for slow dancing to a laid back swing beat, and stolen kisses by candlelight.
So there you have it. The Fault in Our Stars, and stars to accompany it. Maybe in another post, I’ll come back to this and give more backstory as to why this book touches me so deeply.
Tune in next time for Thirteen Reasons Why!