Hazel and Augustus are star-crossed teenaged lovers. It's not feuding families that threaten their happiness - it's the very cells of their bodies, the osteosarcoma that Augustus lost a leg too (but appears to have beaten) and the thyroid cancer that has migrated to Hazel's lung and left her with a permanent nanny in the shape of an oxygen canister.
Augustus and Hazel meet at a support group for children and teens with cancer. Neither is keen to be there; Augustus goes to support his friend Issac, who has lost one eye and will soon have the other removed too. As for Hazel:
I went to Support Group for the same reason that I'd once allow nurses with a mere eighteen months of graduate education to poison me with exotically named chemicals: I wanted to make my parents happy. There is only one thing in this world shittier than biting it from cancer when you're sixteen, and that's having a kid that bites it from cancer.Augustus and Hazel fall for each other - sweetly, articulately, definitively:
I nodded. I liked Augustus Waters. I really, really, really liked him. I liked the way his story ended with someone else. I liked his voice. I liked that he took existentially fraught free throws. I liked that he was a tenured professor in the Department of Slightly Crooked Smiles with a dual appointment in the Department of Having a Voice That Made My Skin Feel More Like Skin.As a mark of her liking, Hazel shares with Augustus her favourite book - a intimate and dangerous move because, as she observes, some books are "so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal.” An Imperial Affliction is a book about a girl who has cancer, which ends suddenly and indecisively but with terminal finality. It has left Hazel with many hanging questions for its author, Peter van Houten; Augustus woos Hazel by trying to seek answers to those questions.
A third of the way into the book I nearly put it down. As with Dash and Lily's Book of Dares, The Fault in our Stars just felt too damn clever, too manipulative, too arch. Sixteen year-olds just can't be this unbearably eloquent:
“I'm in love with you," he said quietly.
"Augustus," I said.
"I am," he said. He was staring at me, and I could see the corners of his eyes crinkling.
"I'm in love with you, and I'm not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I'm in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we're all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we'll ever have, and I am in love with you.”They don't get to be this brutally insightful:
“Without pain, how could we know joy?' This is an old argument in the field of thinking about suffering and its stupidity and lack of sophistication could be plumbed for centuries but suffice it to say that the existence of broccoli does not, in any way, affect the taste of chocolate.”But I persisted. And even though I often felt like I was being Titanicked (i.e. having my feelings played by an expert bowsman) I couldn't help but spend three mornings before work weeping into my pillow as I followed Hazel and Augustus find their love despite it all. There's a running gag between the two about the Encouragements that festoon his house ('True Love is Born From Hard Times'), and the triteness of cancer phrases. Green plays off and against and perilously close to this sappiness and cliche himself throughout the book - Augustus and Hazel are eminently quotable, never more so than when they make fun of the quotability of the cancer world they live in. Yet, just as the book brims with true emotion, the cliches brim with true truth, and it's impossible not to stumble over one or two that burrow down into you. And for me, it was this:
Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.