**Contains Possible Spoilers**
It would seem that writing a book about a girl with terminal cancer would be a terribly depressing story. But if you write a coming of age book about a girl with terminal cancer who falls in love despite having terminal cancer, then you have a book that is...a love story. And that is exactly what The Fault in Our Stars is - a love story, and it is a 5 star love story.
Should the fact that the two lovers are teens with cancer make a difference? No, not really. Love is, after all, blind. Hazel Grace Lancaster is 16, she has been battling terminal thyroid cancer since she was 13. Hazel is living on an experimental drug that has generously granted her more time to live, albeit with a constant need for oxygen. Where Hazel goes, so goes her oxygen tanks.
By contrast, Augustus 'Gus' Waters is 17, a former basketball star, who claims to be in remission minus one leg he has already lost to osteosarcoma. The two teens meet at the local Cancer Children's Support Group and are instantly attracted to each other.
But you know from the start, there is no where any romance can go. Its fate is not written in the stars, however, but in the cancer Hazel and Gus each carry inside themselves. This is not a spoiler, just a fact. Or is it?
As a kid who has cancer and who has fallen in love, Green's portrayal of Hazel is completely realistic, totally spot on. Hazel is straightforward, witty and down to earth, in other words, she calls it like she sees it. When she says that depression is not a side effect of cancer, it is a side effect of dying, I know this remark to be true. That is the same kind of thing my niece said about her cancer when she was a teen (happily, she survived).
So Hazel does not kid herself about the future, there are no maybes, no what ifs, no could bes. And it is with this knowledge that the romance between Hazel and Gus plays out and is at the heart of the book. She knows there is only today, tomorrow isn't guaranteed, and so they try to have the best romance they can for as long as it lasts.
Gus is fun and appears to be strong, but he is very afraid that he will not be remembered when he dies. When Hazel gives him her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, about a girl dying of cancer that ends in mid-sentence, he becomes as obsessed with it as Hazel is. Hazel has contacted the author, a J D Salinger type of recluse living in Amsterdam, asking, begging him to answer her questions about what happens to the characters after the book ends. But the author ignores her letters, denying her the comfort of knowing life will go on for those who love her after she is gone. Then, Gus tells Hazel that the "Genies," the group who grants wishes to terminally ill kids, has allowed his wish to be given to her (she has already used her wish on a trip to Disney World) and they journey together to Amsterdam seeking answers from the author. Which they do not find there. But the trip proves to be the high point of their romance.
And in the end, it is their romance that makes the difference in everything.
I found much of the book to be interesting. There is lots of humor, as there always is in the midst of sadness, illness or tragedy. Hazel has a sharp, dry wit, that I liked very much. I didn't feel the support group was as useful as it should have been, but the fact that Hazel, Gus and their friend Issac became each other's support was, for me, more realistic. Hazel's parents are the kind of really good parents who never get mad or even annoyed at her, and who let her do things that most terminally ill teens would not have been allowed to do and that was not realistic to me. They were too good to be true; worry and frustration would have brought them to the end of their tether at least once in a while.
The author character was simply a cruel self indulgent drunk, which I suspect can be true, but I thought he added a sad comment in this book. Was his need to create the mysterious reclusive author myth about himself more important than indulging a dying girls wish? The love story could have gone just as well even if he told Hazel what happened the the characters in his book.
Would I recommend The Fault in Our Stars? Definitely, despite a few flaws it is a book about courage, determination and love, and those three things make reading it worth it.
This book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was purchased for my personal library