What You Need to Know:|
• This book is for a Young Adult reader. The subject is serious, the vocabulary challenging, and the concepts abstract.
• Teenage cancer patients meet at a support group and develop an incredible bond.
• As you might expect with the subject matter, the nature of illness and death are explored throughout the novel.
• John Green and his brother Hank upload weekly videos to their youtube channel, vlogbrothers.
• There are some references to alcohol, pot, virginity, and sex, but with limited detail and in a completely age-
• Author, John Green, was the 2006 recipient of the Michael L. Printz Award, a 2009 Edgar Award winner, and has
twice been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
• This book won an Indies Choice Book Award for the best Young Adult Book of the Year in 2013.
• The movie rights to The Fault in our Stars have been optioned by Fox 2000. Bring tissues!
"There's only one thing in this world shittier than biting it from cancer when you're sixteen,
and that's having a kid who bites it from cancer."
Hazel Grace Lancaster
I liked Hazel right away. Although, I have to admit that I didn't really want to like her. I figured she would only make me sad. I mean, she's got cancer - terminal cancer - and who really wants to read about someone who's dying? Well, 300+ pages later, I can say with 100% certainty that Hazel was worth every tear I shed.
The story is told from 16-year-old Hazel's point of view, and readers are given a front row seat to her suffering. Originally diagnosed at 13, Hazel's thyroid cancer has spread to her lungs, and despite the miracle drug that keeps her tumors from growing, her prospects are not so good. Her lungs are compromised, she needs an oxygen tank to breathe, and there's no telling how long this miracle will last. While she does take classes at a local college, she keeps to herself, spending most of her time with her mom, watching mindless TV shows, and re-reading her favorite book, "An Imperial Affliction". Sometimes she sleeps with Bluie, "the blue stuffed bear I'd had since...it was socially acceptable to name one's friends after their hue." Yes, Hazel's still alive, but she's not really living.
Then she meets Augustus Waters. He shows up at her cancer support group one night, tells her she's beautiful, and changes her life. Now, Hazel is honest, smart, independent, thoughtful, funny, and wise beyond her years, but it has been a long time since a boy has looked at her like Augustus does. Augustus had lost his leg to cancer, but he's currently feeling "grand...on a roller coaster that only goes up..." Although Hazel and Augustus have an immediate connection, and he seems to perfectly match her wit and humor, their relationship almost ends before it begins. He takes out a cigarette, and Hazel is appalled. She's all too familiar with a world where breathing doesn't come easy. She's ready to walk away because of this apparent "hamartia", until she learns that it's a metaphor - he doesn't actually light them. At that moment Hazel realizes that August Waters, who chooses his "behaviors based on their metaphorical resonances...", might be worth a second chance.
Their relationship moves quickly. They bond over their shared love of books and their unique, yet very similar, view of the world. Augustus confesses his love for Hazel, but she struggles with the relationship. She likes his smile and that he once took "existentially fraught free throws", but she doesn't want to be his "grenade". She knows her fate and can't bear to cause him pain. She has found a way to live with her situation, but she's trying to limit the casualties along the way. Augustus is persistent though, and eventually he and Hazel begin a journey which, however painful, is overwhelmingly sweet and pure. They embrace one another's passions and indulge each other's dreams. They protect, comfort, console, and support. They know that "...there is no glory in illness." and yet they fight on. Despite the bleakness of their futures, they tell jokes, they tease one another, and they laugh in the face of the cancer that is invading their defenseless bodies. As Hazel is told, "Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you." Hazel and Augustus prove that to be true, and I liked them all the more as I got to know them.
Of course, Augustus can't make her cancer, or for that matter her fear, go away. Hazel continues to worry about her lungs filling with fluid and the effect her death will have on her parents. She worries about her next PET scan and the possibility that the cancer is spreading. She shares that "It always hurt not to breathe like a normal person, incessantly reminding your lungs to be lungs, forcing yourself to accept as unsolvable the clawing scraping inside-out ache of underoxygenation" and that "the physical evidence of disease separates you from other people". But she manages her fears, and with Augustus by her side, she even "lives" a little.
Their dialogue is honest and authentic and seems to capture the teenage attitude and the depth of meaning behind their words. There are many funny moments like Hazel's observations about her friend's "toe-specific dysmorphia" and the "ghettoization of scrambled eggs." And there are countless memorable lines like when their friend Isaac's girlfriend dumps him after he loses his eyes to cancer, and Hazel says, "...she probably can't handle it. Neither can you, but she doesn't have to handle it. And you do." or when Hazel reads one of the many "Encouragements" in Augustus' house "Without pain, how could we know joy?" and concludes,
"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." In fact, there are many, many lines in this book that are worth repeating, saving, and sharing, but it is simply impossible to include them all here.
The characters' physical flaws stand in stark contrast to the almost superhuman power of their minds. Although their prospects are grim, it is impossible not to root for Augustus and Hazel. I wish that I could rewrite their fate, but as they would be quick to point out, "The world is not a wish-granting factory."
2012, 336 pages
Friendship, Good Book Club Selection, Illness/Death, Physical/Mental Challenges, Romance, Self-Awareness/Discovery
• Why does it mean so much to Hazel to find out what happens in the end of An Imperial Infliction?
• Would you rather have the uncertainty of remission or the knowledge of an anticipated life expectancy?
• Other than cancer, what do Hazel and Augustus have in common?
• Do you believe in an afterlife? Why or why not?
• What do you think about Augustus' reasoning for having a cigarette?
• What are your feelings on Peter Van Houten? Do you feel bad for him, or is he just a jerk?
• Who do you think suffers more, the cancer patient or the survivors that love them?
• Where did you find humor amid all the sadness?
• Augustus and Hazel differ in how they feel about leaving their mark on society? What would your position be?
• Where does Hazel's determination come from?
• If you could rewrite the ending, how would you change it?
• In what ways does this story help you to cope with problems you might have in your own life?
• In what ways does this story change how you feel about people with physical challenges/differences?
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