Cancer is a disease that most of us bumble through the world caring little about until we encounter it for the first time. I don’t mean in textbooks or television commercials but in a fellow human being. Once it affects someone you love, you see it everywhere, an unseen force that Won’t Stop Taking Lives.
I was lucky. My family’s experience with cancer, which has been quite personal, was tame compared to what it could have been, to what I know it can do and how quickly and unfairly it can kill. I’ve seen it reduce people to shells in a matter of months, robbing wives of husbands and sons of mothers. Not that something else, like a car accident, makes any sort of sense either, but cancer is a cruel sickness: what’s ruining a person’s life is life itself — cells that grow in a way they shouldn’t.
So first, The Fault in Our Stars is a coming-of-age novel. Secondly, it’s about cancer. And also love. Someone’s going to die, and you’re probably going to cry.
John Green’s book does, for much of its story, impress happiness and sadness in equal measure. Hazel is 16-years-old and dying, but dying happens in degrees of extremes. One cancer kid is not dying in the same way or with the same severity as another, or even at the moment. It’s not doom and gloom all the time. She may be one day, month, year, or decade away from self-destruction.
So when Hazel, the teenage girl with crap lungs, meets Augustus, who has beaten cancer and lost a leg to it, and they fall in love, her feelings are conflicted. She’s a vegetarian for a reason. If you know your time on Earth is short, then perhaps the best course of action is to tread as lightly as possible. Minimize the damage. Spare another person from the grief you’ll cause.
Yet The Fault in Our Stars reminds us that love is worth knowing, doing, and sharing, however fleeting it may be. That little infinity is a huge gift.
The last third of the book is much grimmer than the early pages; it’s depressing and hard to stomach. Green takes care to make a book about cancer not-100-percent-about-cancer, so there’s humor and the whole mystery of Hazel’s favorite book and why it’s written the way it is, which she and Gus investigate. They focus on what brings them together, aside from the obvious.
But the book is very much about cancer and how people are affected by it, both strangers and sufferers. The fear of it can pervade every thought, and it’s awful when those worries finally manifest in resurgence or someone gets sick who wasn’t before. These are our star-crossed lives — our wonderfully tragic path through existence.
For portraying this ugliness the way it does, The Fault in Our Stars is only more beautiful. It never lets up. Grief is not the end; we’re always searching for more. For hope. For another chapter. Because we go on even when someone we love doesn’t.