If you’ve read “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky, you’re sure to remember one of Charlie’s famous lines: “And in that moment I swear we were infinite.” That’s the teenage condition: feeling infinite and untouchable, but as John Green’s number one New York Times bestselling chapter book “The Fault in Our Stars” (TFiOS) reminds us “some infinities are bigger than others.”
Hazel Grace Lancaster could never be a normal teenager. Diagnosed with stage four thyroid cancer that spread to her lungs at age 13, she lived in a world of doctors and drugs, support groups and terminality. She couldn’t even storm angrily out of a room without fidgeting with her various breathing apparatus, making much less of a statement to her parents than she would like.
Then Hazel meets Augustus Waters, extremely hot cancer survivor and amputee who is, admittedly, “a big believer in metaphor.” They talk about books, play video games, travel to Amsterdam and fall in love.
Far from your average love story, Green tells a tale not only of the beautiful moments of first love but also the pain and torture of dying of cancer. Pain, as Hazel learns from her favorite novel “An Imperial Affliction,” “demands to be felt.”
Laughing one moment and crying the next, this is no sob story about childhood illness. Not that it isn’t appropriately sad, but it is also incredibly and infectiously hopeful.
The book doesn’t justify the pain in the world or give it a reason. It does, however, focus on the little beautiful moments of life rather than the large heroic moments.
Both Hazel and Augustus are different sorts of characters than in Green’s previous book. The book is narrated by a female, a John Green first, which allows a different and more personal view of the female characters.
The characters are also flawed rather than idealized like in his past books. Readers can revel in their completely human emotions, and though few of us are cancer patients, we relate immediately.
Green was inspired to write this story by his post-college job as a chaplain at a children’s hospital. The final push for TFiOS came from a cancer survivor and member of the online community Green created with his brother Hank, Nerdfighteria.
Esther Earl was not the basis for Hazel, but her spirit did inspire the book, and it is dedicated to her. Earl’s parent’s, with much support from the Greens’ community, created the This Star Won’t Go Out foundation (TSWGO) that serves to “financially assist families struggling through the journey of a child living with cancer.”
“Esther lived life fully, getting involved in social justice issues, loving her friends, her family and cats, and always remembering to be awesome,” said TSWGO’s website. She died in August 2010 after fighting metastasized papillary thyroid cancer with extensive tumors already in her lungs (like Hazel).
The nerdfighter community, started in 2007, has been waiting for the release of TFiOS since the pre-order was released in summer of 2011. The book has remained in the top 20 bestselling books on Amazon since that day.
Green also agreed to sign any preorder of the book, an unprecedented decision that resulted in occupational wrist therapy. His wife “the Yeti” and his brother also signed some of the books.
Since its release, the Green brothers have toured the country promoting TFiOS and the Nerdfigher community. Through several sold out shows, they raised thousands of dollars for TSWGO.
(Originally printed in The Setonian Volume 93 Issue 1)