Sixteen-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster feels like she is simply waiting for death, living her life quietly with her mom and dad, waiting for the inevitable end. After all, that’s what happens when you have stage IV terminal cancer around your lungs, even if it is in remission a bit. But when Hazel is forced to attend a cancer support group, along with her trusty portable oxygen tank, to make friends or whatever, she finds the only one she even likes a little bit is Isaac, a boy who has cancer in his eyes and has already had one removed. However, that’s until she meets Isaac’s friend Augustus Waters. He doesn’t look like a typical boy with cancer. He’s handsome and healthy, and for some reason, notices Hazel. As they talk, Augustus asks Hazel out to a movie, and she discovers he isn’t a typical boy. He had bone cancer in his leg, and now has a prosthetic limb. His cancer is one of the few that are usually not life-threatening. To start, they each agree to read the other’s favorite books. For Hazel, it’s a story of another girl with cancer that ends rather ambiguously, An Imperial Affliction, and for Augustus, it’s an action-adventure story, The Price of Dawn, where the main characters can always succeed in their missions despite the obstacles. As they become friends, she can’t figure out why he would bother with her when she is a ‘grenade’ that’s going to explode and harm everyone who loves her, and Augustus wants to do something great for Hazel before she is too sick, namely find Peter Van Houten, the author of An Imperial Affliction, and learn what happens to the characters of her favorite novel. We watch as they fall in love, discover a few life truths for themselves, and navigate the difficulty of being young and having a fatal disease.
You might’ve heard about this book because of the movie releasing this week. More on that in a minute. Now, I usually don’t love books that are a) about illness and b) potentially sad (why? I have a healthy fear of unstoppable illness and it’s just not my cup of tea, generally), but this was really a pretty great book. Hazel and Augustus are so quirky and funny at times, you can’t help but love them. For an example, see this short excerpt below:
“We are like a bunch of dogs squirting on fire hydrants. We poison the groundwater with our toxic piss, marking everything MINE in a ridiculous attempt to survive our deaths. I can’t stop pissing on fire hydrants…I am an animal like any other. Hazel is different. she walks lightly, old man. She walks lightly upon the earth. She knows the truth: We’re as likely to hurt the universe as we are to help it, and we’re not likely to do either.
People will say it’s sad that she leaves a lesser scar, that fewer remember her, that she was loved deeply but not widely. But it’s not sad. It’s triumphant. It’s heroic. Isn’t that the real heroism?
The real heroes anyway aren’t the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention.”
It’s not a typical sad novel. It’s just not. Rather, I think it’s a hope novel and definitely a love story. It doesn’t try to take the usual route when talking about cancer either, and I like that. People always talk of “fighting” or “battling” cancer, and while I’m not making light of the situation any, but these words/phrases ARE very clichéd. Hazel and Augustus don’t particularly like this way of thinking either. The way I see it, it’s more like your body has just decided to give up on you or mutate or become alien and there’s nothing you can do about it. How do you fight yourself? Now, I don’t have cancer or anything, but in addition to the hardships you can imagine, in Hazel and Augustus’s story I see frustration, depression, and determination to both accept the problem and ignore it as much as possible. Those are pretty human feelings that we can all identify with, cancer or no. That’s one of the great things about this book, how it helps one confront the reality rather than gloss it over or pretend it doesn’t exist. While there were many things I loved about the book, the thing I actually DIDN’T like was the books they liked. I got so tired of hearing how much they loved An Imperial Affliction that I wanted to just skip over it. (I didn’t, but there was lots of wishful thinking.) I fully support having one’s own opinion on books and sharing them, any book, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it, and I just have a quirk where I don’t like reading a book wherein it involves reading/obsessing over another book or writing. But I digress . . .
Really, glad TFIOS is coming out in theaters this week, June 6th. Hope I will get a chance to see it soon, because I’m sure it’s bound to be adorable with Shailene Woodley in it. Watch the trailer and view a snippet of one of the great quirks about Augustus!