“Without pain, we couldn’t know joy” – Augustus Waters
John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is the story of Hazel and Augustus, two star-crossed lovers struggling against the impediment of being cancer survivors in a culture that views them as very other. Meeting through a Teen Support Group, the two build a relationship based on a mutual love of literature, a quirky sense of humor, and an inner understanding of how different they both are from everyone else.
The true heart of the novel shows through in the interactions between Hazel and Augustus, as they analyze their perspectives on the challenges and purpose of life, the “cancer perks” they receive because of their otherness, and the after-life. Green portrays Augustus as an idealized romantic; suave, extremely attractive, and always able to say the right thing. Hazel is a quietly sarcastic wit, who has immersed herself in a world of literature above that of a teen her age. When the two combine, they drive the story with witty banter and an easy back-and-forth that shows a deep, almost instinctual, connection between the two teens. Green has a knack for creating rich characters that have depth beyond their years, and Hazel and Augustus are, in my opinion, his best creations.
I felt I connected best with Hazel, as the story follows her perspective. It shows the reader the daily life of a person fighting to keep cancer at bay and the arduousness of life under those constraints. However, as a father myself, I had to wipe away a few tears at certain moments of pain for the parents of Hazel and Augustus (Disclaimer: this book is not for the feint of emotional heart).
As for use in teaching, I would suggest it be used in a Grade 10 classroom or higher, although some motivated Grade 9 students could handle its vocabularial depth. The book deals with topics such as overcoming adversity, coming to terms with self, and the purpose of life. Most students who have read it find it heart-wrenchingly engaging and are voracious for the next John Green meal they can devour. For Lit Circles, I would pair it with Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall, or even Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, as each novel deals with the development of selfhood.
This is a great book for those looking for a romanticly engaging read, or someone looking to see the inner-workings of an intellectually stimulated high school relationship.