“We all miss you so much. It just never ends. It feels like we were all wounded in your battle.”
The Fault in the Stars by John Green has affected me more than any other book that I have read recently. Influenced to read it by the millions of Tumblr users who keep making reference to it and because of the fact that I have seen some of John Green’s Nerdfighter Vlogs and I just admired him as a person, that I decided to give his most famous book a shot.
I had previously shied away from so-called cancer books like this and My Sister’s Keeper because like so many people around the world, cancer hits close to home, I lost my favourite uncle along with other people that I care about recently, I have tons of other friends and family members who have survived it and it brings back memories that I would rather not remember. But I felt in my gut that I should read this book, and I allowed myself to. My first impression was that this book was going to be like so many other books with protagonists with illnesses, basically telling us about Hazel’s suffering and how she deals with her cancer, as I assume An Imperial Affliction, the book within the book, is about, but John Green gives us so much more.
It’s ultimately the story about how cancer indirectly affects people. Hazel, Augustus and Isaac all have the disease but they are also infected with each other’s cancer. The same with Hazel’s parents, Augustus’ family, Kaitlyn – Hazel’s friend, Peter van Houten – the writer of An Imperial Affliction, and many other people in the novel. Hazel is reluctant to become romantic with Augustus because she knows his previous girlfriend died of cancer and she doesn’t want him to go through that again, Hazel worries what will happen to her parents after she dies that they won’t breakup and become alcoholics like Peter van Houten, Isaac’s girlfriend Monica breaks up with him after he becomes blind when they remove the cancer from his eyes because she can’t handle the pressure. So within this story of teenagers dealing with cancer, there are stories of how they live on after the ones they love pass on because of the same illness that they have, why they get to live while others die.
When I was 18 my best friend was diagnosed with cancer and it shocked me because prior to that I thought only older people got cancer, not young, active, beautiful teenage girls. I remember visiting her as she went for chemo and trying to keep her in the loop of things while we all went to university and she deferred for a year to be treated, I tried to be there for her, to listen but she never wanted to talk about her illness, just about what we were doing, what news we had for her. And I felt a bit like Kaitlyn in TFioS trying to bridge the gap, trying to pretend that everything was okay. I had my first kiss while she was sick and I didn’t tell her because it just seemed unimportant compared to everything she was going through, but it hurt not to be able to share something like that with my best friend. The first time I started worrying about her future was when her hair started falling out, she had long, thick, black hair, it was her pride and joy, it was like the cancer had a face for the first time. It was no longer just inside her, we could see the affect it had on her and with that it became real for me. Over that summer holidays, all of us as her friends, grew up tremendously and I would always see that as one of the most significant times of my life and I constantly thank God that I am still able to talk to her whenever I want to.
My secondhand war with cancer resumed again, when my uncle fell sick. My uncle was always a very positive man, he never showed us how much his illness affected him and every time he would get sick, I just believed that it was a weak time for him and in about a couple weeks I would up and about again. In March, he didn’t recover and never again saw him up and about, this is still fresh for me and hurts a lot. Like Augustus Waters, he lived his life in such a positive way that we were better people for knowing him and he might not be written about in history books, there might not be statues of him erected but he made such a big difference to so many people’s lives just for being himself.
It takes a special piece of literature for a consumer not just to read it and leave it but it be inspired by it, want to talk about it, feel moved by it. When I posted on Tumblr that I had finished the book, I had tons of people that I have never spoken to messaging me, discussing the book with me, sharing their experiences. We are no longer a generation who just takes the information we are given, we want to be engaged with what we consume and John Green has given us an excellent model for this.