“As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”
The book for young adults deals with 16 years old Hazel Grace who is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. It follows her around as she goes to her Support Group and meets Augustus Waters, who has lost a leg to osteosacroma. The two of them start to fall in love, but Hazel doesn’t want to let it happen because she knows that in the end she will die and leave him behind. She keeps fighting her feelings, but during their trip to Amsterdam, to meet the author of their favorite book, she finally gives in and the two of them spend one night of bliss together. However, their happiness wasn’t meant to be of long duration because the next day Augustus tells Hazel that he won’t be able to fight the cancer anymore.
“What am I at war with? My cancer. And what is my cancer? My cancer is me. The tumors are made of me. They’re made of me as surely as my brain and my heart are made of me. It is a civil war, Hazel Grace, with a predetermined winner.”
They spend a few more months together before Augustus dies. leaving behind an eulogy for Hazel, where he beautifully describes the person she is and the reasons why he loves her the way he does.
“I love her. I am so lucky to love her […]. You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, […] but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices. I hope she likes hers too.”
That’s where the book ends. Letting Hazel outlive Augustus. We don’t know what happened to her afterwards, but we can guess. And giving the fact that she constantly has to remind her lungs that they are lungs and that they are supposed to help her breathe, the outcome is probably pretty obvious.
After having read the book and thinking about it quite a bit, I honestly still don’t really know whether I like it or not. I have heard so many good things about this #1 New York Times Bestseller and my friends warned me that my eyes might not stay dry, so I made sure to read it at home where no one could see me cry. But it didn’t happen. I didn’t shed a single tear and somehow that left me quite a bit disappointed. I haven’t read a real emotional book in a while and I was looking forward to getting lost in my emotions and in a book once again. But well, this world isn’t a wish-granting factory as Hazel points out several times.
And, to tell the truth, I’m not completely sure whether John Green intended his book to be an emotional read. The descriptions are quite harsh and realistic. You get an insight into what the life of a teenager with terminal cancer looks like. There are cancer jokes, characteristics that a good nurse needs to have, the universal knowledge that “normal” people and friends don’t get what having cancer feels like (obviously!) and of course there’s the awareness that people treat you differently and it is a lot easier to get what you want thanks to the so-called “cancer perks”
The story as such is tragic, but the lack of sentimentality in the way Hazel and her friends talk about it somehow distances the reader from it and keeps the emotions at bay. You can see this as a weakness of the book, but maybe that’s exactly its strength. As the story goes on you as the reader get to accept the fact that carrying around an oxygen tank is something quite normal that is just part of the life of a lung cancer patient. And all of that makes the story so much more tragic and emotional.
Last night, when I put the book down, I felt disappointed and not at all emotional. But now that I’ve started really thinking about it, the story is FREAKING tragic and somehow gets to you. It is the matter-of-fact attitude that the characters have, that shows how hard it is to come to terms with a terminal diagnosis at such a young age. To realize that you aren’t like everybody else. That you are just a “side effect.” Something that is necessary to enable evolution. You need to deal with the fear of oblivion, knowing that you are just a name at the top of a list of people who have recently died. And within weeks your name will move to the bottom and you are replaced by someone new. You need to accept the fact that you won’t be able to die heroically… It is only, when you let all of this sink in, that the book gets to you. And it sure is getting to me now.
So, the book deserves its #1 New York Times Bestseller spot after all. Because it is brilliant. Tragic, yet emotional. And it shows how sometimes tragedy and comedy aren’t that different after all.
“I am not a mathematician, but I know this: There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. […] There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I’m likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”