The Fault in our Stars was one of my favourite films of 2014, even if it did make me cry inconsolably in the cinema (please tell me I wasn’t alone?!) – so I had to read the book.
*Warning – may contain spoilers*
Hazel Grace Lancaster is 16-year-old with thyroid cancer, which has spread to her lungs – she needs to be connected to an oxygen tank all the time. Her parents are keen for her to have as normal a life as possible, but of course, worry about her. Her mother suggests she goes to a support group at the local church and it’s here that she meets 17-year-old Augustus Waters. He’s currently in remission but had a form of bone cancer which caused him to lose his leg. Augustus is at the meeting to support his friend Isaac, who is losing his sight.
The pair instantly bond after sharing their cancer stories and Augustus soon invited Hazel to his house, where their bond is strengthened over a film. Before departing, the two agree to read each other's favourite novels. Hazel’s is a book called An Imperial Affliction, written by Peter Van Houten. It mirrors Hazel’s own life as it’s about a cancer-stricken girl.
Upon finishing the book, Gus is frustrated at how abruptly it ends, with so many questions unanswered. Hazel tells him that Van Houten hasn’t written anything since and no one knows of his existence. However, Gus manages to track down Van Houten’s whereabouts and after email correspondence with his assistant, a woman named Lidewij, it appears the only way for their questions to be answered, Gus and Hazel will have to go to Amsterdam.
Hazel’s mum isn’t keen on the idea, due to her health and money restraints – but at a Dutch-themed picnic, Gus surprises Hazel with the plane tickets and explains he’s using his ‘cancer wish’. Eventually Hazel’s mother gives in and the three of them go across the Atlantic to Europe.
The three of them stay in a hotel, organised by Lidewij. On behalf of Van Houten, she has also paid for the two to have dinner at an expensive restaurant in the city, with bottles of champagne included. The bubbles in it become the ‘stars’ reference and that night Gus declares his love for Hazel.
The following day, the two go to Van Houten’s but unfortunately it doesn’t turn at well and he’s not the person they thought he was. He’s not a prolific genius, but a horrible and angry drunk, and the pair leave upset and disappointed. The trip should end on a high when Hazel visits Anne Frank’s house and managed to climb the steep stairs to the very top – other visitors clap and cheer, while the pair kiss in the attic. But Gus also confesses that he’s relapsed and back in the US, his health significantly worsens and he’s eventually bed-bound. Eight days later, he dies.
Hazel reads a eulogy at his funeral but is shocked to find Van Houten in attendance. He explains that he and Augustus maintained correspondence since Amsterdam and that Augustus had demanded he make up for ruining their trip by attending his funeral.
The novel ends with Hazel finding out that Augustus had torn out pages of a notebook and she believes he was writing a sequel for An Imperial Affliction – but eventually it turns out he had drafted a eulogy for Hazel, asking Van Houten to write it for him.
Mildly humorous, but more thought-provoking, heart-breaking and so beautifully written. Like I said in the intro, the film made me cry (seven times!) and I found myself getting emotional as I read. I really couldn’t put the book down, even though I knew what was going to happen. You find so much about the characters almost immediately, so by the end it does feel like they’re people you know. I almost felt empathy for their situations.
If you’ve seen the film but not read the book because it’s too ‘over-hyped’, please don’t believe that and pick it up! If you’ve not, read first and then watch – I promise you won’t be disappointed!