Plot: Hazel Grace Lancaster is 16, but she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at 13. Since then, her life has become all about cancer treatment, the machines that keep her going, the experimental drug that has extended her life) and watching America’s Next Top Model with her loving parents. And reading and re-reading An Imperial Affliction, a beloved novel about a girl with cancer that speaks deeply to Hazel but ends abruptly. The book has become her obsession.
Diagnosed with depression, she reluctantly goes to a “Kids with Cancer” support group. There, she meets Isaac, a boy with eye cancer, and the incredibly seductive survivor named Augustus Waters.
With philosophical wits made for sparring and shared love for an obscure book, the two begin to connect, but Hazel can’t shake this conundrum: Does connecting with another human being make any sense under the circumstances?
As the two bond over An Imperial Affliction, Augustus secretly arranges to take Hazel to Amsterdam to meet him. The trip is a key turning point as Hazel learns more than she wants to know about her writer-hero, commits to Augustus, and then learns about his terrible secret.
Critical Evaluation: Although some people who have had first-hand experience with cancer might have a difficult time picking this one up, it is a beautiful book, as much about life as it is about coping with illness. Green doesn’t seem capable of creating a trite character or writing anything that smacks of cliché. Throughout the book, Hazel punctures common ideas or misconceptions about kids coping with illness. The plot moves quickly, but the story turns on dialogue, with “Hazel Grace” and Augustus joyfully sparring back and forth, happy to have met each other’s match. Because of Hazel and Augustus’ dry wit and their fear of falling into cliché, the two inject their conversations with humor and sarcasm. This elevates the story, which is at times laugh-out-loud funny. The story is told from Hazel’s point of view, and she delivers her observations with wisdom and a piercing clarity of vision.
Reader’s Annotation: Hazel, a terminally ill cancer patient who has won some time, meets the unusual (and gorgeous) Augustus Waters at a “Cancer Kids” support group. After the two become obsessed with a strange, reclusive writer, they become determined to meet him but end up coming face to face with themselves, and each other.
Author bio: Born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1977, John Green grew up in Florida and then went to a boarding school in Alabama (inspiration for his acclaimed debut, Looking for Alaska, which was set in a boarding school).
Green, who majored in English lit and religious studies in college, became a chaplain at a children’s hospital, an experience which has, he says, informed every book that he has written. He has lived in Florida, Chicago, and New York. He currently lives in Indianapolis with his wife and toddler son.
Genre: Realistic fiction, romance.
Curriculum Ties: Common Core Standards: Craft and Structure –
RL.11-12.6. Analyze a case in which grasping a point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).
Booktalking Ideas: 1) Discuss the central question of the book. Does it make sense for someone who is dying to fall in love?
2) Focus on the dialogue – read a bit of an Augustus/Hazel conversation, such as their first conversation.
3) Talk about kids with terminal diseases…what would their lives be like? How would their families cope? How do they get through each day?
Reading Level: Fifth grade
Interest Age: 14+
Challenge Issues: Grim subject matter, sexual content.
Challenge Responses: Rave reviews abound: http://www.hbook.com/2012/01/choosing-books/review-of-the-week/review-of-the-fault-in-our-stars/
Why Included: In spite of the grim subject matter, this is a philosophically probing book about the meaning of life and love.