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Introduction

The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green

Title

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Author

John Green

John Green

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About the Book

Sixteen year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster is forced by her parents to attend a support group for children living with cancer. Hazel was diagnosed with Stage 4 Thyroid cancer when she was 13, but has managed to live with her disease thanks to an experimental drug. At support group she meets Augustus "Gus" Waters, a former basketball star who lost his right leg to osteosarcoma, and is in remission. Hazel convinces Augustus to read 'An Imperial Affliction', her favorite book, and he becomes almost as obsessed with it as she is. In addition to countless text messages and phone calls, Hazel and Gus begin to spend more time together.

As their relationship deepens, Hazel begins to feel herself pulling away from Gus. Gus had saved his wish from "The Genies" (a fictionalized version of the Make a Wish Foundation), and wants to use it to fly himself and Hazel to Amsterdam, Netherlands to meet Peter van Houten, the reclusive author of 'An Imperial Affliction'. While she is overjoyed by the proposal, she decides that she does not want to pursue a relationship with Gus, so that she can minimize the pain her eventual death will cause him.

Hazel realizes that she sees herself as a grenade, and her tearful admission of this scares her parents, although they do their best to comfort her. After waking up in agony, Hazel is admitted to the hospital with serious pneumonia. During her week of convalescence, Gus visits several times, and informs her that he cares about her more than he worries about the pain she could cause him. After her release, she realizes she's in love with him, and after some consultation with her doctors, she is cleared to fly to Amsterdam with Gus and her mother to meet van Houten.

On their first night in Amsterdam, they are treated to an elaborate meal, courtesy of van Houten. Their meeting with the author goes less smoothly, as it emerges that Lidewij, his assistant, set it up without his full knowledge in the hopes that it would inspire him to give up alcohol and write again. Van Houten is scornful and rude to the teens, and refuses to answer their questions. Distraught by their reception, Hazel and Augustus leave van Houten's house, accompanied by a disgusted Lidewij. She takes them to the Anne Frank house, where they kiss to thunderous applause. When they return to the hotel, Hazel's mother has left to run errands, and they have sex for the first time.

Afterwards, Augustus reveals that his cancer has returned and has metastasized to several other parts of his body. Even though he starts an aggressive treatment regimen when they return home, he is not expected to survive long. Shortly before he dies, he asks Hazel and Isaac, another friend, to conduct a pre-funeral for him, so that he can hear how they will memorialize him.

Eight days later, Gus dies, and Hazel speaks at his funeral. Instead of the earnest speech she gave to him and Isaac, she repeats platitudes that will reassure his parents. After the funeral, she meets van Houten, who traveled to America to be there. He reveals that he had a daughter who died of cancer several years ago. She provided the inspiration for Anna, the main character of 'An Imperial Affliction' and his rudeness can be partially attributed to Hazel's appearance (she looks and dresses identically to Anna). Hazel encourages him to get sober and write a sequel.

She also discovers Augustus had been writing something for her, although the pages were torn out of his notebook. Eventually, she is able to track the pages to Amsterdam, and after an email to Lidewij, they are retrieved from van Houten. Augustus wanted van Houten to turn his notes into a fitting eulogy for Hazel, but van Houten decides to leave Augustus's words alone.

The book ends with Hazel accepting Augustus's eulogy with a present tense, "I do."

About the Author

John Green is the New York Times bestselling author of Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, and The Fault in Our Stars. He is also the coauthor, with David Levithan, of Will Grayson, Will Grayson. He was 2006 recipient of the Michael L. Printz Award, a 2009 Edgar Award winner, and has twice been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Green’s books have been published in more than a dozen languages.

In 2007, Green and his brother Hank ceased textual communication and began to talk primarily through videoblogs posted to YouTube. The videos spawned a community of people called nerdfighters who fight for intellectualism and to decrease the overall worldwide level of suck. (Decreasing suck takes many forms: Nerdfighters have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight poverty in the developing world; they also planted thousands of trees around the world in May of 2010 to celebrate Hank’s 30th birthday.) Although they have long since resumed textual communication, John and Hank continue to upload two videos a week to their YouTube channel, vlogbrothers. Their videos have been viewed more than 200 million times, and their channel is one of the most popular in the history of online video. He is also an active Twitter user with more than 1.2 million followers.

Green’s book reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review and Booklist, a wonderful book review journal where he worked as a publishing assistant and production editor while writing Looking for Alaska. Green grew up in Orlando, Florida before attending Indian Springs School and then Kenyon College.

Discussion Questions

  1. John Green derives his book's title from a famous line in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings." (I,ii,139-140). What does the line mean—and why would Green have used it for his title? Even more important, why would he have altered it to read, "The fault in our stars" rather than ourselves? How does Green's meaning differ from Shakespeare's?
  2. How would you describe the two main characters, Hazel and Gus? Do either of them conform, in behavior or thinking, to what we normally associate with young cancer patients? How do the two differ from one another...and how do their personality traits and interests complement each other?
  3. How do Hazel and Gus each relate to their cancer? Do they define themselves by it?  Do they ignore it? Do they rage at life's unfairness? Most importantly, how do the two confront the big questions of life and death?
  4. Do you find some of the descriptions of pain, the medical realities that accompany cancer, or the discussion of bodily fluids too graphic?
  5. At one point, Hazel says, "Cancer books suck." Is this a book about cancer? Did you have trouble picking up the book to read it? What were you expecting? Were those expectations met...or did the book alter your ideas?
  6. John Green uses the voice of an adolescent girl to narrate his story. Does he do a convincing job of creating a female character?
  7. Hazel considers An Imperial Affliction "so special and rare that advertising your affection for it feels like a betrayal." Why is it Hazel's favorite book? Why is it so important that she and Gus learn what happens after its heroine dies? Have you ever felt the same way about a book as Hazel does—that it is too special to talk about?
  8. What do you think about Peter Van Houten, the fictional author of An Imperial Affliction? This book's real author, John Green, has said that Van Houten is a "horrible, horrible person but I have an affection for him." Why might Green have said that? What do you think of Van Houten?
  9. Green once served as a chaplain in a children's hospital, working with young cancer patients. In an interview, he referred to the "hero's journey within illness"—that "in spite of it, you pull yourself up and continue to be alive while you're alive." In what way does Green's comment apply to his book—about two young people who are dying? Is theirs a hero's journey? Is the "pull yourself up" phrase an unseemly statement by someone, like the author or any reader, who is not facing a terminal disease?
  10. What did you make of the book's humor? Is it appropriate...or inappropriate? Green has said he "didn't want to use humor to lighten the mood" or "to pull out the easy joke" when things got hard. But, he said, he likes to write about "clever kids, [and they] tend to be funny even when things are rough." Is his use of humor successful? How did it affect the way you read the book?
  11. After his chaplaincy experience, Green said he believed that "life is utterly random and capricious, and arbitrary." Yet he also said, after finishing The Fault in Our Stars that he no longer feels that life's randomness "robs human life of its meaning...or that it robs even lives of people who don't get to have full lives." Would you say that the search for meaning—even, or especially, in the face of dying—is what this book explores? Why...or why not?
  12. How do Hazel and Gus change, in spirit, over the course of the novel?
  13. Talk about how you experienced this book? Is it too sad, too tragic to contemplate? Or did you find it in some way uplifting?