The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
From the jacket: “Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.”
My take: Hazel Lancaster, age 16, knows she’s dying. She’s come back from the edge before, from the moment when her parents held a vigil at her bedside believing each breath would be her last. And most days she’s, well, okay with it would be wrong, but as okay with it as you can be when you’re supposed to be counting the rest of your life in decades and when dating and college decisions are supposed to be the biggest hurdles in your immediate future. But she’d rather live out her life in the small circle she’s created — hanging out with her folks, taking classes at the local community college, and enduring the treacly support group sessions her mom makes her attend — than create new relationships that will only cause pain when they inevitably end.
So it’s highly ironic when the support group that her parents force her to go to — where the heretofore high point had been exchanging heavy sighs with half-blind Isaac at every excruciating moment of cheese — brings her into contact with hot ex-basketball player and cancer survivor Augustus Waters, who immediately begins a flirtatious relationship by comparing her to Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta.
They bond over their favorite books (his is a sci-fi series with a high body count featuring a hero who routinely escapes from near death adventures; hers is a high-art YA book about a girl with cancer that ends mid-sentence). They flirt. They play video games. They try to help Isaac deal with the loss of his sight and his girlfriend. They establish relationship boundaries and then attempt skirmishes at them to see how well they hold. (Augustus agrees to friendship, but no one has any doubt that he wants Hazel for a girlfriend. Hazel doesn’t want to cause him pain when she dies, so she insists that they can only be friends.) And then, “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”
If the book, like life, is doomed to follow a single path that we, as readers, know it must take from shortly after the outset, it does so compassionately and with the knowledge that just because an ending has been pre-ordained does not mean that we can’t mark the milestones, enjoy the company, or find some answers along the way.