At the age of 16, Hazel lives a sort of half life. Her illness has kept her from living a normal life, as she is tethered to an oxygen tank. She is disconnected from her friends and the life of a normal teenager. She spends most of her time at home watching bad TV and re-reading her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction.
When her mother insists that she get out of the house, Hazel goes to a meeting of a support group for kids living with cancer. Enter Augustus Waters. Augustus is gorgeous and in remission, having "won" his battle with osteosarcoma, but having lost his leg in the process. Augustus and Hazel fall in love and together they examine life and death, sickness and health, and what is left behind in the end.
I loved, loved, loved this book. I couldn't put it down once I started reading it. I laughed, I cried, I fell in love with Hazel and Augustus. Such is the plight of a book lover - to love characters so much that when their story ends you feel an emotional and physical loss. I felt that after reading this book. Some have criticized the book because the characters don't sound like typical 17 year olds, but it didn't bother me at all. In fact, if they had sounded like typical teenagers, I might have been sorely disappointed. When people deal with pain, with illness, with things that are beyond their control, it changes them. Forces them to grow up and view the world through different eyes. Hazel and Augustus don't sound like typical teenagers because they are not typical teenagers. What they experienced was so far removed from the experiences of their peers. Others dismiss it as a typical "cancer book."
Maybe it is, but for me the ideas about life and death in this book were quite profound. My favorite quote from the book is "I thought of my dad telling me that the universe wants to be noticed. But what we want is to be noticed by the universe, to have the universe give a shit what happens to us - not the collective idea of sentient life but each of us, as individuals." I loved these lines because I feel like they sum up the human condition so beautifully. Yes, the universe not only wants to be noticed, it demands to be noticed. It interjects into our lives daily, often at inconvenient times. But don't we all want the universe to notice us too? We live our lives trying to leave a mark because we fear being lost to a void of oblivion. Deep down we desperately hope that the universe will acknowledge us, that our small existence in this world was not lived in vain. We want to know that we were important, that we mattered to something bigger than ourselves, hopefully beyond the small world of our everyday existence.
We are scared by the universe and we leave our own scars. Another favorite quote is: "You don't get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you." These words ring true for my life and it is a lesson that I am only now learning to fully understand. Sometimes pain is a gift, because it means that you have loved fully. You cannot love without experiencing pain, and if you shut yourself off to avoid feeling pain, you will also shut yourself off from love and all that is good in this world. In order to truly love, you must make yourself vulnerable to pain. The beauty is that the choice is yours. You can shut yourself off to avoid feeling pain, or you can wear your scars as evidence of your ability to open your heart to love, despite the pain. It's a beautiful idea - taking the bad with the good - because in the end, the good makes the bad worth it.
I will be forever grateful for having read this book and I'm sure that it will take a long time, and several more re-readings, before I am able to process all of my thoughts and feelings about it. I do know that I have been changed because I read this book. I have read many books in my life and will read many more in the future, but only a few have left a scar on my heart and soul like The Fault in Our Stars.