Written by Sarah Yoon
Despite reading an emotionally difficult book, the Club had a surprisingly joyful July meeting. We popped some champagne and celebrated life: a new job, new house, a finished manuscript, and a new master’s degree. It’s important to acknowledge the blessings in our lives, just as it is important to work through the difficulties.
Interestingly enough, The Fault in our Stars by John Greene does both. Cancer is a difficult topic, which makes an honest, non-melodramatic story difficult to write. Somehow, John Greene pulls it off. His characters approach the disease with jaded resignation, supported by abrupt and matter-of-fact prose.
Hazel Grace narrates the story. Though medication has bought her a few more years, she doesn’t celebrate with reckless abandon. She’s determined to minimize any damage in her inevitable exit and leave as small a hole as possible. But when Augustus Waters walks into the support group meeting, she’s forced to remember that she is a teenager and that she is alive. These simple realizations offer her more joy and more pain than she ever expected.
Digging into Discussion*
- From the book’s perspective, what is the healthiest way to care for people with disabling or terminal illnesses? Hazel comments on her interactions with Kaitlyn and her parents, who can never truly understand what she is going through.
- One major critique of the book is that the young characters speak like middle-aged literature professors. Why did Greene intentionally choose to include that level of vocabulary, intellect, and introspection?
- Why does Hazel react negatively when a support group girl calls her an inspiration? Her words are meant positively, but her intent somehow misfires.
- What are Hazel’s conclusions about life, death, and the purpose of funerals? The entire book is doused in the philosophy of the dying—people who must face death and somehow find peace—and Hazel exits the book with a different view than when we first meet her on the first page.
*Since subject matter may emotionally difficult, discussion must be a safe place to share. If someone reacts strongly to a comment or a passage, ask for some background context. Why did that strike a nerve? What experiences informed his or her read? Always make sure to take care of each other. As Pat Peoples says in The Silver Linings Playbook, “I’m practicing being kind over being right.”