Sunday, May 25, 2014

BOOK REVIEW | The Fault in Our Stars

In sickness and in health: this is probably the motto of the relationship between Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters, protagonists of what could be John Green's greatest work so far, "The Fault in Our Stars". The book has had a tremendous following worldwide that it now has a movie out this summer 2014.

TFIOS follows the lives of cancer patients Hazel Grace and Augustus who each have their own unique struggles with the disease. Hazel Grace had to live her whole teen life pulling an oxygen tank. Augustus had to live a life with a prosthetic leg. They are drawn together by their mutual disgust for the stereotypical treatment society has of cancer patients and their love for the author Peter van Houten, author of the fictional work, "An Imperial Affliction".

The couple prove that despite their depressing condition, they can live extraordinary lives and do what most people want at their age: make friends, travel, conquer fears, and fall in love. Hazel and Augustus goes to Amsterdam to visit Van Houten after the latter uses his wish from the Make-A-Wish foundation, in order to find out what happened to the characters whose lives Van Houten abruptly ended mid-sentence in his novel.

Instead of what they hoped for, they meet a grouchy, overbearing, alcoholic writer who cannot quite get a grip on his fame after writing a novel inspired by his daughter's death from cancer. They leave in disgust, unable to get the answers they were looking for. Before leaving Amsterdam, Augustus reveals to Hazel Grace that his cancer made a come back and has now spread throughout his body.

With this revelation, Hazel Grace's life turns into somewhat a real-life "An Imperial Affliction", as Augustus slowly turns to worse. Her affections for him faces the ultimate test: to love someone in the most miserable of conditions. Eventually, Augustus dies, much like the characters so untimely ended in Van Houten's novel. To Hazel Grace's surprise, the author shows up at Augustus' funeral and reveals to her the motivation behind the novel, but she is no longer interested in what he has to say.

A few days later, Hazel Grace finds out about several pages Augustus sent to Van Houten before he died. It is revealed that Augustus sent these so the author can write a fitting eulogy to Hazel. The novel ends with Augustus stating in his letter that "getting hurt in this world is inevitable, but we do get to choose who we allow to hurt us and that he is happy with his choice". He asks her if she is happy with his choice, and Hazel Grace aptly responds, "I do."

The greatness of this body of work by John Green lies in his ability to humanize the sick and to emphasize the potential and power of youth through his clever use and creative mix of comedy, tragedy, romance, and philosophy. We often view the physically disabled and the terminally ill with pity, as if they are beyond help. Green's strong and compelling characters break such stereotype along with the common misconception that teens aren't smart, critical, and make mature decisions.

Just like cooking rice, Green manages to bring our emotions and misconceptions to a boil leaving only a whiter, purer, softer, and tender understanding of the issues of sickness and adolescence: that we are not devoid of our humanity in the most dire of circumstances, that life is for us to have a noble death, that death is for the living, and that youth doesn't always mean immature.

"The Fault In Our Stars" film stars Shailene Woodley, Ansel Goort, and Willem Dafoe, and directed by Josh Boone using a screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, writers of "(500) Days of Summer". It opens in theaters in the Philippines, June 5.

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