Everyone wants a bit of peace or some form of peace. Serenity and solace are two desires that you can’t put a price tag on. However, what happens when the only place of peace and solace is death or in a few moments of love that only lasts for a short time? John Green takes us on a journey into the lives of two young people who have terminal cancers and face each day knowing that it could be their last. The story is beautiful in a lot of ways as readers can see how valuable health is and how difficult life can be for those who are ill.
Hazel suffers from Stage 4 Thyroid cancer with metastasis forming in her lungs, but has managed to live with her disease owing to doses of an experimental drug called Phalanxifor (which really does not exist). She is made to attend a support group where cancer patients can share their stories and battles with cancer. Though, Hazel finds this meeting a bore, she meets, a young man Augustus Waters (referred to as Gus) in one of such meetings and they become fast friends.
Gus brings a lot of humour in the book which makes the reader more endeared to him. Hazel Grace begins to come out of her shell and she falls in love with Gus. Their love is one in which they are not afraid to be themselves with each other. They share a common love for a book An Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houtten (who is one nasty piece of work when they meet him in person). The book An Imperial Affliction helps Hazel and Gus talk about the crisis of their health. They make a trip to Amsterdam which is like the major point of the book because each character become more open with their fears and anxieties. One of the difficulties that comes with the ailment is well described by Hazel Grace. “That was the worst part about having cancer, sometimes: The physical evidence of disease separates you from other people.” Hazel was always conscious of how her illness affected her life and her parents who she felt had conditioned themselves to only taking care of her and not themselves.
The novel is one that will have you thinking about life and what it really means. It will make you ponder on whether what you are doing is worth doing. You will find yourself putting your relationships under scrutiny and wonder if you really do love the people you say you love. For Gus and Hazel, knowing that they would die anytime soon caused them to find solace in themselves and in their love. Though death is a scary subject, its reality was realer than real to Hazel and Gus. They had to contend with this everyday.
Hazel had this to say “I told him that he was fearing something universal and inevitable, and how really, the problem is not suffering itself or oblivion itself but the depraved meaningless of these things, the absolutely inhuman nihilism of suffering.” The characters tried to understand death and really couldn’t. Was death just oblivion or souls are conserved after death like Gus believed? “I believe humans have souls, and I believe in the conservation of souls. The oblivion fear is something else, fear that I won’t be able to give anything in exchange for my life.” Whatever it meant to them, they saw the uncertainty they were in as a means of being certain about who they are and what they want. They would find solace in love and in themselves. Isaac who had his eyes removed due to the disease said ” I believe in true love, you know? I don’t believe that everybody gets to keep their eyes or not get sick or whatever, but everybody should have true love, and it should last at least as long as your life does.”
Everyone has had reason to ponder on what makes life meaningful. Religions and various disciplines have tried to answer the question of what life really means. What Green does in this book is to give very open ended answers (if we want to call it that). The book will mean a lot of things to many people and its interpretations are far from being exhausted. However, constants like family, friendships, love, support and people are what makes life worth living. Gus parents and Hazel’s parents exemplify the constants we need even when life keeps moving and we can’t keep up the pace
The book is good on all counts of plot and characterization except that the teenagers are presented as wiser than their years. Some parts of the novel is quite encumbered with philosophical and abstract discourse that might bore the reader. However, you can’t but love the characters and appreciate life more after reading the book. The mood of the book can be quite grim but Green still manages to throw in some humour here and there. It is definitely worth reading.
Rating: Really Good!