Virtual YA Book Club: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Before I get started with the discussion on The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, I wanted to announce two things:

1) I’m canceling our December book club. The holidays are a nutso time and I need a little break to catch up on life.

2) I’m happy to announce our January 2013 book club selection is Fingerprints of You by Kristen-Paige Madonia. I met Kristen-Paige at the Wordstock Book Festival in Portland, OR and she read a few pages from her debut YA novel. Seriously amazing, guys. ALSO, Kristen-Paige is interested in joining us for a Twitter chat to discuss the book, so we can have a live discussion of the book! Please read FOY by January 15.

Now back to our regularly scheduled discussion!

Premise (from John Green’s website)

The Fault in Our Stars is the story of Hazel Lancaster and Augustus Waters, two Indianapolis teenagers who meet at a Cancer Kid Support Group.

But this book is about so much more. From page one, I was completely hooked. I loved that this was the typical coming-of-age love story BUT in a very different world than the average girl-meets-boy book. Once I reached the last few chapters, I just had to know how what would happen with Hazel and Augustus.

I was also really happy to see that Oprah magazine picked TFIOS as one of its top YA books in 2012. Well-deserved.

Here are my questions. Feel free to add your own!

1) What did you learn about young adults dealing with cancer and parents who are raising children with cancer?

2) Augustus is obsessed with playing violent video games and Issac plays blind video games when he loses his sight. Teenage boys love video games, but how is the meaning different here?

3) What do you think of this quote that the title is derived from, “”The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,/ But in ourselves.”?

4) What are some of your favorite moments in TFIOS?

5) What did you think of Peter Van Houten? Did you hate him?

6) Speaking of Peter Van Houten, what did you think of the novel within the novel? Why was Hazel so desperate to know what happened to Anna’s mother?

7) After finishing TFIOS, what do you think John Green is saying about love?

17 Comments on “Virtual YA Book Club: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

  1. So, now that the year is coming to a close, I can accurately say that this has been my favorite book of the year. It’s just so…everything! Okay, on to the questions.

    1. I think Green’s biggest message is that it’s not a teens with cancer book. It’s a book about teens who HAPPEN to have cancer. They’re still going through everything teens go through (love, hope, etc.). And I love that.

    2. I think it’s both of them coping differently. Augustus plays his violent video games to show that he’s the hero, to do something that makes him heroic and memorable (that whole wanting to be remembered thing.) Whereas Isaac plays them to show that he isn’t changed by losing his sight, that he’s coping and not letting it keep him down.

    3. The quote essentially says that we bring bad things onto ourselves (more or less). That we can determine our fate. Whereas the book, I believe, says that some things we can’t determine – some things just happen.

    4. It’s silly, but my favorite moment is when Augustus is getting worse, and his ENTIRE family is over and saying really “you’re a great guy!” things. And because she knows he hates all of that, Hazel talks about how hot his body is, and he adds that it took her breath away (har har). Such a small moment, but it was perfect.

    5. Ugh, yes, but in the best sort of way. I think it was necessary to show him as not as perfect as Hazel immortalized him as.

    6. I loved the framing of it. I think she was so desperate because if Anna’s mom was okay, she figured her mom would be to (after she dies). But the whole idea is what Green continuously says – how every novel is read differently, and that there’s never a definite answer, a definite future.

    7. I think that he’s saying it’s not more important, or more true when you’re older. That teens can love just as well as adults. That it’s a true emotion that can help you get through the toughest of situation. And that, in a way, it makes you immortal.

    • Lauren! Your answers are exactly what I would say. Though my favorite moment was the pre-funeral. Hazel’s eulogy just got me and Issac’s too. The writing there just flies off the page.

      I’ll be honest, I hated Van Houten and lost interest when he was around. I just wanted to spend time with Hazel and Augustus. I know why he’s there. I just wanted to punch him in the face.

      Another favorite moment: their first time. Beautifully written. The drawing at the end of the chapter that Hazel leaves him with is just so damn good.

      I love this book!!!

      • THE PRE-FUNERAL! Yes. LOVE that scene. I loved Issac’s speech because it was that nice balance of sweet and hilarious. And Hazel’s infinities? I cried. (Full disclosure – I’m about to get teary eyed just from thinking about it. I’m such a baby.) Also, yeah, I found myself reading faster during the Van Houten scenes because I wanted less of him, and more of H&A.

  2. Unrelated – what do you think of the movie adaptation? Apparently there’s already a script and producer. I’m intrigued to see how this translates to screen.

    • I can easily see why it got bought. I think with the right actors and script it could be beautiful and funny. This book reminded me a lot of the movie 50/50. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (love him) did an excellent job in it.

      But I’m eager to see the movie version. It’s such a great story.

    • I can see why it would be optioned for a movie. I’m curious who they would cast for Hazel and Augustus. Casting is everything for this book, and of course, a great script.

  3. 1. Well, firstly I think young adults and cancer should never have to meet, the thought of these kids dying so young and dying in such a drawn out and painful way is heartbreaking. And I really felt for the parents – both Gus and Hazel were lucky to have amazing parents and I felt so sorry for them as well, their lives will never be the same. It must be so hard to watch your child die ( … now I am crying.)

    2. I felt like it was an outlet for them in different ways, Gus wanted to be able to save people and perhaps he felt invincible having been cleared as cancer-free so was acting that out via the game and Isaac just wanted to carry on with his life the way it was before he lost his sight.

    3. I like it, I think it means that instead of looking elsewhere for blame or reasons, we should look at ourselves first

    4. I loved their trip to Amsterdam, particularly the dinner… and in the hotel room 😉 I loved Gus’ pretend funeral (…now I am crying again).

    5. Hmm… it was tough. At first I wanted nothing more than for Hazel to meet him, I wanted to make it happen for her but, I felt like something wasn’t right and wasn’t surprised when he turned out to be a curmudgeon!

    6. I think because she was so worried about her own. I feel guilt about a lot of things, I would definitely me more concerned about what would happen to the people I was leaving behind, rather than myself. She could see that her mum had put her life on hold for her, and was worried she would give up or be depressed and not be able to go on once she passed away (… more tears!)

    7. I think he is saying that love is strong, that you can find it anywhere with many people, in different ways, and that it will last a lifetime, despite loss, distance, time, or even death.
    THIS BOOK, THIS BOOK, THIS BOOK. One of my faves of the year and of all time.

    P.S bring on January! I did a book swap with a friend in the USA and she sent me Fingerprints of You – can’t wait to read it 😀

    Mands xox

    • Hi Mands, I echo your sentiments of this book being one of your faves of the year. I feel like it had me in its gripes from page one. I was really sick when I started the book. I was feverish and my husband read me the first few pages of Fault in Our Stars to help me get my mind of being so sick. Ironic, huh? But I loved it.

  4. The Fault in Our Stars certainly was a great book. Both the story and the writing were just fantastic! I wish it had been triple the size so we could have spent more time with Hazel and Augustus. I am a misanthrope (not something I’m proud of – I’m working on it – see me interacting here?) and it is a peevy thing that in most books I don’t LIKE most characters. I may be interested in their story, but rarely will I really like them. I liked the characters in this book, though (except for Monica. that bitch!). The story was sad, but didn’t overly manipulate my emotions by being over-the-top sad or introducing unrealistic romantic drama. It felt real.

    1. Are there many of us out there not affected in our own lives by cancer or some other terrible medical issue? I know a handful of people who have battled cancer or died from cancer, including my best friend, Jim, who told me about his diagnosis and then swore he wasn’t going anywhere soon, but was dead a week later. The fear of cancer and other diseases led me to make major changes in my life, including putting me on a path towards veganism. The link between nutrition and all kinds of diseases is one of my biggest interests. Food is so powerful! Anyway, like many, many others out there who have read this book, the subject of cancer touches me personally, but it was the scenario of living life with a medically fragile child and some of the specific situations in the story that made this book really emotionally draining for me. My two year old was born with severe birth defects (his stomach was connected to his airway, which was too small to breathe through, and his esophagus went nowhere so he wouldn’t have been able to eat). He had a trach since birth until just this past September and he is tube fed. It’s been really, really hard and I’m still adjusting and recovering from having my world turned upside down (many special needs parents suffer from post traumatic stress – if you know any, they need a hug, trust me). One of our most scariest moments was brought to mind when Hazel ended up in the hospital because her chest was so full of fluid she couldn’t breathe. We came incredibly close to losing my son to that exact issue (like turning blue, the numbers dropping, alarms going off, someone figuring out what was happening at the very last moment and jamming a needle between his ribs to pull out enough fluid to allow a breath). And then there was Augustus and his g-tube. The scene where he was panicking over pulling it out and throwing up on himself and just reaching a breaking point was too much. One of my roughest mom experiences so far was when I took my son out for the first time by myself and proceeded to accidentally pull his g-tube out, a g-tube that was necessary to drain a stomach that, due to other defects, namely a giant cleft between his esophagus and trachea, allowed any stomach contents that came up to spill right into his airway and, also, that stomach was misshapen and allowed even the tiniest amount of stomach contents to come right up, making it REALLY, REALLY IMPORTANT that the tube not come out. The story gets even worse, but I’ll spare you. Just trust me, it was bad. Another moment that really stuck out for me was when I learned Isaac knew he’d be losing his vision. One thing that happens when you are a special needs mom is you start networking with other moms, join a bunch of groups on Facebook, and immerse yourself in this new community to which you suddenly find yourself belonging. It was wonderful to be able to interact with others who knew what we were going through, but suddenly I was overwhelmed with the most tragic stories you’ve ever heard about children of all ages going through things no one should ever have to go through. I held vigil with many parents who were in the final days with their children, grieved with them, kept fingers crossed with them as they sat in surgery waiting rooms, got to know children and then would log on to find they’d died. Here I was trying my best to keep it together for my own kid, going through my own rough time, and I was being thrust into immense sadness on an almost daily basis. It was this time last year that I offered to help a friend who was organizing an early Christmas for a little boy who would be recovering from surgery over the holidays. He was an otherwise perfectly normal, running, jumping, playful boy except for intense, hours-long seizures that they were surely going to kill him at some point if they didn’t cut out part of his brain. After the surgery he would never walk again. He knew this. He was five. I ended up having a bit of a meltdown. I had to quit all the groups after that. My kid needs me to be strong, not a blubbering mess. So, basically the three most traumatic events of my entire life couldn’t help but be brought fiercely to mind by this story. Crazy, huh?
    2. I’m going to say Augustus and Isaac revel in violent video games because…
    The idea of death has forced itself into their lives at time when they should be full of life and health. They’ve been forced to think too seriously about their own mortality and just want to be normal boys who are able to be flippant about death because it’s not real to them yet. The way Augustus loses to do what’s noble was super sweet and made me love him even more. Obviously that quality was a big part of his personality and so the video games was a literarily neat way of reinforcing the quality in our minds. And it was nice to know Isaac was able to continue to playing games even after losing his vision. Technology is awesome!
    3. It’s a nice quote. I’m a fan of personal responsibility. Of course, bad luck exists, there’s no denying that. For as much beauty and order as there is in the world there’s also chaos and ugliness. Ironically, I think in the case of most diseases the fault does lie in ourselves, even if we don’t understand all the ways in which it does (the chemicals we douse ourselves with, the foods we ingest, the fumes we breathe, the lifestyles we lead, etc.). I loved that Hazel was a vegetarian, but it was frustrating to see characters so impacted by cancer, eating things that are strongly linked to disease (deli meat in a sad cancer book, for real?). But, I’m obsessed with that stuff, remember, so I’m probably being overly critical. I do think there are a LOT of things people blame on bad luck/the stars/God’s plan that really are our own doing, but that doesn’t make them any less shitty when they happen. Knowing why or who to blame for a teenager’s life being cut short by something so horrific as cancer doesn’t make it any less tragic.
    4. When the idea of going to Amsterdam to see Van Houten was introduced I was delighted. If I weren’t holding the book I probably would have giggled and clapped my hands like a kid. I loved that whole storyline – both of them being so in love with the book (the way so many kids are with TFiOs), the symbolism behind Hazel being so obsessed with finding out what happens to Anna’s mother, the gift of the wish, their dinner together, even the curmudgeony Van Houten and the part he played in Hazel and Augustus’ story. I secretly hoped that Van Houten would redeem himself (that Anna was really his daughter, given a chance to grow up in his book, was beautiful, but not enough to forgive him for being mean to Our Dear Hazel and Augustus!), but I love it even more that he was an asshole to the end. Anything else would have seemed too cliche.
    5. See #4
    6. Well, if we all know how sad it must be for parents to lose their child, the terminal child must know it, too. Hazel saw herself in Anna and a happy ending for Anna’s mother would soothe the part of her that hurts for knowing she will not see how her own parents’ lives end up.
    7. I’m not sure what John Green is saying about love in this book other than it’s a very nice thing.

    • Jen, wow. I had no idea. Thank you for sharing your story about your son and your experience as a mom with a special needs child. Of course, FIOS must have hit home for you since you understand what Hazel’s parents are going through. I’m sorry that it’s been so difficult to hear these tragic stories day in and day out and understand why you needed to disconnect to be able to be there for your own children. I really appreciate your honesty and hope that in some way, Green’s book brought you a sense of comfort.

      I’m sending you a big hug.

      And you’re right, food is SO powerful. My family has a history of cancer and diabetes. My father had colon cancer when I was 19. He survived and even though we’re not close, it’s important to me that I take care of my body to never go through cancer.

      Thanks again for your comments.

  5. Everyone has pretty much already mentioned most of the amazingness of this novel and most of my favorite parts, so I don’t have to. What I will mention are two moments in the novel that struck me very hard: the first is when Hazel is sort of rationalizing the will to live and she says something like “Even my cancer, that’s all it’s doing, trying to live.” For some reason that broke my heart. It is such an incredibly mature and unique way for a teenage girl to look at cancer, but because of the way her character is written, it is completely believable. I thought that was an amazing thing that John Green did. Although I cried through much of this novel, and the tears threaten even when I read through some of the quoted passages online, it never once felt sappy or sentimental. It was honest. It just killed me.

    • Joanna, I love that quote that you picked from Hazel. It’s a sad reality. I thought that John Green did an amazing job of making you understand what life was like for Hazel but also celebrating life. Thanks for your wonderful comments!

      • no problemo~thanks for inviting me into your group! ps – i just started “paper towns”

  6. I loved TFIOS, but I read it way back in January so I really can’t offer any intelligent contributions to the discussion, lol. If I had time, I’d re-read right now! 🙂

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