My thoughts are stars
I cannot fathom into constellations.
I first read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green at the age of eight. Obviously, at that time I read it for the predominant reason of showing off long words and pretending like I was a much more sophisticated reader than I actually was. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t really get it. But over the years, as I reread it over and over again until the pages were yellowed, I realized just how powerful a message it delivered. The Fault in Our Stars tells the story of Hazel Grace Lancaster, an astute and cautious and 16-year-old girl diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. The cautiousness to let people into her life fades away when she meets Augustus Waters, and a whirlwind romance ensues. The book has exceptionally worthwhile themes, which include examples of many different yet equally powerful forms of love, how death is not something to fear but not to be easily accepted either, and the inevitability of oblivion.
There are many different yet equally powerful forms of love. The protagonist, Hazel Grace Lancaster, experiences and gives three forms. They include the love for family, romantic love, and the love for a friend. “You are amazing. You can’t know, sweetie, because you’ve never had a baby become a brilliant young reader with a side interest in horrible television shows, but the joy you bring us is so much greater than the sadness we feel about your illness.” (Green, 103) The first form of love is that from a family member, and is possibly also the most possible. Cancer—or any serious disease, really—doesn’t affect the patient alone. It also impacts their loved ones, sometimes even more. Hazel’s parents love her a lot, so naturally they are scared of what will happen when she is gone. However, their strong love allows them to power through the sadness the sickness brings and instead focus on the bright side: their daughter. “As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.” (125) Another form is love is romantic love. Hazel first meets Augustus at Support Group, where other cancer-stricken teens gather and share their thoughts, and it really is almost ironic how such a beautiful romance can bloom from such an unhappy place. “When the scientists of the future show up at my house with robot eyes and they tell me to try them on, I will tell the scientists to screw off, because I do not want to see a world without him.” (258) The final kind of love is platonic love, between close friends. This heartbreaking line is spoken by Isaac at his best friend Augustus’s funeral. While cancer took Augustus’s right leg (and eventually his life), it robbed Isaac of his sight. The two form a very close bond because of this, and understand each other in a way even lovers and family never could. I recently completed a book called I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, and it coincidentally had themes very similar to The Fault in Our Stars. The theme of family love is the most prominent, with the protagonists being twins. Noah and Jude have both small feuds and large conflicts, but they eventually figure it out at the end. Being siblings, especially ones identical in age, they both feel like their parents have favorites. Jude envies her mother’s favor for her brother and Noah envies her father’s favor for his sister. Their sorrow is even furthered when their mother passes away due to a car accident, and Noah especially is overwhelmed with grief. But things change as the years pass, and the twins learn to forgive each other and share their father’s love. Romantic love is also a somewhat prominent theme, with Jude and Oscar’s relationship and Noah and Brian’s short-lasting one. There is also friendship between Jude and her sculptor mentor Guillermo.
Death is not something to fear, but never fully accept it either. Being a victim of fatal cancer, the thought of death has crossed Hazel’s mind very many times. “But, in fact, depression is not a side effect of cancer. Depression is a side effect of dying. (Cancer is also a side effect of dying. Almost everything is, really).” (3) A relatively pessimistic way to view death is something unescapable, which is true. For that reason, death is nothing to be afraid of. It is certain to happen to everyone and everything, and you have no say at all in the matter. “It’s a metaphor, see: You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don’t give it the power to do its killing.” (20) This quote should not be taken in the literal sense that you can prevent death, because you cannot. What you can do is diminish its power. Don’t spend your last days in a state of sadness and fear; live them, really live them with your loved ones and once death finally gets you, you’ll go with no regrets. “People talk about the courage of cancer patients, and I do not deny that courage. I have been poked and stabbed and poisoned for years, and still I trod on.” (106) Total acceptance of death can be mirrored with surrender. People call cancer a “fight”, a “battle”, because strong patients will always try their hardest to find a way to overcome this impossible war. Countless forms of media have themes of mortality, loss, et cetra. I even made a podcast earlier on They Both Die at the End about, no surprise, the inevitability of death. One quote on death from Doctor Strange was particularly insightful to me— “Death is what gives life meaning. To know your days are numbered. Your time is short.”, spoken by the Ancient One. It’s a good quote, but I don’t entirely agree with it. Death does sort of give life meaning, to make your days count because you know they won’t last forever. But it most certainly is not the only factor. I believe what you do in the time you are given is far more important. The memories you make and the changes you create are what people will remember you by after you’re long gone.
Oblivion is inevitable. Everyone will one day be forgotten. As decades turn into millennia, the great people of our past will be lost in history as well. “I fear oblivion. I fear it like the proverbial blind man who’s afraid of the dark.” (12) When asked his greatest fear, this is how Augustus replies. After actually learning the meaning of oblivion, I realized I feared it immensely as well. Being forgotten is a scary thing. Waking up one day and finding everyone you ever loved not remember your name would be terrifying. “There will come a time when all of us are dead. All of us. There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything…And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does.” (13) I do not expect my future to be one of fame and renown, and I do not think there will be a time where millions would know my name. But I have my family, and I do not want my future generations to ever forget me. However, just as I don’t even know my great-great-grandmother’s name, there is no way they will all remember me. The day will come when our name is spoken for the final time, and we all have no choice but to accept that. “I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.” (153) One day, the world will end. We probably will be long gone by then, but that does not mean you should not make the life you have count. Your life may be a tiny increment in the timeline of the universe, but to you, your family, your friends, and your lovers, it is everything. Make your shout into the void count.
The young adult novel genre is currently chock-filled with books like The Fault in Our Stars, mostly referred to as ‘sick-lit’. A book in that subgenre usually consists either one or both characters being sick with some kind of terminal illness and subsequently falling in love each other. The ending’s usually sad. I have read quite a few of those books, including Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon and others. They were undoubtedly good, but none of them have quite made me feel as strongly as The Fault in Our Stars. Perhaps it was the characters, with exceedingly well-developed and lovable personalities, or maybe it was the themes, the lessons of the book that will echo in my heart forever. It taught me to appreciate all the differing yet valuable loves in my life; allowed me to no longer regard death and oblivion with fear. These lessons and this book are both timeless, and everyone should read it at least once in their lives.