MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!
If you have not read the book or seen the movie, do not continue reading! I don’t want to ruin your TFIOS experience. You need to deal with all the feels first.
I read John Green’s “The Fault In Our Stars” back in the summer of 2012 when it first hit bookshelves. (Well, library shelves. I was poor college grad.) I read it a second time in May of 2014 to ensure the plot (and feels) were fresh in mind when I watched its movie premiere on opening weekend. And it seems no matter how many times I digest the story, I still have one nagging “problem” with it (though I’d rather call it a “question”).
Why doesn’t Hazel feel betrayed or lead on when Augustus finally tells her he is dying of cancer?
I thought perhaps in seeing the movie that this question might be answered as many times film adaptations of my favorite books bring a new level of understanding when you can see the characters rather than just imagine them, but this was unfortunately not the case. I would argue that “The Fault in Our Stars” the movie is one of the closest book-to-film adaptions (to the point that I could quote the movie while watching it for the first time) that remains genuine, engaging, and doesn’t lose the magic of the original story. Which is glorious from a book and film lover’s perspective, but disappointing in that I really wanted to know the answer to my question! I understand that there is far more being addressed in TFIOS than Hazel and Gus’ most basic level of a relationship, but it still bothers me. Because if I were Hazel, I would be mad. I obviously couldn’t stay mad. (I mean, he’s DYING. And I’ve fallen in love with him.) But my initial reaction would not be calm acceptance.
If I was healthy, I probably could deal with it in a calm and sympathetic way. There have been countless movies made about that particular subject, the most formative example being “A Walk to Remember.” However, TFIOS is different because our protagonist and the one affected the most by this startling revelation that her newly minted boyfriend is made up of cancer cells is also sick. She may not be immediately and actively dying, but it is a struggle to survive, and she has accepted the fact that eventually she will die. And before reaching a ripe old age, unfortunately. Actually, the first half of the book and film are spent with Hazel trying to keep Augustus from becoming romantically attached to her because she considers herself a “grenade” that will eventually explode (die) and everyone in her vicinity (her friends and family) will be irreparably damaged by her passing.
So it bothers me that the girl who so desperately wants to keep Augustus from being hurt by her inevitable death, doesn’t feel the least bit betrayed or angry by the realization that he too is dying. Does she feel a kinship to him now that she knows they both share the same fate? Does she feel like they are now equals so the damage is excusable? Does she feel like she deserves to experience the grief of losing someone she loves to cancer in return for her eventual death and the pain she’ll cause her parents?
I think these are certainly questions that Hazel considers and asks herself, but I feel like her journey is really about realizing that the here-and-now matters. And those who care for her will go on living even when she ceases to exist. Not because they don’t love her or aren’t affected by her passing, but because they HAVE to keep going. The journey Hazel goes on through TFIOS is not necessarily a romantic one so much as it is a journey of self-discovery, acceptance, and letting go of her selfishness. She learns that the world does not revolve around her, and it will keep spinning after she’s gone. And for a novel aimed at teens, that’s an incredibly worthwhile subject to be discussed in depth (because let’s face it, teenagers believe they’re the center of the universe).
I still can’t find a way to sufficiently answer my question though. She tries so hard to make sure that she doesn’t do to Augustus almost exactly what Augustus does to her. Why can’t she be at least a little bit hurt initially? I wonder if perhaps, I can’t comprehend Hazel’s acceptance and lack of ire because I have never been in that kind of situation before. Is there some secret cancer kid society where everyone is just “okay” if you lie to them about being healthy until it’s too late? Gosh, I wouldn’t think so!
It’s not that I want Hazel to be angry. That fact that she accepts the reality of Gus’ situation so lovingly endears me to her even more, and I think, shows how mature of a teenager she is. But it distances me from her as a person. I like to read novels and watch movies in which I can believe I’m the main character. It needs to be a story where the protagonist makes decisions that are either in line with my values and morals and therefore agreeable to me or against them but eventually redeemable. Hazel isn’t either. She’s off in her own plane of reality that I feel like I can never reach. Because I would feel betrayed and lead on and angry with Augustus. It wouldn’t last, but I know I couldn’t just listen to him tell me that the last few weeks had essentially been a fantasy, and now that we’re an item here’s what’s actually happening. Oops! I just kind of forgot to tell you…
I love Augustus Waters. I love Hazel Grace Lancaster. And I love John Green. But my question goes unanswered, and I don’t know if I’m just being petty or if there really is a reason the answer still remains unknown despite the numerous means by which the story has now been told.