Fight Club

YA fiction cancer
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28 JULY 2017 | KAREN KAO

Meet Hazel Grace Lancaster, age 16. She’s the star of the YA novel, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Hazel has cancer. It’s all people ever want to talk about. So Hazel has her lines down pat.

Thyroid originally but with an impressive and long-settled satellite colony in my lungs. And I’m doing okay.

in the heart of jesus

Reluctantly, Hazel attends a Support Group at an Episcopalian church built in the shape of a cross. Every Wednesday, she sits with the other cancer survivors in a Circle of Trust, right where Jesus’ heart should be. Hazel hates going; it’s depressing. Isaac, an eye cancer patient, is her only real friend although that’s not why Hazel does it. She wants to make her parents happy.

There is one thing in this world shittier than biting it from cancer when you’re sixteen, and that’s having a kid who bites it from cancer.

Hazel Grace Lancaster is one wise soul.

a one-legged pony

Then she meets Augustus Waters, former basketball star and current osteocarcinoma patient who’s already lost one leg to the disease. This does not, in any way, detract from him being hot. Not hot by the standards of kids with cancer but by any yardstick hot. This is what Hazel’s non-cancerous best friend says when she hears Hazel and Augustus might become a thing.

Oh, my God. I’ve seen him at parties. The things I would do to that boy. I mean, not now that I know you’re interested in him. But, oh, sweet holy Lord, I would ride that one-legged pony all the way around the corral.

don’t cry

Augustus and Hazel and Isaac suffer like any teenager would. They fall in love. They fall out of love. There are tantrums and pranks and a lot of video games. And, of course, Mom and Dad haven’t got a clue.

In addition to all that, there are the meds and the operations and the oxygen tanks. Each one of these kids is fighting for their lives. Or, if that’s no longer possible, then a shred of dignity. They’re self-aware in a way that only the great magnifying glass of imminent death can make them. Listen to Hazel:

Much of my life had been devoted to trying not to cry in front of people who loved me, so I knew what Augustus was doing. You clench your teeth. You look up […] if they see you cry, it will hurt them, and you will be nothing but A Sadness in their lives.

Yet all that hard-earned wisdom can’t stop these kids from being kids.

“How are you feeling?” Isaac asked.

“Everything tastes like pennies. Aside from that, I’m on a roller coaster that only goes up, kid,” Gus answered. Isaac laughed. “How are the eyes?”

“Oh, excellent,” he said. “I mean, they’re not in my head is the only problem.”

“Awesome, yeah,” Gus said. “Not to one-up you or anything, but my body is made of cancer.”

“So I heard,” Isaac said, tryng not to let it get to him. He fumbled toward Gus’s hand and found only his thigh.

“I’m taken,” Gus said.

the voice

I hear that the film version of The Fault in Our Stars features a park bench in my hometown that’s now a tourist attraction. I won’t be snarky about tourists, the improbable city geography or the distracting subplot involving Hazel’s favorite author. These are all quibbles.

Read The Fault in Our Stars for Hazel’s voice. In the words of Augustus Waters:

She is so beautiful. You don’t get tired of looking at her. You never worry if she is smarter than you: You know she is. She is funny without ever being mean. I love her.