I love that the title of the book comes from a Shakespearean quote. John Green’s straightforward humor makes me chuckle and shudder a little bit at the same time. I believe that staying strong and optimistic is for the best. That’s why a little part of me collapsed when the cheerful and vigorous Augustus, lost all control and dignity, cursed his life helplessly and desperately in the parking lot.
This is not just a love story. It challenges the concept of being alive as well as the society’s glorfication of fighting a battle with cancer. My heart felt like a suddenly deflated balloon when Hazel said to Augustus, “Even cancer isn’t a bad guy really: Cancer just wants to be alive.” So whose fault is it? It’s got to be somebody’s, right? Peter Van Houten, the harsh man who mostly only said horrifying and disturbing things, wasright when he said, “…Never was Shakespeare more wrong than when he had Cassius note, ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/But in ourselves.’” Sometimes there is no bad guy but fate. This realization makes you feel utterly powerless, but eventually it makes you strong because you realize that there’s really no other choice. We are all dealt a random hand of cards. The only option is to play the best game.
“You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world…but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices.”
I pictured Augustus, half-conscious and having the last bit of life squeezed out of him, scribbling down his final thoughts in his eulogy for Hazel. Although heart-wrenching, it’s comforting to know that he was content with the final chapter of his life. He was right. No one can walk the earth without getting hurt. Sometimes it’s worth it because it makes you feel alive. I guess that’s what we should aim for—to make decisions so we can eventually say, “I like my choices.”
“I like this world. I like drinking champagne. I like not smoking. I like the sound of Dutch people speaking Dutch. And now…I don’t even get a battle. I don’t get a fight.”
The small pleasures in life became luxuries for Augustus. One recurring theme of the book is that “the world isn’t a wish-granting factory.” But when simple wishes like these are cold-bloodedly denied, the world seems rather cruel. The novel becomes unbearable to read at this point. You wish you had the power to give kids like Augustus more time, but all I can do is to pray to the Something with a capital S that he believed in.
“Some infinities are bigger than others.”
A quote initially from Peter Van Houten later becomes a comfort to Augustus and Hazel. A rich life isn’t measured by its length, but by its depth. I remember one line from the lyrics of If I Die Young, “Who would’ve thought/forever could be severed by/the sharp knife of a short life?”
“But suffice it to say that the existence of broccoli does not in any way affect the taste of chocolate.”
Hazel’s response to the saying that happiness is felt more when there’s pain is hilarious. Indeed, to tell a kid that having cancer is for some unknown happy reason is ridiculous. But I can also think of many cases that contradict Hazel. A glass of water when you are dying of thirst tastes infinitely better. Reunions are only so sweet because of the bitterness of departures. And after having meals of only broccoli, a piece of chocolate probably does taste like heaven.
When Hazel’s mom says that people living in California wouldn’t enjoy the weather because everyday is gorgeous, I was like, “What? No. We do!” I’ve done my fair share of traveling in the US, Europe, Asia, and even Africa. While I loved all the places, every place confirmed that California does have the best weather. I smiled when Hazel says, “She was wrong, but I didn’t correct her.” Knowing something you currently have is precious and fully enjoying it is one of the best feelings.
Shortly after finishing the book, I registered to become a monthly donor at the Make-a-Wish foundation. I think this is a little something I can do. Maybe I’ll be contributing to some kid’s trip to Amsterdam one day. Who knows?
More of my favorite quotes:
“I was thinking about the word handle, and all the unholdable things that get handled.”
“ ‘That’s the thing about pain,’ Augustus said, and then glanced back at me. ‘It demands to be felt.’”
“The weird thing about houses is that they almost always look like nothing is happening inside of them, even though they contain most of our lives.”
“It’s embarrassing that we all just walk though life blindly accepting that scrambled eggs are fundamentally associated with mornings.”
“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.”
“And for me, that was the final and truly unbearable tragedy: Like all the innumerable dead, he’d once and for all been demoted from haunted to haunter.”
“I thought of my dad telling me that the universe wants to be noticed. But what we want is to be noticed by the universe, to have the universe give a shit what happens to us—not the collective idea of sentient life but each of us, as individuals.”
“Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.”