“Apparently, the world is not a wish-granting factory,” says 17-year-old Augustus Waters, the co-protagonist of young adult author John Green’s latest novel, “The Fault in Our Stars.” Augustus and the 16-year-old narrator of the novel, Hazel Grace Lancaster, are forced to come to terms with this fact in a much harsher manner than most teenagers are as, by the start of the book, they have both been diagnosed with cancer. Augustus has lost a leg to osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, and is therefore clear of all signs of cancer for now, while Hazel, diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer when she was thirteen, is terminal. Hazel and Augustus, along with other “cancer kids” present in the novel, struggle with how to make the most of the limited amount of time they have been given on this planet.
Augustus laments the fact that he will never get the chance to die for a noble cause; “There is no honor in dying of,” he says. Hazel turns to the words of her favorite book, “An Imperial Affliction,” by Peter Van Houten, who believes that although not everyone may get the same amount of time on earth, everyone does get some amount, and that that is enough, and so Hazel is able to come to terms with her reality with more ease. Hazel and Augustus find themselves bonding over the words of “An Imperial Affliction,” the protagonist of which is also a teenager who has cancer, and find themselves equally frustrated over the fact that the book doesn’t have an ending; it stops in the middle of the sentence. Together, they go on a quest to find Van Houten, and with him, the answers to the many questions they have about the fates of his characters. It is on this quest that they are able to confront their fears about death and face the limited time they have on earth head-on.
Green’s ability to not only spin a gripping plot but also a riveting sentence gives “The Fault in Our Stars” the sort of majestic quality that most YA books today severely lack. Although he writes for teens, his novel speaks to people of all ages about the temporary nature of time and the basic human need to live life to the fullest during that amount of time. Green’s writing is not the only remarkable quality to the book, however; its otherworldly success, before even being published, should be noted as well.
Besides being an author, Green is also one half of the Vlogbrothers, a YouTube channel that he and his brother Hank Green use to discuss just about anything with each other, from politics to giraffe love. Their YouTube channel is wildly popular, with over 100 million total views. On June 28 of last year, Green announced the availability of his new book, “The Fault in Our Stars,” for pre-order wherever books are sold. He also announced that he would be signing, by hand, the entire first printing, which consisted of approximately 150,000 copies. By the next day, “The Fault in Our Stars” had soared to the top of the best seller lists on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble where it stayed for several days, beating books that had, of course, already been published and on shelves in bookstores.
In response to attacks he subsequently received from fans and news outlets alike accusing him of using the Vlogbrothers as a marketing tool for selling his books, Green said on his Tumblr, “Vlogbrothers is not an extremely complicated, five-year-long marketing campaign for TFiOS. If you buy my book, and I hope you do, I want it to be because you think it’s a good value for eight or ten hours of quality reading, not because you like me personally.” Seeing as Vlogbrothers began approximately five years ago, and at the time, had a very minimal number of views and no hints of great success for the future, it does not seem plausible that the channel was created for the sole purpose of increasing the popularity of Green’s novels. The fact that he is now able to use Vlogbrothers as a means of further spreading the word concerning news about his books is merely a side effect of it’s stand-alone success.
The long and winding journey to the ultimate publication of The Fault in Our Stars did not end with its astronomical pre-order success, however. A week or so before it’s publication on January 10, Barnes & Noble accidentally mailed out approximately 1,500 copies of the book, effectively leaking it on a particularly grand scale. Green was devastated by this, as he not only has a particular hate for spoilers, and of course this leak made spoilers of “The Fault in Our Stars” that much more likely, but also because the idea of all of his fans receiving and reading the book at the same time meant a lot to him. Spoilers did pop up on the internet, but they were few and far between, and the overwhelming response from those who did receive the book early due to Barnes & Noble’s blunder was to keep the book in its packaging, not to be opened until January 10. This response was a great testament to the extreme loyalty that Green’s fans have to him, and when an instance like that is examined, it becomes markedly less surprising that his book was able to soar to the top of the bestseller charts from preorders alone, since these were the fans who he had behind him all along.
Upon its actual release date, “The Fault in Our Stars” was received with acclaim from critics and fans alike. It now sits at the top of the “New York Times” bestseller list for YA/chapter books in all its physically printed glory. Gorgeously written, “The Fault in Our Stars” presents characters that readers have no choice but to fall in love with, and to stick with, even when things take a turn for the worst. Green spares his readers no details when it comes to addressing the high levels of physical humiliation and suffering that come with having cancer, and his writing is that much more beautiful because of this. He teaches us that embracing the realities of life, as harsh as they may be, is always more rewarding than denying them. In the words of Hazel Grace, we will each do all that we can in the “little infinities” allotted to us, and that beats being invincible.