Three days after finishing this book, I still can’t find words that will do it justice in a review. All I know is this: I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that gave me a lump in my throat from start to finish. Or one that, three days later, still conjures up a sad, pressurized feeling in my chest when I think about it. I’ve certainly never loved a book that had those effects on me.
Hazel is sixteen and living with terminal cancer. Medication has extended her life, but has not changed her prognosis. She attends a support group for kids with cancer, and there she meets Augustus, who has been cancer free since surgery to remove a leg. He’s very good-looking, and the two are instantly attracted to each other. But Hazel initially resists becoming romantically involved, knowing it can’t last:
I wanted to know that he would be okay if I died. I wanted to not be a grenade, to not be a malevolent force in the lives of people I loved.
Augustus is persistent, and he eventually wins her over. Their love blossoms through their shared experiences at support group. She shares her favorite book with him (the story of a girl who dies of cancer), and they obsess about the author. They play Augustus’ favorite video game, which is a kind of metaphor for their cancer battles. They deal with the ups and downs of teenage life, which are remarkably normal and even funny, considering everything else they have to deal with. And of course, there is a shared adventure which cements their bond:
What else? 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. I am so lucky to love her, Van Houten. You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices. I hope she likes hers.
I loved Hazel’s confidence and attitude, and Augustus’ courage and caring. Even though their story has an inevitable conclusion, the ending is unexpected and very, very moving. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.