When I was 15 and I first read The Catcher in the Rye, I swore that no other book would take its place as my favorite. It was the greatest piece of literature for a 15-year-old. I was full of angst, and so was Holden Caulfield.
But I will not write about The Catcher in the Rye today. I will write about John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I read the book just a few months ago and there are many reasons why I should not be writing about it, including the one stated in the first paragraph. Also, I will spoil the book for you. But there is no other way to write this and not spoil it. Plus, I will have to tell you really personal details I don’t normally tell people in my life. So I am taking the great risk of giving you multiple reasons to stop reading my essay very early on. But I will take that Great Perhaps.
The Fault in Our Stars is John Green’s latest novel. I finished the book in less than 24 hours spread over one and a half days with only short breaks for sleeping and crying. It consumed me the way smoke consumes an enclosed room. It made everything else around me blurry, and there was no way to escape the inevitable feeling of being too involved. But that is the thing about sadness. Whether it is from your own life or a book, it always finds its way to you. And that was how it was for The Fault in Our Stars and me.
Maybe the book became very special very fast because it dealt with death and illness and I am no stranger to both. Maybe because it was all about living each day like it was your last, and that is how I want to live. Or maybe it was because Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace Lancaster — with their cancers, obsession with books and video games, and love for each other — had spirit we healthy people would have envied.
With all the books I’ve read and teenage protagonists I’ve met, I’ve never quite encountered anyone like Augustus Waters, the one-legged, articulate, handsome boy of 17 who lived his life acting out a metaphor as way of sticking it to “The Man.” Augustus expressed his thoughts whenever he wanted, acted on impulse most of the time and declared his love during his truest, most vulnerable moment. He was the kind of boy who would fly to Europe with the girl he loved to grant her wish. He was “Carpe Diem” personified. I guess that’s what cancer does to people. Illness never weakens them. More than anything else, it makes them braver and more alive.
Throughout the book, you are made to believe that Hazel is the physically weak one and Augustus is the opposite, until you get to the part where Augustus says, “I lit up like a Christmas tree, Hazel Grace.” He went on to tell Hazel that his cancer had come back and that it had already spread through his entire body. He would die within a few months, on July 2.
On the one hand, I thought it was cruel of John Green to make the readers fall in love with Augustus (and believe me, you will) and then let him die. On the other hand, after the denial and the struggle, when acceptance finally dawned, I realized something else — something far more important than focusing on Augustus’ death. I realized how it really made me feel, and why it made me feel that way.
There are many types of disabilities in the world. For Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace Lancaster, it was cancer. For some, it is an irreparable heartbreak. For others, it is somewhere in between. Maybe the emotional cancer from loving too much and risking too little; maybe the opposite. For me, it is the many regrets that piled up my entire life — the things I wish I’d said but couldn’t, and the things I wish I didn’t say but did. But that’s what being healthy does to people. It fools them into thinking that they have more time than they really do. It’s a cruel irony.
I, unfortunately, am a fool. I received the news that my brother died only through a phone call, one mundane Tuesday noon while I was at the office. Growing up, my brother and I weren’t exactly close. We fought a lot. He was nine years older than me, but we acted like children nonetheless. And I thought that we would stay that way until I was 81 and he was 90.
But, two years ago, he died. He was 32 years old and I was 23. I’ve never told anyone about this before, but the worst part about him dying was that no one in the family was with him when it happened, only our entrusted caregiver. My mother had just left to run errands, my father and my eldest brother were still on their way, and I had to go to work. We weren’t there when my brother’s heart stopped and the doctors were trying to revive him. No one was with him to kiss him goodbye before they finally removed all the wires from his body and wrapped him up in white cloth. No one was there.
As much as seeing my brother die and being there helpless would have been horrible, it sucks more that I was helpless and away, and he was dying and alone. So I will forever live with the regret that I had to work that day. And that’s partly why I finished The Fault in Our Stars so quickly, because it felt that putting it down was leaving Augustus and Hazel alone, and I couldn’t do that. Not again.
I know that I have many reasons why I should not have written this essay. But I did so because I envy Augustus, with his adorable bluntness in telling people he loves them. I envy him because in his short, fictional life, he taught me how much I am missing in my own, real one.
When someone dies, whether it’s a fictional character or your own brother, you always have regrets. You will never think that what happened prior to one’s death is enough justification for his passing, because nothing is. We are selfish that way and that’s the truth.
But we could turn things around somehow. We could make up for what was lost in ways that are not horrible but sincere. Hazel Grace wrote a beautiful eulogy for Augustus Waters that, while it doesn’t live up to what his life had been, would have made him proud of her. I am writing this, not because it will somehow lighten the burden I feel about my brother’s death. I am writing this because I love him and someone should know.
Death changes things. It changes you. I knew that when I lost my brother. But when I read The Fault in Our Stars, I realized something else. While I knew that things would never be the same again, I realized that maybe there is some good in that.
“There is no shortage of fault to be found amid our stars.” — John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars