Hazel is 16. She has incurable cancer, so knows that it's only a matter of time before she dies, but thanks to some miracle drug, she's currently doing fairly ok, as long as she drags a tank of oxygen around with her at all times. Her mother spends all her time taking care of her, and worrying, and making sure she goes to Cancer Support Group to battle her quite-natural depression about having cancer and knowing she's going to die young. Hazel thinks Support Group is a big waste of time, until one day, she meets Augustus Waters there. Augustus is 17 and lost his leg to osteosarcoma. As Hazel says: "Osteosarcoma sometimes takes a limb to check you out. Then if it likes you, it takes the rest".
Augustus is handsome and charming and witty and instantly taken with Hazel, comparing her to a mid-2000s Natalie Portman (and even with this description, I adored her). He agrees that Support Group is dreadful, and they quickly spark up a friendship that starts turning into something more, even though Hazel wants to distance herself from everyone, afraid of becoming a "grenade", blowing the lives of those around her to pieces when she inevitably dies, yet Augustus tenaciously refuses to keep his distance. They discuss films, games, life, poetry, art, and especially bond over Hazel's favourite book, An Imperial Affliction by Peter van Houten. The book, also about a teenage girl with cancer, ends mid-sentence, and both Hazel and Augustus become obsessed with finding out what happened to the other characters in the book after it ended. They correspond with the author by e-mail, but he refuses to tell them unless they talk to him in person. He lives in Amsterdam.
Now, Hazel used her dying Wish (from the Make a Wish Foundation) on Disney World before the miracle drug made her somewhat better, but Augustus still has his. This is their chance to go to Amsterdam and talk to the author of their favourite book, getting some kind of closure before Hazel's life takes an inevitable downturn.
I'm convinced The Fault in Our Stars will be among the best books I read this year, even though it's only February, mainly because it's one of the best books I've read in years. I bookmarked a dozen pages or so just for the amazingly quotable lines. The book made me laugh out loud on public transport, getting me puzzled looks from fellow commuters. It made me sob uncontrollably on the couch, freaking out my cats. If you make it to the end of this book without both laughing and at least getting teary eyed, you are some sort of unfeeling machine. It's an amazing book, and while the protagonists are kids with cancer (or recovering from cancer), the horrible, deadly disease is not the focal point of the book at all.
This is one of those young adult books that I desperately wish had been around when I was actually a teenager, because I would have killed to get my hands on it. Hazel and Augustus are amazing kids to read about, and it breaks your heart that their love is so star-crossed. She's dying, he's recovering. You know it's all going to end in tears, but you keep turning the pages because you can't not. You have to find out what happens next. This is going to be one of those books I gift to people in years to come, just to make sure I can talk to them about it. Now I just have to track down John Green's back catalogue of books, to see if they're as amazing as this one.