“I know I’m one of them,” my 14-year-old, Lizzie, whispered to me, “but, honestly, all these fangirls are making me cringe.” We’d both read the book, and like millions of others (many of whom rushed to theaters this weekend, making the film an instant hit), we’d both fallen for the story of two teenagers with cancer, Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and Augustus (Ansel Elgort), who forge a connection despite their illnesses. As a mercifully healthy high-school freshman, my daughter may have been free of the teens’ life-and-death worries, but she could relate to their bantering friendship, awkward flirtation — and need to separate from their parents. As we had prepared to leave for the event, she did her blasé-teen best to pretend that slipping into my black wedges and heading to the city for a big movie premiere was just another night at the movies. But her façade didn’t last. Entering the theater we passed Woodley, looking every bit a star in a pollen-yellow strapless gown. “I’m cool outside,” Lizzie murmured, “but inside, I’m jumping up and down.”
Before it was a hit movie, The Fault in Our Stars — like The Hunger Games, Twilight, and Divergent — was a bestselling young adult novel. It was my daughter’s discovery first, and she shared it with me. But unlike those other action-oriented books, TFIOS was not a fantasy, or a dystopia, or something that happened far, far away among immortals and teen gladiators – unless you happened to consider suburban Indianapolis exotic.
And the primary battle waged in TFIOS is against cancer – at least on the surface. Because the story of lung-damaged Hazel, lugging around her oxygen tank, and her gradual romantic awakening to one-legged Augustus was really so much more about love than disease. As Lizzie explained as the lights dimmed: “They’re all dying – and that makes them seem more alive.”