Book Club: Let’s Discuss “Fault in Our Stars”

The_Fault_in_Our_StarsFor our first book selection of the year, we read “Fault in Our Stars,” a young adult novel written by John Green. i was excited to read this one because: it’s short, which works well with my current reading schedule of ten minutes at the end of the day after 12 or so exhausting hours of chasing a crazy two-year-old; it’s a YA novel which, for me, means that maybe there’s a chance my tired old mind can follow what’s going on; it has like over 10,000 reviews on Amazon and an average rating of 5 stars, so it must be good. And it was!!

Ok, confession: I didn’t LLLLOOOOOVVVVEEEE it like so many others. I liked it a lot. Would I re-read it again and again? No. Would I recommend it to a friend who was looking for something fast, easy, and inspiring? Yeah. And if I were teaching high school, I’d make sure to have lots of copies to loan out to students. It’s a great book. Let’s discuss.

So, because the novel is so popular, there are tons of discussion questions around the web. Since I’m feeling lazy — see 12 hour days of chasing a crazy two-year-old above — I have borrowed some of the more interesting questions (with some editing by moi) I found to help guide our talk. Please feel free to answer these or pose your own or just talk about what you liked or didn’t like about the book. (And so as not to clutter this post, I’ll share my answers in the comments).

1. Do you think the author, John Green, a man in his 30s, did a convincing job of writing in the voice of a teenage girl?

2. Green spent some time as a chaplain and after that experience he said he believed that “life is utterly random and capricious, and arbitrary.” Yet he also said, after finishing The Fault in Our Stars, that he no longer feels that life’s randomness “robs human life of its meaning…or that it robs even lives of people who don’t get to have full lives.” Would you say that the search for meaning — even, or especially, in the face of dying — is what this book explores? Do you think Gus and Hazel found meaning in their lives through their relationship with each other?

3. In support group, Hazel says, “There will come a time when all of us are dead. All of us. There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything…maybe that time is coming soon and maybe it is millions of years away, but even if we survive the collapse of our sun, we will not survive forever…And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does” (13). Do you worry about oblivion and/or death? Or do you ignore it?

4. What effect does the mingling of normal teenage problems (break-ups, coming of age) with a terminal diagnosis create in the novel? For instance, do you think it is realistic that Isaac would care more about his break-up with Monica than about his blindness?

5. Do you believe it’s possible for teenagers to be in love as truly as adults? Do they have to have “adult-like” experiences, like cancer, in order to love as deeply as an adult?

6. At one point, Hazel’s father says: “What a day. If we lived in California, they’d all be like this.” Hazel’s mom replies: “Yeah, but then you wouldn’t enjoy them.” Hazel thought she was wrong, but she didn’t correct her. What do you thing about the theory that “without pain, we can’t know joy”? And did Hazel only think her mom was wrong about not enjoying California weather because her cancer has taught her not to take anything for granted, even/especially endless strings of beautiful days?

7. What do you think about Peter Van Houten, the fictional author of “An Imperial Affliction”? John Green, has said that Van Houten is a “horrible, horrible person, but I have an affection for him.” Do you agree?

8. Hazel was desperate to know what happened to the character in her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction after the book ended. What do you think happened to Hazel after the ending of The Fault in Our Stars?

[Questions via Lit Lovers] and GoodReads and]


  1. I read this book over the weekend. Like Wendy, I didn’t LOVE it. I knew he was going to die about half way through, and I didn’t really feel like the characters were all that developed. But I get it, it’s YA. Also, I kinda wanted this book to make me cry, but it didn’t.

    Regarding question #1– yes, I think the author did a great job. In fact, since I had the Kindle version on my phone and didn’t look at the cover of the book, I just assumed the author was a woman, and was a little shocked when I got to the end and saw that a man had written it.

  2. Avatar photo GatorGirl says:

    Yeah, totally didn’t know this was a YA book, makes the simple writing and juvenile tone make way more sense. I haven’t really enjoyed it. It’s kinda boring to me.

    Q3- I ignore death. None of us know what’s going to happen, so I figure I’ll wait and see for my self.

    Q4- I thought this was SO dumb, but kind of made sense. Teenagers in my experience don’t see the big picture. Loosing your sight is so much bigger than loosing your GF, but teenagers aren’t always rational human beings.

    Q5- Directly related to above- I don’t think having cancer at a young age can make you feel more adult emotions…but I’ve never been there. I know when I was a teen I thought I had life figured out! But now looking back I feel so silly that I thought that.

    1. Avatar photo GatorGirl says:

      Come on it’s a discussion! You totally have to post why you’re disagreeing!

  3. lets_be_honest says:

    1. Its been a while since I was a teen (even though it really doesn’t seem like it), but I think he did a really convincing job with it. It brought me back to those years.
    2. I was so happy about their relationship, because while at times it seemed they had it to fill another spot in experiencing the average adulthood that they would miss out on (like the trip), it really did seem like they found the meaning to life in each other (or through each other?). And at the same time, Hazel was still realistic in the end, which was bittersweet I guess, but I liked that about her.
    3. I don’t care or worry about oblivion (I think that’s a teenager thing when you are still all-important and everything is all-important), but I do worry about death. Not my own so much as everyone else’s. A LOT.
    4. I think it was realistic he was more upset about the breakup and I think that’s another tip of the hat to Green’s ability to talk-teen. I think it just made the whole thing more real.
    5. YES. Different, but yes.
    6. The reason I haven’t moved to Maine yet is because of this fear, haha. I think there’s some truth to ‘without pain, we can’t know joy.’ I think it varies from person to person and its a reason I try to remember to be grateful every day. Not take things for granted, etc.
    7. He obviously was a troubled man, but yea, I felt bad for him at the end. He knew he sucked.

    I’m excited to have Lil read this. She’s a bit young for it I think, but should be fine. Right?

    1. Totally agree on number 4.

  4. 8– I think Hazel dies not too long after the book ends. I think knowing that her parents are going to be ok without her (specifically the work that her mom will be doing once she finishes school) will allow her to let go.

    1. I thought exactly the same. That she is finally at peace with her parents being able to deal.

    2. I even sort of nodded my head when I read that part of the book, like “Okay Hazel, you know everything will be alright.”

  5. Same here, I didn’t LOOOOVVVEEEE it. It was a quick, entertaining read. I definitely think John Green did a good job assuming the voice of a teenage girl. I definitely forgot the author was a man.

    Re: your question on oblivion/death – I used to have HUGE anxiety around dying. I would lie awake at night worrying about it all the time and eventually got into therapy to overcome the anxiety, because it is, after all, inevitable – we’re all going to die someday. Now that I am older and (I hope) a little wiser, I don’t worry about it as much and really try to just enjoy life as it’s happening.

    1. lets_be_honest says:

      I feel like the older I get, the MORE I worry about it. Interesting.

      1. Well, I also went to therapy and know my when I am starting to go down that dark path, I have some coping mechanisms – like counting my breaths – and can get myself back to a good place.

  6. i liked this book up until the moment that the author was in hazel’s car. that was the turning point where i was like…. what? what is going on? also, i thought it was way to predictable and/or dumb that the author’s own daughter had died young just like hazel and they had parallel lives, bla bla bla… but i guess because it was YA thats why? but in the context of hazel i think he did serve his purpose of making her grow up and understand that she will never know some things.
    i thought it was hilarious that guy was so much more concerned about his girlfriend then his eyesight. i think that was spot on.
    i really liked their sex scene. i loved how gus blurted out how weird his leg looked, like they both knew it was coming but he was so worried about that one fact. i also loved that he was actually worried about that one fact, in stead of not like, the actual fact that they were going to have sex. i also loved that the sex wasnt magical amazing euphoric sex. i think it was a very honest representation.
    i was happy the book was so short because i just downloaded it last friday while i was in pa and read it on the plane and finished it at home. that was nice! also it did make me cry but i was really emotional last week and had a terrible week ect ect so … i think it just pushed me over the edge.
    overall though i was hoping for more. like, deeper, or something. but again, its YA, so i guess thats why.

    1. lets_be_honest says:

      Yea, I loved the sex scene too. So real. Its funny (yea, I’m going on about lil again, sorry) because one of the reasons I thought it was too mature for lil was that scene, and then I thought about it and I was like, this is so realistic, I want her to read even just that one part.
      I really loved the book and thought it was “deep” so I’m feeling silly about that, but I don’t read a lot, so maybe that’s why? Idk.

      1. Avatar photo muchachaenlaventana says:

        LBH I read all the time and also really enjoyed this book. I would not feel silly about it, the same book has the power to resonate with everyone in different ways.

      2. lets_be_honest says:

        Aw, thanks mucha! I was feeling like a dumbass for enjoying it so much.

      3. hey i actually cried. so dont feel bad lol

      4. Now that I’m thinking about it I think I misted at the part where the mom said she wouldn’t be a mom anymore. It made me sad 🙁

      5. Avatar photo muchachaenlaventana says:

        I cried and also have you seen the trailers for the movie? Yeah that will be a big ol sob fest for me.

      6. Jessibel5 says:

        I found that part really interesting, because in both Glee and Downton Abbey recently, the mother characters who have lost their children have commented on how even though your child is gone, you’re still a mom or a parent, but without a kid, and that’s the hardest part about it, the emptiness. I remember tearing up and saying to her “yes you are!” I read this book last fall, and while it was a good read, it’s not something I want to revisit again.

      7. Oh man….I’m not much of a crier when it comes to books, but that line got me too. Definitely cried a little.

      8. That’s the word there – it resonates. I totally cried too, and will read this over and over again.

      9. oh one “deep” part i did like was when they actually talked about “the fault in our stars”.. it was like a quote from a poem or something right? jeez i already forgot! haha… but i liked that.
        i guess i just didnt get the whole end, after he dies, where she is like, figuring everything out and finding the letter and stuff? i dunno, that part didnt resonate with me.

      10. lets_be_honest says:

        The ending has prompted me to write letters for people to read when I’m dead…as if they aren’t sick of listening to me yet! Ha. I will annoy them even in death.
        I may just be a fan of cheesiness, but I loved the ending being his letter/eulogy.

      11. Painted_lady says:

        Or something. It’s Julius Caesar. The Shakespeare play, not the actual man. Well, I guess he also could have said it.

      12. Avatar photo theattack says:

        We can always count on you, PL!

      13. It’s Cassius, and he says
        “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars
        But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
        Brutus and Caesar—what should be in that “Caesar”?
        Why should that name be sounded more than yours?”
        Cassius is trying to rile everyone up against Caesar.

      14. Painted_lady says:

        Yeah, that’s it. My memory of JC is so patchy, I couldn’t remember who said it. I’ve actually done the play twice, but it’s definitely my least favorite Shakespeare (not least because everyone wants to set it in corporate America and thinks they’re a damn genius for coming up with it). So I think I’ve got some sort of mental block up preventing me from remembering specifics.

  7. Avatar photo call-me-hobo says:

    One of the interesting things I noticed is that they type of cancer Hazel had (thyroid) is very rarely fatal- it has the highest survival rate of pretty much any cancer. Only about 5% of thyroid cancers don’t respond to radiation/chemo. I think that maybe that was a conscious choice on Green’s part? Like about the random nature of life and death?

    Augustus reminded me of a patient that I had once in school.

    1. lets_be_honest says:

      I found a Q&A thing the author did online that spoke a lot about why he picked which cancers were used in the book.

      1. Avatar photo call-me-hobo says:

        Ooh, I’d love a link if you remember it!

      2. lets_be_honest says:

        Found it!

  8. 5. Do you believe it’s possible for teenagers to be in love as truly as adults? Do they have to have “adult-like” experiences, like cancer, in order to love as deeply as an adult?

    *No, I don’t think teenagers can be in love in the same way adults can, but I don’t think that means they can’t love as deeply or as truly. In some ways I feel like love as a teen is truer and deeper than as an adult. Maybe it’s more pure? Maybe they’re just looking at the person not where they went to school, or how much money they make? Also, since teens are so much younger, time is different to them. So your boyfriend of a year when you’re 15 represents a larger piece of your life than a year-long boyfriend when you’re 25- did that make any sense?

    1. lets_be_honest says:

      I love this bethany! By “YES” I meant everything bethany just said haha.

    2. Avatar photo muchachaenlaventana says:

      5. Yeah I was in love from like 17-20 (and after we broke up too) and that was real true love and honestly the purest form of love I will probably ever experience because we were both such blank slates and had everything in the world in front of us and wanted each other so much. It’s different love but I think it can be strong and real in different ways than adult love.

    3. Avatar photo GatorGirl says:

      This is interesting to me, because I feel basically the opposite. The love I felt for my bf as a teen (3 year relationship) seems so silly now. I loved superficial things about him, and our relationship was so superficial in hindsight. But at the time I thought it was this story for the ages. The kind of love I have for GGuy, unconditional and all encompassing, IDK it feels more REAL to me. So yeah, interesting how different people can feel.

    4. I just feel like the kind of love one is capable of at any point in time is directly related to where they are in their lives. Like the kind of love I am capable of, and even interested in now, is nothing like the love I was capable of when I was 16 (when I experienced my first love). I think it’s easy to sit here, 18 years later and say how foolish and silly it was, but at that time in my life, it was so real and true and the first time I had felt any type of love for someone outside of my family…it was even deeper than my crush on Kirk Cameron (which looking back at THAT is just gross given who HE has become). Like, the experiences I’ve had and the wisdom I’ve gained has prepared me for this truly amazing love that I have now. And how can I discount those experiences of love if it led me to this, ya know?

    5. I think love when you’re very young is so much more intense. It can probably be attributed to hormones and it being novel, but I don’t think it’s less “real.” It’s just not usually as realistic or healthy. In the case of Hazel and Gus cancer plays in huge role in bringing realism into the relationship that naive and carefree teenagers don’t have to face.

  9. Avatar photo Dear Wendy says:

    Hi! I’m back. I just arrived home from Chicago a couple hours ago. Both my guys are sick, the place was a wreck, jackson was sleeping, and drew was in bed groaning. I had to immediately run out and get groceries and now am nursing both guys back to health, while also trying to clean up. So much for a easy transition back to reality. I will have to save these book club questions for another time. On the plus side, I was able to read 50% of the march/april book, Fairyland, on the plane and I’m enjoying it.

    1. I started Fairyland this morning on the train. I’m only a few pages into it, but like it already. I like how she writes.

      I hope your boys feel better soon!! What a mess to come home to 🙁

    2. lets_be_honest says:

      Yikes! Hope everyone feels better soon and you get to relax again!

    3. Oh man…what a vacation buzz-kill! Good luck!

    4. Avatar photo Dear Wendy says:

      I started making chicken soup and as I was stirring, Jackson got up from the couch, where he’s camped out watching PBS Kids (while a still-sick Drew is dozing in bed), and came up to me and said, “Rub belly,” so I did and then he barfed into my hands. So. Yeah. Vacation buzzkill!

      1. lets_be_honest says:

        Oh man. Just as I was settling in for a sweet Jackson story about how mommy is home to rub the belly…Welcome home?

      2. Oh dear.

      3. aw, it’s sweet how he asked & you immediately complied but I guess the reaction should have been suspicion, haha

  10. I enjoyed the book, but I felt like Gus was too much of a manic-pixie dream boy for my liking. I don’t think a character needs to be perfect in order to be desirable or lovable, but that’s often what we see in the media, you know? People have quirks but not flaws. I think that made it harder for me to connect with his character. It was definitely interesting and well written, though. And I don’t think there’s any age requirement for authentic love. There are many adults who don’t know what love is. I don’t think that teenagers can necessarily promise to love anyone forever, and that their feelings are more likely to be fleeting than someone who is more mature, but I don’t think love needs to last forever in order to be “real”.

  11. snarkymarc says:

    I really enjoyed the book. I read it soon after we agreed on it as our first selection, so it has been a while, but here is what resonated with me-
    – I thought their love was mature and touching. They were both more concerned about hurting the other than satisfying their own needs. Hazel was afraid of dying and leaving Gus broken hearted and alone and Gus wanted to give Hazel his unconditional love. I know in real life this ideal can be taken too far, but selfless love is pure.
    – Their date in Amsterdam was beautiful. The description of the purple blooms falling like snow made me want to visit so badly. The description of the champagne, food, sight and sounds made me long to be young and in love.
    – I really loved how Hazel’s father was the more emotional parent. I think our society robs men of so much of who we are by teaching us to subvert our feelings. In my mind it is the worse part of being a man raised in this generation. So many men just don’t know how to make friends, relate to their wives or significant others, or just know what they are feeling. I know my son will have it better than I did because my wife and I are very conscious of it, but hopefully it keeps getting better for everyone.
    – Like others have mentioned the part where his friend is more concerned about having loss his girlfriend was funny, and touching to me. I read a story a while ago about a journalist who was traveling in a boat with refugees fleeing the Vietnam war some 40 years ago. These people had lost love ones, their homes, and all of their possessions. He sat on this boat near some young girls probably in their late teens or early 20s. He expected them to be lamenting over everything they lost, but instead they talked about boys they had recently met and their hopes for their possible futures with them. The power to connect, be known, and loved is universal and strong.

    1. lets_be_honest says:

      Yes to all of this, especially the dad. You are remembering all the things I’d forgotten!
      It really made me want to go to Amsterdam too, and be a teenager in love!

    2. snarkymarc says:

      One other point – I think of love as more of a path than a state. Comparing an early love to a love after 10, 20, or 50 years is meaningless to me. I think Gus and Hazel loved each other as much as two people can after just a short while. I also find it condescending and arrogant when older folks dismiss young love. Yes, a lot of young lovers are immature and short sighted, but I still remember my first love from high school all these years later and my heart still hurts a bit and I hope she is doing well.

      1. Avatar photo theattack says:

        This is a perfect explanation. Yes.

        And I think that love is different because we are different and still growing. The love is still there, but it appears so different in hindsight because we were different. The love was still genuine.

    3. I read the book a super long time ago and you made me remember so much I had forgotten…I think I may have liked the book more than I remembered! Which makes me think, I liked it, but it didn’t leave a long-lasting impression.

    4. oh yess, absolutely true about the date in amsterdam. that was awesome!
      i honestly didnt like the dad at first, i thought he couldnt handle himself and that would be bad for hazel, but- that conversation they had together towards the end totally turned him around. and i love your perspective on him being a guy

  12. Re the characterisation: I found the characters a bit annoying in their trying-too-hard ironic coolness – quoting books and poetry at each other, having deep discussions about oblivion and whatnot – until I remembered that this was just what my friends and I were like at that age! Taking ourselves WAY too seriously in our earnest wannabe hipster-ness. I totally would have had a crush on Gus, and would have loved to have a ‘ceci n’est pas une pipe’ t-shirt…..

  13. Avatar photo theattack says:

    1. I think he did an excellent job of writing as a teenager of the intellectual, introspective variety. It’s not representative of teenagers in general, because I think Hazel is more mature than most 16 year olds.

    2. That does seem to be an accurate description of the book’s message, yes. Meaning isn’t lost in young death. It’s changed and magnified.

    3. I ignore death because I’m privileged enough to do so. I don’t want to be so quick to judge that oblivion is a topic left only to immature adolescents. It’s a basic psychological problem (fear of permanent death), and it’s partially why we have things to extend ourselves like religion and children. For terminally ill people who don’t have any of those extensions, especially teenagers who haven’t had time to fully live, it only seems natural to become obsessed with it.

    4. I think it’s fully expected for Isaac to grieve the loss of his relationship more than the loss of his sight. His relationship was normalcy. He knew that he would never physically be “normal” again, and I think he had already grieved that. He was grieving the loss of life and fun and the opportunity to still be happy, and that was more fully represented in his girlfriend than in his vision.

    5. Teenage love isn’t less. It’s just different.

  14. Painted_lady says:

    See, for me, I LOVE reading “deep” things – they’re great and fantastic and holy hell I can read, say, Eugenides, or Didion, or whomever deep-thinking author that you can throw out there, and love every second. Duh. But I also think there’s a depth of feeling, and a sense of reality, to this world that’s easy to dismiss as “shallow” at first glance. But why isn’t it deep to REALLY revisit the experience of being 16, 17 again? Why is it automatically shallow to depict the day-in-day-out of being a teenager and cancer patient and parent of a sick kid and blind best friend of a dying guy, or whatever else is in the book? I mean, the scale is small, and nobody’s defining the meaning of life precisely, but I think John Green is really clearly defining what it means to be sick or sad or young, and on and on, and I think that has its own depth. And I love that the sex is honest and kind of unromantic but totally sweet. I don’t know what the dividing line is between “deep” and “honest,” but if there’s not depth, there sure as hell is honesty.

    For me, the end was great – there is something of value, I think, in moments of straight-up wish fulfillment in art. It may be trite or silly, but it also speaks to something inherent in all of us – it’s okay to hope and want and think we might get the thing we’re after, and it doesn’t make us naive or deluded always. And dammit, it made me laugh. There’s something for me to getting absorbed in a story – if there’s a mystery to figure out or an ending to guess, I’m usually the last one to guess if the story’s any good at all because I’m so entirely wrapped up in the telling. Though, actually, now that I think about it, I knew the ending long before I finished the book, and it didn’t ruin anything for me.

    I struggle constantly between having “good taste” and being a total snob (an MFA offers so little money, feeling superior is often all we have). And so I’m usually pretty cynical about sappy endings and romantic stories and such, so the fact that some people are all, “GAG! Cheesy!” is actually kind of a comfort? Because it means I’m not completely jaded.

  15. Avatar photo theattack says:

    I just finished The Book Thief this afternoon. Has anyone else read it?

    1. Avatar photo call-me-hobo says:

      SO GOOD. That is totally an ugly cry book.

  16. Painted_lady says:

    Oh, oh my god. I forgot one of my favorite parts: the Magritte tshirt with the picture of the pipe on it. It’s tiny, but I love that painting so much. I show it to my students every year just to confuse the hell out of them.

  17. I’m posting without reading anyone else’s comments, and then I’ll go back and discuss. Seems the best way.

    So, I LOVED this book. I was a sobbing mess at the end of it and I make no apologies whatsoever. Sure it was simple, which is usually why I stay away from YA, but I didn’t think it was overly juvenile. Now to the questions:
    1. I thought he did a great job giving Hazel a voice. Maybe he didn’t portray the “typical” teenage voice, but there’s not much that’s typical about Hazel.
    2. I believe they found meaning with each other, but also that being together – and losing one another – helped them find the meaning in the rest of their lives as well. Losing Gus made Hazel really confront the eventuality of her own death with her parents, which was a big turning point for me.
    3. Becoming a parent has made me think more about death than I ever used to. I think about the seismic shift that losing any part of our little family would cause – how would they go on without me? How would I go on without either of them? But I don’t spend hours worrying about it, because then I would miss out on the time we do have together now.
    4. Isaac’s misery over Monica made complete sense to me. It’s the “less serious” of the two, objectively speaking, but in some ways that can make it even more painful. Isaac is already making some kind of peace with losing his sight, but he honestly thought (in his teenage mind) that Monica would be there to go through it with him. She was a connection to the “normal” world for him – as great as Gus and Hazel are, they are in the sick club with him. It reminded me of survivors’ incongruent comments in the wake of a massive tragedy, like the mother who says “but he just washed that car” when she finds out her son has died in a crash.
    5. In some ways I think teenagers are able to love even more purely than adults, because most of them don’t have the same kind of baggage. However, I think the cancer diagnoses create the opportunity for depth because love becomes one more thing that a terminal patient has to fit into an increasingly small window of time.
    6. I believe we can’t fully appreciate joy without pain – after all, we all start to wish for fall after a few great days of summer, and then immediately begin wishing for spring. Hazel’s perspective does seem to come from, again, fitting as much as possible into a short time. She doesn’t have the luxury of getting tired of beautiful days.
    7. Ugh. I HATED Van Houten. I wanted him to drown in his alcohol. But at the end…he was so outrageous and so pitiful that it just made me want to know his whole story and what twisted him so terribly.
    8. Hazel dies, very soon after the book ends. She has all the closure she needs – she knows what Gus left behind for her, she knows that her parents are really going to be okay without her even though they will miss her terribly, and she even gets some perspective about how “An Imperial Affliction” ends, even if she never gets a straight answer.

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