Fault in Our Stars (Green) - Discussion Questions
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Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:
• How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
• Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
• Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)
Also, consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for The Fault in Our Stars:
1. John Green derives his book's title from a famous line in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings." (I,ii,139-140). What does the line mean—and why would Green have used it for his title? Even more important, why would he have altered it to read, "The fault in our stars" rather than ourselves? How does Green's meaning differ from Shakespeare's?
2. How would you describe the two main characters, Hazel and Gus? Do either of them conform, in behavior or thinking, to what we normally associate with young cancer patients? How do the two differ from one another...and how do their personality traits and interests complement each other?
3. How do Hazel and Gus each relate to their cancer? Do they define themselves by it? Do they ignore it? Do they rage at life's unfairness? Most importantly, how do the two confront the big questions of life and death?
4. Do you find some of the descriptions of pain, the medical realities that accompany cancer, or the discussion of bodily fluids too graphic?
5. At one point, Hazel says, "Cancer books suck." Is this a book about cancer? Did you have trouble picking up the book to read it? What were you expecting? Were those expectations met...or did the book alter your ideas?
5. John Green uses the voice of an adolescent girl to narrate his story. Does he do a convincing job of creating a female character?
7. Hazel considers An Imperial Affliction "so special and rare that advertising your affection for it feels like a betrayal." Why is it Hazel's favorite book? Why is it so important that she and Gus learn what happens after its heroine dies? Have you ever felt the same way about a book as Hazel does—that it is too special to talk about?
8. What do you think about Peter Van Houten, the fictional author of An Imperial Affliction? This book's real author, John Green, has said that Van Houten is a "horrible, horrible person but I have an affection for him." Why might Green have said that? What do you think of Van Houten?
9. Green once served as a chaplain in a children's hospital, working with young cancer patients. In an interview, he referred to the "hero's journey within illness"—that "in spite of it, you pull yourself up and continue to be alive while you're alive." In what way does Green's comment apply to his book—about two young people who are dying? Is theirs a hero's journey? Is the "pull yourself up" phrase an unseemly statement by someone, like the author or any reader, who is not facing a terminal disease?
10. What did you make of the book's humor? Is it appropriate...or inappropriate? Green has said he "didn't want to use humor to lighten the mood" or "to pull out the easy joke" when things got hard. But, he said, he likes to write about "clever kids, [and they] tend to be funny even when things are rough." Is his use of humor successful? How did it affect the way you read the book?
11. After his chaplaincy experience, Green 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? Why...or why not?
12. How do Hazel and Gus change, in spirit, over the course of the novel?
13. Talk about how you experienced this book? Is it too sad, too tragic to contemplate? Or did you find it in some way uplifting?
(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)
top of page (summary)
What is the role of love in The Fault in Our Stars? In other words, why did Green make The Fault in Our Stars a love story?
Hazel is very smart; she has seen and felt a lot of things. However, Hazel does not fully understand love at the beginning of the novel, and begins to throughout the story, realizing that perhaps pain and joy are more intertwined than she had deigned to believe. That The Fault in Our Stars is a love story helps Hazel to understand life, death, and family, and allows The Fault in Our Stars to be a coming of age story in terms of the discovery of self emotionally and sexually rather than focusing all of the story's content on coping with cancer.
What is the importance of John Green having created the most central book(s) to the characters in the story? What is the impact of having an epigraph from a fictional work?
Creating the books within The Fault in Our Stars, An Imperial Affliction and The Price of Dawn, allows Green complete control over the plots, characters, and themes in them so that he can leverage these allusions to precisely parallel and add to the themes already in the larger work. For example, the fact that Anna, the main character of An Imperial Affliction, is a young girl with cancer who does not want to let this fact define her entire life parallels Hazel's situation and causes Hazel to find empathy and connection in the book. Furthermore, Green is able to create a fictional author who demonstrates that authors don't always write directly from reality and aren't always the way you think they'll be. Having a fictional epigraph is the same - it allows Green to write exactly what he wants as an epigraph, strategically placing it, as with all epigraphs, to foreground themes that will be developed throughout the book. The epigraph talks about water and time, two incredibly important things to Hazel because she feels that she has too much of one and too little of the other. This stresses the symbolic imagery of water throughout the book, which ties into lack of agency in relation to illness and time.
How do the characters in The Fault in Our Stars deal with the fear and pain of living with cancer, and losing loved ones to it? Does the book seem to suggest that there is one ideal way to deal with illness and death?
The characters in The Fault in Our Stars hold very different views on the meaning of life and how to deal with cancer and death. Two contrasting points of view brought to attention are those of Augustus, who believes that he must accomplish something tangible to have lived a good life and die a dignified death, and Hazel, who wants to live doing as little harm to others and the world as possible. Because Augustus is unable to live up to his high aspirations, lofty and nebulous as they are, Green seems to be criticizing this point of view. However, Hazel's point of view does not go unchallenged either, as she learns the value of allowing oneself to be hurt and hurt others in the pursuit of living while one can.
Is The Fault in Our Stars problematic in any way as a novel? How?
As one critic mentioned, Green's profiting from the stories of sick teens could be seen as offensive to some readers, specifically those sick teens on whose behalf he is trying to speak. However, Green did his research during his time as a chaplain at a children's hospital and through his relationship with Esther Earl and others. More pressing, however, is that the book does not accurately represent the struggles with money that many families have when a child, or any family member, is ill. The fact that the parents in the book seem to all be loving, upper-middle class, white, suburban, and Christian does not do justice to the struggle of many teens whose lack of agency due to age and illness is intensified by familial, economic, and other problems. This is a problem with the book that Green should have addressed in attempting to write for a broader audience of youths and instill them with a sense of the true impact of childhood cancer.
As usually occurs in young adult literature, the main character (Hazel) grows, learns, and changes over the course of the novel. In what ways does Hazel change, and in what ways does she stay the same?
Though she understands a lot about literature and even more about pain, Hazel does not understand a lot about the nature of love at the beginning of the novel. Hazel's relationships with Augustus and with her parents allow her to explore love relationships (both romantic and familial) and how they may make more complex the interplay of love and pain that make up life and death. Though the story begins and ends with Hazel thinking alone, attending Support Group, spending time with her parents, and celebrating wacky holidays, along the way she has learned even more to value relationships and their ability to bring joy even with the looming potential of causing some harm.
What is the importance of Peter Van Houten as a character in The Fault in Our Stars? What does he represent and how does he affect Hazel?
Peter Van Houten, the author of An Imperial Affliction, the book within a book in The Fault in Our Stars, is nothing like Anna imagines him to be. Though he did base his book on real life to some extent, his reality is much sadder and having written the book does not allow him to truly cope with or escape from the death of his daughter. Van Houten, though disappointing to Hazel at first, does instill her with some important ideas, including the fact that you cannot go looking for answers about a book outside of what you're given (and, perhaps expanding further, you cannot go looking for meaning in life outside of what is given to you).
Choose one of the poems mentioned in the novel. Why did Green choose to include that poem in the novel? How does it contribute to themes, imagery, and meaning in the book as a whole?
Hazel recites part of the T.S. Eliot poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” to Augustus when they eat dinner at Oranjee in Amsterdam. The lines she recites are: “We have lingered in the chambers of the sea / By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown / Till human voices wake us, and we drown” (p.164). This poem speaks of awareness ("human voices wake us"), water and drowning, and time ("lingered"), which are all important themes in The Fault in Our Stars. Furthermore, Hazel's love for books and poetry in general represent a certain escapism, not wanting to harm or affect other people and so retreating into the world of authors, fiction, and poetry for comfort and kinship.
What might have been difficult about adapting The Fault in Our Stars into a movie? How should a director deal with adapting rich and sensitive works of literature for the big screen?
The Fault in Our Stars has done incredibly well both as a novel and a movie. This is because everyone who has worked on the two projects has been focused on translating the story with reality, humility, sensitivity, and a bit of comedy. Choosing actors to play Haze and Augustus is also very important because the trio's nuanced brand of comedy, wit, and bursts of emotion will have to be nailed, especially in the scenes of romantic tension which cannot be portrayed as the same as just any other young adult romantic comedy when the stakes are as high as they are.