En route to Augustus’s house to watch “V for Vendetta,” Hazel comments on the jolting quality of Augustus’s driving. Augustus admits having failed the driving test three times, revealing that he is an amputee, having lost a leg to cancer. He speculates he only passed the test as a “cancer perk,” or the special favors cancer kids get, like famous autographs or free passes on homework. When the subject of school comes up, Augustus lets on about being a sophomore in high school, having only missed one year from cancer.
Hazel recounts the details of her own cancer saga. Her parents pulled her out of school at thirteen when she was diagnosed with terminal stage IV thyroid cancer, and she describes the surgery and chemotherapy to remove her lung tumors. At fourteen Hazel developed pneumonia in her lungs, and probably would have died if not for Maria, one of her doctors, who was able to drain the fluid from her lungs. Since then, Hazel has stayed alive with the help of an experimental drug called Phalanxifor. It hasn't worked for most patients, but in Hazel it's essentially stopped the growth of her lung tumors. Throughout the ordeal Hazel managed to get her GED and now takes courses at the community college. Augustus flirtatiously remarks that being a college girl must explain Hazel’s aura of sophistication.
When Hazel meets Augustus’s parents she distinctly notes they refer to him as Gus, not Augustus. She likes the idea of a single person having two names. Augustus shows Hazel his basement bedroom, which is packed with basketball trophies. He tells her how one day, while shooting free throws, he had a sort of existential epiphany. Suddenly the nature of throwing a spherical ball through a raised toroidal hoop seemed absurd. The epiphany came the weekend before his amputation. Hazel is in awe of a boy who once took existential free throws.
Hazel and Augustus agree to read one another’s favorite books. Augustus lends Hazel a copy of The Price of Dawn, a book based on his favorite video game. Hazel describes her strong feelings for An Imperial Affliction. Augustus drives Hazel home after the movie, and she agrees to call him once she’s finished his book.
Hazel wakes to her mother jubilantly announcing that it's Hazel’s thirty-third half birthday. Hazel agrees to meet her former schoolmate Kaitlyn at the mall to please her mother. At the mall, Hazel purchases the two sequels to the novel Augustus gave her. When Kaitlyn arrives, the girl’s somewhat one-sidedly discuss Kaitlyn’s high-school love affairs and shop for shoes. Kaitlyn selects several pair of shoes, whereas Hazel purchases a pair of flip-flops merely to have something to buy. Hazel feigns exhaustion and the girls go their separate ways. With two hours to kill, Hazel begins reading the sequel to The Price of Dawn, called Midnight Dawn. Hazel notes how violent the series is, but there is something exciting about it that reminds her of the series she read as a child when she could immerse into “an infinite fiction.”
While reading, Hazel is approached by a young child who asks about the tube in her nose. Hazel explains it's called a cannula. It connects to the oxygen tank she has to carry with her and it helps her breathe. She allows the child to try it on. Soon the child’s mother appears and apologetically takes the child away. Hazel reflects on the natural innocence of the child, contrasting the normalcy of their short interaction with her strained time with Kaitlyn.
These chapters establish the sense of “otherness” that defines cancer victims within society. Cancer is the main way that other people identify Hazel and Augustus, and it comes out in the way people interact with them. Hazel’s mother, for example, insists on celebrating Hazel’s thirty-third half birthday. Half-birthdays aren't really a cause for celebration for typical healthy teenagers, and the emphasis Hazel's mother places on the event suggests Hazel should be treated differently than a healthy teenager. The same notion underlies the idea of the “cancer perk.” Cancer kids get preferential treatment because of their illness, which is why Augustus received his driver's license despite being an apparently shaky driver. That “otherness” isn't just one-sided. Cancer can define the way cancer sufferers view themselves as well, which is why Augustus doesn't want Hazel to be “one of those people who becomes their disease.” Even so, cancer has significant influence on Hazel's social interactions, which we see when Hazel hangs out with Kaitlyn. There is a certain “unbridgeable distance,” or awkwardness, between the two girls as they shop for shoes. Hazel even laments that because of the cancer barrier, it could never again feel natural to talk to Kaitlyn. Kaitlyn can't separate Hazel from her identity as a cancer patient, and conversely Hazel can't reassume her pre-cancer identity. The one time this “otherness” falls away is in Hazel's conversation with the little girl, who addresses Hazel not knowing anything about cancer or why she has tubes in her nose. Hazel for a moment is free from her identity as a cancer patient.
These early chapters also shed light on the budding relationship between Hazel and Augustus. While their shared experience of having cancer isn't the only thing that attracts them to each other—each thinks the other is smart, charming, and of course physically attractive—it does allow them to dispense with that barrier of “otherness” we see between Hazel and Kaitlyn. Hazel and Augustus are on common ground since they're both cancer patients, allowing them to talk about things like the so-called “cancer perks” in a way they might find difficult with someone who hasn't been through the experience of having cancer. They can both recognize, for instance, the irony of the word “perks,” since these perks aren't so much a bonus for having cancer as an expression of pity that both, of course, accept but also find grating. Perhaps more importantly, however, they also begin getting to know each other beyond their experiences with cancer. Augustus makes a point of this when he asks Hazel what her story is, then interrupts when she starts talking about her diagnosis and tells her he means her story, not her cancer story. He's clear to distinguish one from the other, and it's from this point that their relationship begins to develop in a deeper way.
The existential motif appears again in this section, most notably in Augustus's story about shooting free throws on the day before he had his leg amputated. In the story he tells, he describes the freethrows as “existentially fraught,” which indicates that they're about much more than just getting a ball through a hoop. Augustus had been a star basketball player, and it's evident that basketball was an important part of his life. As he shot the free throws, however, he realized how arbitrary the activity was. He describes it as childish and essentially without any real purpose to Hazel. He doesn't say so explicitly, but his story and the timing of this realization suggest that the free throws represented the search for purpose and meaning for him more generally. It was Augustus's last day before having his leg amputated, after which he would no longer be able to play basketball, at least not competitively. This important part of his life would be taken away from him, and it seems this change prompted him to ask what value basketball really has. And if it isn't valuable to him, if it's really just an arbitrary activity, then what does have purpose? The question fits very neatly into existentialism's quest for meaning in a universe where life and death are potentially arbitrary.
John Green has also published Looking For Alaska, Paper Towns, An Abundance of Katherines, Will Grayson, Will Grayson (with David Leviathan), and has worked on a number of short stories and anthologies, most notably This Is Not Tom and Let It Snow (with Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle).
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As a die-hard fan of John Green novels, I have read The Fault in Our Stars six times. Augustus Waters is actually seventeen, not sixteen.
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