Hazel summarizes the plot of An Imperial Affliction. The narrator is a girl named Anna who develops blood cancer. Anna lives with her mother, a one-eyed tulip obsessed gardener, who falls in love with a dubious, allegedly rich figure called The Dutch Tulip Man. As a reader, Hazel questions the man’s wealth and even his real nationality. Hazel admires Anna’s candid nature in the face of cancer. She finds it comforting that Anna also, views herself as a side effect of the endless biological mutation that provides the planet with its abundant diversity of life. The only issue with the book is its lack of a conclusion. It ends midsentence without any character resolution. To make matters worse, Van Houten mysteriously vanished into obscurity after publishing the novel.
Setting the book aside, Hazel calls Augustus, who is busy consoling the recently dumped Isaac. Augustus invites Hazel over, and she arrives to find the boys playing video games. Isaac is distraught. Quoting An Imperial Affliction, Augustus points out that “pain demands to be felt.” When Isaac’s carelessness gets the boys flanked in the video game, Augustus heroically sacrifices himself by jumping on an enemy grenade, in a futile effort to save a group of children. The screen reads mission failed, but Augustus contends otherwise, noting the children were spared. Hazel, however, points out that all salvation is temporary. Suddenly Isaac snaps and attacks the pillows. Augustus points out that pillows, unlike basketball trophies, are unbreakable and coaxes Isaac into smashing all the trophies.
A week later, Augustus phones Hazel. They discuss the things they love and dislike about An Imperial Affliction. Augustus coyly asks about Van Houten’s reclusive nature, then reveals that he has miraculously gotten in contact with Van Houten through the author’s assistant, Lidewij Vliegenthart. Augustus shares the content of Van Houten’s correspondence. Van Houten’s response is warm but philosophically cryptic, especially in regard to the purpose of art, which the author questions wholeheartedly.
Later, Hazel spends hours formulating the perfect email to Van Houten. Finally, she strikes out a list of questions all pertaining to his novel's lack of resolution. What is the fate of Sisyphus the Hamster? Does Anna’s mother remarry? Is the Dutch Tulip Man actually a con man? Email sent, Hazel calls Augustus and reads him “A Certain Slant of Light,” the Emily Dickinson poem that An Imperial Affliction derives its title from. They also discuss Augustus’s past relationship with a girl named Caroline who died from cancer. At the end of their conversation, Hazel thinks of how speaking on the phone with Augustus is like being in an invisible “third space” that only they occupy.
A few days later Hazel gets a text from Augustus stating that Isaac’s surgery was successful and that he has been ruled cancer free, though the excitement is somewhat empty on account of Isaac now being eyeless. Hazel visits Isaac at the hospital. When Isaac falls asleep Hazel buys him some super-scented hospital flowers. On her way out, Hazel encounters Isaac’s mother, who asks if Hazel knows Isaac’s ex-girlfriend, Monica.
The next morning Hazel receives a response from Van Houten. He states he cannot answer any of Hazel’s questions for fear that she might twist those answers into a sequel. However he extends an invitation: They can discuss the novel in person if Hazel ever finds herself in Amsterdam. Hazel is elated by the offer, but quickly determines a trip to Amsterdam would be financially unfeasible. She shares the news with Augustus, who asks if she's used her wish from The Genie Foundation, an organization that grants sick kids one wish. Unfortunately Hazel spent her wish on a cliché trip to Disney World when she was first diagnosed. A few days later Augustus plans a surprise Dutch themed-date at the Funky Bones sculpture park. He shocks Hazel with the news that he never used his wish, and The Genie Foundation has agreed to fly them to Amsterdam.