John Green’s fourth novel, The Fault in Our Stars, has gained a following among tween and teen readers. This is partly due to its tragic love story, but may also be due to its thought-provoking subject matter. The book explores philosophical questions about the meaning of life, death, and suffering. While adults may find the topics in this novel heavy and too mature for children, Green believes that young readers are probably already thinking about them. Green has stated that he enjoys writing about intelligent teenagers, and he makes a point of including lines from an interview with Otto Frank (Anne Frank’s father) in which Frank states, “I was very much surprised by the deep thoughts Anne had … And my conclusion is … most parents don’t know really their children”. The Fault in Our Stars provides young adults with a poignant way to explore the important questions of the human experience. From a literary perspective, it calls upon students to recognize a number of important metaphors and symbols while tracing the subtle character development of the protagonists.
The Fault in Our Stars focuses heavily on the experience of cancer patients. While John Green acknowledges that “disease and its treatment are treated fictitiously” in his novel, he nevertheless includes a number of medical terms and cancer-related discussions. Students might benefit from a preview of the medical vocabulary in the book, including such terms as metastasize, G-tube, PET scan, PICC line, cannula, BiPAP, and prosthetic. Students should also be reminded that the novel is fictional and does not represent the experience of all cancer patients. A good starting place might be this 2014 article on teen cancer patients reacting to the novel.
Full understanding of the novel also requires familiarity with the title’s allusion. “The fault in our stars” refers to a line spoken by Cassius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” The line refers to the ancient belief that a person’s fate was determined by the alignment of the stars upon their birth, much like the idea behind horoscopes today. In contradicting Cassius’ original line, The Fault in Our Stars announces its exploration of fate and free will. Students may benefit from an explanation of this Shakespearean allusion and a debate about its validity. As they continue reading, they will be able to make connections between the book’s title and its characters’ development.
In addition to its Julius Caesar reference, The Fault in Our Stars contains a number of other allusions to literature. The list below identifies some of the works mentioned in the novel. Consider pairing these with students’ study of the novel.