The world is not a wish-granting factory.
Sixteen year old Hazel Lancaster has a rare form of cancer. Terminal. But her doctors have recently discovered that she responds positively to a new drug. It will slow the progression of her disease, but not cure it.
Meanwhile, her mother encourages her to attend a support group for kids who have cancer. At one of the meetings, she meets the handsome irresistible Augustus Waters, who turns her world upside down. Gus is a cancer survivor, though he lost his right leg in the battle.
Hazel’s favorite novel is “An Imperial Affliction”, by Peter Van Houten. It’s about a young girl, Anna, who has cancer. Hazel identifies with Houten’s interpretation of dying, but the book ends abruptly, mid-sentence, leaving readers scratching their heads. Hazel understands this to mean that Anna, the narrator, either suddenly died or became incapacitated, which Hazel can accept. But she becomes obsessed with wondering what becomes of the other characters in the novel – the Dutch Tulip Man, Anna’s mother, her pet hamster. Hazel writes to Van Houten several times, hoping the author, an American living in Amsterdam, can answer her nagging questions. But he never replies.
Hazel and Augustus fall in love. He doesn’t mind that Hazel must use oxygen 24/7. And Hazel doesn’t mind that Gus wears a prosthetic leg. They play video games and have deep philosophical discussions about life and death. Though she knows she loves Gus, Hazel refuses to let the relationship progress too far. She harbors tremendous guilt about dying, feeling that her inevitable death will devastate her parents, and she doesn’t want to hurt Gus, also.
But Augustus is charming and persistent. He boldly declares his love for Hazel, saying:
I’m in love with you and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.”
Gus arranges to use his “Genie” organization wish to take Hazel, her mom, and himself to Amsterdam to meet Van Houten in person. Hazel and her mom drive to Gus’s house to pick him up on the way to the airport. They overhear Gus arguing with his mother. Hazel narrates:
We stared at the house for awhile. The weird thing about houses is that they almost always look like nothing is happening inside of them, even though they contain most of our lives.
The encounter with Van Houten is a tremendous disappointment, but the trip is otherwise wonderful.
When faced with death, do we humans desire to live extraordinary heroic lives? Must we leave a legacy? And if so, what defines those things?
No spoilers in this review. I’ll only say the story is powerful, romantic, thoughtful, and tragic. Joy and sorrow rolled into a seamless storyline.
The movie premiers today!