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‘The Fault in Our Stars’: Cancer, breakfast food metaphors, and abandoned swings

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The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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Wrapped in the sharp, clever humor of the protagonist Hazel Grace are statements about herself. Her boyfriend Augustus is the one who claims to love metaphor, but Hazel is forever speaking in it, unknowingly referencing and explaining herself through passionate defenses of objects such as scrambled eggs and an old abandoned swing set from her back yard, that her cancer-ridden lungs no longer allow her to play on. Perhaps this passion, intelligence, and uniquely humorous take on life are the things that intrigue Augustus, as they will you. These are the things he sees and she cannot-she is very much a metaphor herself, and rants passionately about objects that she doesn’t want to reveal about herself because she doesn’t want to become “a grenade” or a cancer time bomb waiting to destroy his life as she feels she is to her parents. In the end, Hazel grace is a girl who opens us all up to vulnerability and as a result, a fuller life and more adventures than most of us dream of, despite faulty stars that condemn her to living with cancer and a breathing tank she names Philip.

Recommendations:

If you want to read a book from the perspective of another snarky, intelligent female, read “Sloppy Firsts” by Megan McCafferty.

If you like the profound discussions and introspections of the young, as well as their poignantly realistic view of what can be a dark world with unfortunate circumstances, read “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky. (I recommend reading it BEFORE seeing the movie).

For another book on the importance of things that others deem small, such as books and films, and especially music, and the way those things translate into and sometimes define our relationships and moments in our lives, read “High Fidelity” by Nick Hornby.

If you like John Green’s style, his other books are just as entertaining and well written. Read next: “Looking for Alaska” or “The Abundance of Katherines.”

Recipe:

This recipe was chosen because of Hazel's insistence that eggs should no longer be classified as a strictly breakfast food. Also, bacon and cheddar cheese are mentioned as foods you can get anytime, but according to Augustus, you add scrambled eggs, which "have a certain sacrility to them," and "they're important!" (102). So make sure you DO NOT eat these for just breakfast, or you too will be guilty of contributing to the ghettoization of scrambled eggs.

Cheesy Bacon Scrambled Egg Cups

Ingredients:
• 8 Eggs
• 1/3 cup milk
• dashes of salt and pepper
• 1 tbsp of parsley
• 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
• 6 pieces of cooked bacon, crumbled

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and prep muffin tins by spraying with cooking oil.

Whisk together eggs and milk. Add in salt, pepper, and parsley. Mix.

Mix in cheddar cheese.

Scoop mixture into the muffin tins, filling each 2/3 of the way. Top with crumbled bacon.

Bake in the oven for 13 minutes (or until the eggs are cooked through).

Discussion Questions:

1. On the first page, Hazel notes that “Depression is a side effect of dying.” What other side effects does she list? Are there any that you know of that she missed? Is she one herself, as she states later? (Ch. 4, pg 42)
2. Why is it assault if an unattractive boy stares at Hazel, but perfectly acceptable for a hot one to do? Do you feel the same way?
3. Do you, like Augustus, fear oblivion? Is that a common fear for teenagers, or is it usually found in the elderly? Or the dying? Why?
4. Is looking at beautiful people one of the simpler pleasure of your existence? What are some of them? What are Hazel’s? Later, Augustus says that saying true things is another oh his. Why do you think that is, especially considering when he reveals it (107). Is it one of yours? Why? Should it be?
5. What are some of your interests, hobbies, passions, weird fetishes that you wouldn’t mind sharing with the group? Have you ever asked a new acquaintance any questions like that? Why or why not?
6. Have you ever been filled with weird, evangelical zeal about a book? Which one? Are there any that you love and have kept a secret? Why? Do you agree with why Hazel does so?
7. Have you ever had a friend like Kaitlyn? Why do you think she speaks and behaves the way she does? What is it about her that makes her difficult for Hazel to relate/grow closer to? Is it just the cancer, or is that merely an excuse?
8. Do or have you ever had any type of dysmorphia? Can you think of any examples of it you may have seen in real life? (hint: people in Wal-Mart, men on the beach) How do people overcome or correct these, or can they at all?
9. What un-holdable things get handled? Why? Where do you think that phrase comes from (or you can look up its etymology as a book club project)?
10. Do people who make promises ever fully understand the ramifications of what they’re promising at the moment? What about couples making their vows? Are they especially clueless? Is love blind because of it? Does love mean keeping promises no matter what? If not, then how do you define it? How would Hazel? What about Augustus? Do you think she would have different definitions at the beginning of the book versus the end?
11. Why did Augustus feel that, by Hazel allowing him to read her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, she was giving him a gift? Has anyone ever given you a gift of themselves like that, a book, song, or film maybe? Have you ever done that for anyone else? What makes those things so significant to us?
12. As a joke, Hazel and Augustus name some things you never see in Indianapolis. What are some humorous things you never see in your town? What about serious or sad things?
13. Have you ever had a moment that you thought you would have felt happy to die, because you couldn’t imagine one better? Did one better come? What was it? Which do you think were those moments for Hazel, for Augustus?
14. How did you feel about the reveal of the significance of the title, “the fault in our stars”? Was it apt in keeping with the theme? Do Augustus and Hazel have a right to blame the stars? Do we? Why or why not?
15. Does Peter van Houten seem brilliant to you, or eccentric, or maybe fatalistic? What about his observances of the dead? Is a lidless memory of the dead terrible? Why would it be to him? Why does he prefer the tragic beauty of the living, who can also disappoint us? How do you feel about language? Can it contradict Peter, and resurrect the dead for us? If not, can anything, like smell, taste, an object, a photo? Or are they still not resurrected because we only experience the dead in memory?
16. Hazel originally names the title of her swing set ad : “Lonely, Vaguely Pedophilic Swing Set Seeks the Butts of Children.” Do you find this to be an accurate title? What would you have named it? What type of title do you think she would have developed for Philip, her oxygen tank, or for Augustus’ trophies?
Bonus activity: If you have any useless objects in your house you would like to sell or give away, try to come up with creative ad title for them (or the entire ad as well) and write down to share with the group.
17. Augustus humorously yet wisely states that the swing set is 90% of Hazel’s problem. How does the ad reveal that it is really a metaphor, and a projection of her own feelings towards herself?
18. What was it like the first time you fell in love? Was it the same as for Hazel and Augustus, slowly, then all at once? OR do you feel that they only felt that it seemed that way, because it often takes time to notice the act of truly falling in love? What makes it seem, all at once for them, for you?
19. What was the most romantic moment or line in the book for you? Was it something Augustus said or did, or Hazel? Why did it mean so much to you?
20. How were the scrambled eggs another metaphor for how Hazel viewed herself? Is the fact that she identifies with them part of the reason why she is so adamant about their need to be free from “ghettoization” and labeling as breakfast food only? Pay attention to her thought process and “tangents” during their conversation about eggs. How are those thoughts and breakfast food labels connected?
21. Are all beautiful things fragile and rare, if not, which are? Is it their fragility or rarity that makes them beautiful, or just valuable? Why?
22. Why does Hazel feel that “easy comfort is not comforting”? Why type of comfort is she seeking? Is this a uniquely female trait, or a teen one? How can this be difficult for men to navigate and solve? What could we do to better help them comfort us when we need it?
23. Is love in spite of certain things to Augustus, or because of them? Or is it both? What is it to you? Why?
24. Have you ever had a great glass of champagne, or wine, or any drink and it felt like you were “tasting the stars”? What drink was it? How else would you describe it?
25. The iepen or confetti are actually from elm trees. Have you ever seen these fall? What about cherry blossom petals in Washington, D.C.? Have you seen anything else like the iepen falling from the sky like confetti?
26. Do people, or you, ever tend to romanticize the dead like Augustus did with Caroline? Why? How?
27. Is “the definition of humanness the ability to marvel at the majesty of creation” as Anna says in Hazel’s favorite book? Does Hazel agree at the beginning of the TFIOS? Do you think she does by the end?
28. The metaphor in the poem about the blackbird is about appreciating more the moment of the blackbird’s song versus the delightful deliberation of it after. Which does Augustus seem to prefer, or Hazel, or you? How does that affect your feelings about this book? Do you appreciate it more while reading or while reflecting? What do you think that metaphor states about life and death, and their and our perspectives on it?

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