“Maybe okay will be our always.”
Along with a multitude of One Direction fanfiction writers and diehard Arctic Monkey fans, I must have pored over that line a hundred times over the course of middle school. The quote, from John Green’s New York Times Bestseller The Fault in Our Stars, encapsulates the essence of American adolescent angst through a teenage romance filled with brash irony and social commentary, making it an instant bedside table classic. As a rising middle schooler who was beginning to grow out of the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson series, I instantly fell in love with what I now consider to be the best Young Adult novel of the decade.
Green’s novel follows the love story of protagonists and slightly snobby intellectuals Hazel and Gus, both of whom have cancer. In a whirlwind of a relationship that whisks the duo from a cancer support group in the basement of a church all the way to Amsterdam, Green sucks the reader in with witty banter, a persistently cynical best friend, and simple but deep metaphors. (A cigarette can’t kill you if you don’t light it, right?)
A lot of the novel’s success was derived from its fresh take on teenage romance in an age where Twilight was the most sophisticated literature on the topic. Up until The Fault in Our Stars was released in 2012, perhaps the only writer whose work remotely resembled Green’s was Jerry Spinnelli—if you gave the beloved Stargirl author a profane lexicon and an army of misunderstood-romantic male protagonists.
In reality, though, the idea of a fatal love story was hardly unique; tales such as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights are living testaments to the genre. But what Gus and Hazel have that their romantic predecessors lack is crucial to their relatability to a generation of socially-educated young women: cell phones, modern teenage vernacular, and an acute sense of self-awareness in a society that frowns upon noticeable physical disabilities.
The cultural impact that The Fault in Our Stars had on the 2010s can clearly be measured by the swell of tragedy-based romance novels that followed it. Whether the female lead was subject to abject poverty and abuse (Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park), in a coma (Gayle Forman’s If I Stay), or tricked into believing that she has severe combined immunodeficiency (Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything), there was always a lovable male hero to accompany them.
None, however, pulled off the sympathetic male charm as eloquently as Green did with Gus. Gus had, without a doubt, won the understanding-boyfriend-of-the-decade-award; he could even talk about sex while veering on the feminist side. For girls and boys alike who were tired of the knight-in-shining-armor relationship narrative, Gus brought a new realm of grand romantic gestures to the table. What other boyfriend would call his girlfriend “sexy” after she quotes Wallace Steven’s poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” or fly with her to Amsterdam just to meet the author of her dreams?
All things considered, “The Fault in Our Stars” is unquestionably a teenage love story for the ages. Through the lens of Gus and Hazel’s battle against cancer and ultimately the world, Green showed a generation of budding activists that a relationship can be more than just roses and first kisses.