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Literature / The Fault in Our Stars

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"I can't tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity."
"I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once."
Hazel Grace Lancaster

The Fault in Our Stars is the fourth solo novel by author John Green, released on January 10th, 2012. The book focuses on a girl named Hazel Grace Lancaster, who is a teenage recluse; her best friends are her parents, and her preferred hobby is rereading her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, over and over.

One night at Support Group (her parents' idea, not hers), she meets the gorgeous and philosophical Augustus Waters, who piques her curiosity and gets her thinking again about life, adventure...and love.

There's only one snag in this budding romance: Hazel and Augustus met at a cancer support group. Hazel has thyroid cancer and terminal lung tumors, biding their time against perilous drugs, and Augustus is in remission after bone cancer took his leg.

Before TFIOS was released, it reached #1 on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble bestseller lists in June 2011 shortly after its title was announced. Barnes & Noble accidentally released more than a thousand copies prematurely; however, the fans who got the copies vowed not to spoil the book for those who hadn't.

A blog where Green answers questions about the book was active from 2012 to 2014 and is still available here for anyone who has finished reading the book, and only for people who have finished the book. (It is no longer password-protected, although one still runs a high risk of major spoilers.)

A film adaptation, starring Shailene Woodley as Hazel and Ansel Elgort as Augustus, was released in June 2014. There's also what could be considered a companion book, This Star Won't Go Out, which is the autobiography of Esther Grace Earl, a young girl with terminal cancer similar to Hazel's. Esther and Green were friends, and she was the inspiration for — though not the direct basis of — Hazel.

Provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness:
    • Peter van Houten is played by Willem Dafoe in the movie, and unsurprisingly, he's more attractive than the fat and spindly Peter in the book.
    • Hazel was described in the book as being less than supermodel gorgeous, with an overinflated face and badly-cut hair. In the movie, she's played by the beautiful Shailene Woodley.
  • Adapted Out: Minor characters like Kaitlyn, Lydia, and Gus' sisters are not present in the film. Van Houten gives Augustus' eulogy to Hazel personally, while Isaac fills the slightly comedic relief role. Some other scenes are also cut to improve the flow (and shorten the length) of the film. John Green's cameo as the parent of Jackie, the little girl who wanted to try on Hazel's cannula, was also cut.
  • Ailment-Induced Cruelty: Discussed. Augustus' former girlfriend Caroline had brain cancer, and what he calls the Asshole Tumor. Lacking any sort of filter between her thoughts and her mouth, she'd often be rude and even downright mean to everyone, including Augustus. He admits that because he only met her after she got sick, he can't actually be sure if her behavior was due to the tumor, general pain and bitterness, or just her personality.
  • The Alcoholic: Peter Van Houten, to Hazel and Augustus' shock. He has experienced a Cynicism Catalyst since the death of his daughter. Hazel's last glimpse of him sees him considering a bottle of liquor, almost discarding it—- and then taking a swig anyway.
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: The theme song for the Japanese version of the film is "Lil Infinity" by AAA.
  • An Aesop: "The ill and the dying aren't saints, they're people." Word of God says the book was written as a reaction to the frequent glamorization of illness in the media.
  • Artificial Limbs: Augustus Waters has a prosthetic leg due to his osteosarcoma.
    "Excellent! You'll find my leg under the coffee table."
  • Author Avatar: Downplayed. Peter Van Houten is not overtly meant to be one for writer John Green, but Green has admitted that Van Houten's views on authorial intent reflects his own, or at least what they were at the time he wrote the book, and also that Van Houten's unpleasantness is essentially a self-deprecating reflection of his own uglier traits. According to Green, though, this was unintentional when he wrote the character, and only something he noticed in hindsight.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Gus when he, Hazel, and Isaac egg Isaac's ex-girlfriend Monica's car and are caught by Monica's mom. It works.
    "Ma'am, your daughter's car is deservedly being egged by a blind man. Please go inside before we call the police."
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Discussed by Hazel and Augustus; Hazel had used her wish to go to Disney World and Epcot, but Augustus saved his wish in case he could think of something more meaningful. He eventually uses it on a trip to Amsterdam with Hazel to meet Peter van Houten.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: Hazel and Augustus in front of a crowd of tourists in the Anne Frank house.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Gus reveals to Hazel that his cancer has returned, and he dies just over a week after Hazel and Isaac have a prefuneral for him. The book ends with Hazel reading a eulogy that Augustus made for her in which he says that although getting hurt in this world is inevitable, we do get some say in who hurts us. The eulogy ends with Augustus saying that he is happy with his choices and wishes Hazel likes hers, to which the book ends with her saying, "I do."
    • Ever since her first diagnosis, Hazel has been wracked with anxiety about how her parents will react to her death. Near the book's end, Hazel's mother tells her that she plans to go back to school and become a social worker so she can help other families afflicted with cancer, and Hazel loves this idea — she's glad to know her parents will be able to carry on, even after losing her.
  • Black Comedy: In spades.
    • Hazel and Augustus joke about how Augustus is so handsome he literally blinded Isaac and "took Hazel's breath away".
    • Isaac's eulogy for Augustus at the "prefuneral" also counts.
  • Book Dumb: Augustus Water is repeating sophomore year, but he's by no means dumb and it's probably due to his cancer regardless.
  • Boyish Short Hair: Hazel, though it's an effect of chemotherapy rather than representation of a tomboy personality.
    • Subverted with Caroline Mathers, who seems to have been as feminine as they come.
  • Brainless Beauty: Hazel's bubbly friend Kaitlyn, who was Adapted Out of the movie.
  • Broken Pedestal: Both Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace love and are obsessed with the book An Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houten. Augustus uses his one wish to take Hazel to meet Van Houten in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, he turns out to be a total cynical Jerkass, not the wise and poetic writer they'd imagined him to be when they read the book. This is because he lost his daughter to cancer, and it is implied that Hazel painfully reminds him so much of his beloved daughter.
  • Character Shilling: Hazel's description of Augustus Waters, from the very first time she meets him, is pretty glowing, focusing on his good looks, charisma, and the connection they have in conversation, compared to her descriptions of other people (which tend to be affectionate, but don't gloss over flaws). This ends up fading away as she gets to know him, even though she falls in love with him (and he with her) she gets to see his flaws in greater detail.
  • Companion Cube: Hazel named her oxygen tank "Philip," and treats "him" like an annoying pet.
  • Complete-the-Quote Title: The title is quote mined from a line in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar — "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves." John Green called this "an easy thing to say if you're, like, you know, Shakespeare or a Roman nobleman," but found himself unable to agree with it 100%, as diseases — especially diseases like cancer — strike at random and rarely come to affect people who "deserve" it. As cancer is what really serves as the most negative influence on the characters' lives, the fault did indeed lie in their stars.
  • Creator Cameo: John Green was supposed to play the father (it was a mother in the book) whose child wanted to try on Hazel's cannula, but the scene was cut.
  • Danger Takes A Back Seat: Peter Van Houten scares Hazel when he pops up in the back of her parents' van.
  • Darkest Hour: Once Gus reveals to Hazel that his cancer has returned, you have a saddening feeling that it's going to be a downward spiral from that point. And it is.
  • Dead Man Writing: Hazel and Lidewij track down Augustus' last letter to Van Houten, which turns out not to be the sequel to An Imperial Affliction but his eulogy for Hazel.
  • Delicate and Sickly:
    • Hazel was diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at age 13, with metastasized tumors in her lungs. This is known from the opening chapter. She plays this role to her would-be suitor, the dorky Augustus, who was once quite ill himself and thus able to understand her plight. Then, the roles are rather cruelly flipped as Augustus's cancer returns with a vengeance, making him the ill boy and Hazel his (comparatively) healthy comforter during his last days. Notable in that both characters are technically ill the whole time; Hazel ultimately winds up being merely less ill than her rapidly-dying boyfriend.
  • Delusions of Eloquence: Augustus and Hazel are borderline cases — they get some of their longer and/or rarer and/or archaic words right and then misuse "transmit" or "soliloquy", for just two examples.
  • Destructo-Nookie: Averted and lampshaded when Hazel and Gus have sex, with Hazel commenting that "no headboards were broken", seemingly as a Take That! to Twilight.
  • Disabled Snarker: Hazel and Augustus have plenty of snark tucked up their sleeves relating to their disabilities (and the cheesy platitudes that they hear a lot).
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Kaitlyn loses track of the conversation just from the thought of Augustus.
    Kaitlyn: Oh, my God. I've seen him at parties. The things I would do to that boy. I mean, not now that I know you're interested in him. But, oh, sweet holy Lord, I would ride that one-legged pony all the way around the corral.
    Hazel: Kaitlyn.
    Kaitlyn: Sorry. Do you think you'd have to be on top?
    Hazel: Kaitlyn.
    Kaitlyn: What were we talking about?
    • Hazel also has one of those moments herself in Support Group, and due to the way Augustus was staring at her back, it's presumed to be mutual. Averted in that he was probably distracted by the fact that she looked like Caroline Mathers, his dead ex-girlfriend, which isn't exactly the stuff of romance.
  • Door Stopper: Not the book itself (a modest 300 pages, hardcover), but In-Universe, An Imperial Affliction is stated to be over six hundred pages long.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Augustus, due in part to his having a prosthetic right leg that prevents him from feeling the subtleties in pressure needed for non-jerky driving experiences. Hazel suspects that the examiner who licensed him (on the third try) only passed him as a "Cancer Perk".
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Augustus Waters wishes to die this way, but cannot due to his cancer.
  • Egging: Hazel and Augustus help Isaac throw eggs at his ex-girlfriend's car. They're caught by her mum.
  • Fan Disillusionment: After Hazel and Gus go to Amsterdam to meet Peter van Houton and he treats them poorly and says awful things. When he shows up at Gus's funeral, he's softened a bit, acknowledging the reason why he was so negative — he had a daughter die of cancer.
    • "The Genie Foundation" standing in for Make-A-Wish, perhaps because the (older teenage) characters describe going to Disney World as wasting your Wish and proceed to lose their virginity with one another on their trip.
    • Also, Free Catch All for Craigslist.
  • Fictional Document: The book features An Imperial Affliction as well as The Price of Dawn and the following sequels. The epigraph is from An Imperial Affliction, as a reference to The Great Gatsby, whose epigraph is also from another fictional book.
  • The Film of the Book: Released in June 2014.
  • Fluffy Cloud Heaven: Gus says he doesn't believe in this, but does say he believes in "Something".
  • Foreshadowing: When Hazel, Gus, and Hazel's mom are on the plane, it's mentioned that Hazel and Gus pushed the play button on their movie simultaneously, but Gus's movie started before's Hazel did. This foreshadows that Gus dies later in the book: just like his movie starts first, his movie, i.e. his life, ends first.
  • Freestate Amsterdam: Mostly averted (John Green really likes Amsterdam and goes whenever chance he gets), although the 16-year-old protagonists are served champagne in a restaurant quite openly. Which, at the time the book came out, was perfectly legal under Dutch law.
    Dutch Cab driver: Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.
  • Funny Background Event: Isaac beating the crap out of Gus' trophies and egging Monica's car, both of which happen during Gus and Hazel's heart-to-hearts.
  • Gallows Humor: Hazel, Augustus, and Isaac are as full of this as you would expect terminally ill teenagers to be. One particular gem:
    Hazel: It's primarily his hotness.
    Gus: It can be sort of blinding.
    Hazel: It actually did blind our friend Isaac.
    Gus: Terrible tragedy, that. But can I help my own deadly beauty?
    Hazel: You cannot.
    Gus: It is my burden, this beautiful face.
    Hazel: Not to mention your body.
    Gus: Seriously, don't ever get me started on my hot bod. You don't want to see me naked, Dave. Seeing me naked actually took Hazel Grace's breath away. *He nods toward Hazel's oxygen tank*
  • Get Out!: Hazel yells this at Van Houten when he gets into her car to try and talk to her.
  • Glass Eye: Isaac has one at the beginning of the book, as a result of a rare form of eye cancer. The eye itself isn't really mentioned except as part of his description.
  • Informed Ability: The book has this with its main characters. Hazel and Gus are both said to be very mature, intellectual and deep yet they behave immaturely more often than not and their "deep" words and thoughts tend to be morbid and existentialist, but not particularly varied or profound. Could be intentional, though, if the author was going for teenagers thinking they are more mature and deep than they really are.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Isaac lampshades this after he becomes blind by jokingly saying, "come over here so I can examine your face with my hands and see deeper into your soul than a sighted person ever could."
  • Insufferable Genius: Peter Van Houten is an extremely intelligent but deeply unpleasant man who deliberately speaks in complex philosophical dilemmas and advanced math problems for the sole purpose of annoying people.
  • Jumping on a Grenade: Augustus enjoys doing this in video games to save the fictional schoolchildren. In a more poetic sense, when Hazel doesn't want him to love her because she is a "grenade" and her death will hurt him, he does anyway.
  • Kendo Team Captain: Augustus was a star of the freshman basketball team (in Indiana, where basketball is king) prior to losing a leg to cancer.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Apparently happens to Anna, the protagonist of the fictional story "An Imperial Affliction", as the story-within-a-story "ends right in the middle of a —"
  • Laugh of Love: Hazel and Augustus tend to do this quite frequently around each other, at least until Augustus' condition worsens, eventually resulting in his death.
  • Literary Allusion Title:
    • The title refers to a line from William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings."
    • In-universe, An Imperial Affliction is named for a phrase in the Emily Dickinson poem "There's a certain slant of light".
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: The book subverts this to hell and back. The three main protagonists, Hazel, Gus, and Isaac all have some form of cancer, but they do not exist to tug at heartstrings. Hazel especially calls out all the cancer cliches that exist within this trope.
  • Lovable Nerd: Augustus has his moments.
  • Love at First Sight: Subverted. Augustus seems to be extremely taken with Hazel when he first sees her at the cancer support group. He can’t stop staring at her. He does genuinely like Hazel right away, but he was initially staring because she looked uncannily like his deceased ex-girlfriend Caroline.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Subverted, with Augustus Waters being mistaken for a Manic Pixie Dream Boy but later proving not to be one. He professes his love to Hazel through contrived, rehearsed outings, complete with memorized "soliloquies" (monologues) and "metaphorically-resonant" sandwiches, but the conviction of their love only feels "real" and "true" when the two of them see through the others' cracks during their trip to Amsterdam, mainly after he reveals to her that he's terminally ill again.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Played with, on the scale of an average human lifespan. Hazel, the sixteen-year-old protagonist, diagnosed with terminal cancer, has an uncertain number of years to left to live, but probably not many. Then she meets and falls in love with a seventeen-year-old Augustus, who is well into remission and will likely live a normal number of years. However, Augustus' cancer recurs, and Hazel is the one left behind by a lover's death.
  • Meaningful Funeral: Subverted and played straight. Augustus, upon learning he is dying, asks his two closest friends to read their eulogies at a memorial service before he actually dies, leading to a highly personal Meaningful Funeral. His actual funeral, by contrast, consists mostly of platitudes said by more distant acquaintances, although even then, there are a few moments of genuine connection.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Lidewij Vliegenthart was supposedly named for Lidewij and Sanne Vliegenthart — two Dutch nerdfighters. Sanne's channel is here.
    • Isaac, who has to get a surgery that causes him to go blind in order to get rid of his cancer, is named after the Biblical Isaac, who also went blind. ("Isaac" also sounds like "eye-sick", though John Green said this was more a happy accident. "I'm not that punny.")
    • John himself has confirmed that he came up with Hazel's name because hazel is an in-between color and she has an in-between life.
  • Men Don't Cry: Averted; Hazel's father bursts into tears in almost every scene he's in, but no one ever makes a negative remark about it.
  • Misery Poker: Forms rather large (but unspoken) part of the Cancer Support Group experience. People with more serious cancers tend to get more respect automatically, and people with "lesser" forms of cancer (like appendicial cancer) are somewhat looked down upon.
  • Modesty Bedsheet: The film's depiction of Hazel and Augustus' sex scene shows them in bed under one of these after the deed is done.
  • Mood Whiplash: The day after Hazel and Augustus share their first kiss and make love, Augustus reveals that his cancer has returned and metastasized.
  • No Ending: Occurs in-universe. The main characters’ favorite book ends mid-sentence, leaving several plot lines unresolved, and one subplot of the novel deals with the characters trying to find out from the author what happened to the characters.
  • Oh, and X Dies: Played With. The main character, Hazel, opens the book by telling us that her cancer has never been anything but terminal. At the end of the book, she's still alive, but her boyfriend has died of his cancer, which had been in remission.
  • Parents as People: Hazel's parents are shown to be very loving and supportive of her but also have their obvious frustrations with the burden her illness has put on their personal lives.
  • Pop-Up Texting: The film version did this, with sketchy "hand drawn" bubbles popping up whenever main characters August and Hazel text each other. They come across as a sketch of iPhone text bubbles.
  • Precision F-Strike: Hazel gives Van Houten one before storming out of his living room in the movie.
    Van Houten: Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why you care so much about your silly questions?
    Hazel: Oh, go fuck yourself.
  • Puzzling Platypus: Hazel compares her and Gus (as cancer patients surviving past what was expected of them) to the platypus.
    Hazel's narration: Augustus and I were together in the Improbable Creatures Club: us and duck-billed platypuses.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: A few people who reviewed the movie suggested that it was Hollywood-ized to some degree due to Augustus's chemo not resulting in any hair loss, but the writers did their research and the type of chemo that character would be on in their situation wouldn't result in any hair loss.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Gus' speech to Monica's mom after she catches him, Hazel, and Isaac egging Monica's car, which actually succeeds in getting her to leave them alone to finish their vandalism.
    "Ma'am, your daughter's car has just been deservedly egged by a blind man. Please close the door and go back inside or we'll be forced to call the police."
  • Replacement Goldfish: Considering how Hazel says her and Caroline's "cancer selves" could be sisters, Augustus's determination to get to know her as soon as he sees her (insisting she come to his house to watch a movie right then without actually asking her or considering that she might have other plans), and his giving her his Wish, essentially his most valuable possession, a mere two and a half weeks after meeting her, it really sounds like Hazel is Augustus's for Caroline, at least at the beginning of their relationship.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Green had this to say about the book's final sentence ("I do."), which he sees as marital symbolism.
    "Shakespeare's comedies end in marriage and his tragedies end in death, and I was rather fond of the idea that my book could end (symbolically, at least) in both."
  • Running Gag:
    • The books based on Gus's favorite video game. Count how many times "Max Mayhem" is brought up after Hazel reads them.
    • America's Next Top Model.
  • Screw Destiny: In Norway, the book's title has been translated as Fuck Fate, which John Green finds to be a Woolseyism.
  • Shrug of God: Van Houten's In-Universe reaction when Hazel and Angustus ask Van Houten what happened to the characters of An Imperial Affliction and he tells them he doesn't know.
  • Shout-Out:
    • At one point, Augustus muses that it would be awesome to fly in a super-fast jet that could follow the sun. John's admitted to being a fan of Phineas and Ferb and this was the plot of their first special.
    • "Funky Bones" is located at Indianapolis Museum of Art, where Sarah Urist Green, aka The Yeti, is Curator of Contemporary Collections. The author's wife had a major hand in bringing the sculpture to Indy.
    • Hazel and Augustus watch V for Vendetta the first time she goes to his house.
    • To Shakespeare: The title comes from a line in Julius Caesar Act I, Scene II.
  • Signature Line: "I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once."
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Played for Laughs in this exchange:
    Augustus: But can I help my own deadly beauty?
    Hazel: You cannot.
    Augustus: It is my burden, this beautiful face.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Gus and his pack of "metaphorically resonant" cigarettes, although he just enjoys holding them in his mouth unlit (they're cancer survivors, not suicidal). Hazel calls him on it the first time she sees him do it. She's especially offended because she already has breathing problems and is on oxygen due to her lung tumors.
  • Stealth Pun: The "blinding" of Isaac. Unintended, according to John Green.
  • Strictly Formula: This novel, like John Green’s other books, is about a nerdy, highly intelligent teenage boy who has his eye on a quirky, mysterious girl, eventually going on a road trip where he has a mind-blowing revelation about life. However, it does reverse the roles, telling it from the quirky girl's perspective as she falls in love with the nerdy Teen Genius who is fawning over her.
  • Take Our Word for It: Hazel and Augustus agree that "An Imperial Affliction" is the one book that describes what it's really like to have cancer, therefore the book means a lot to them. But we, the readers, only get a dim idea of the plot, a few characters, and the line "Pain demands to be felt." Oh, it's also a Door Stopper.
  • Take That!:
  • Teen Genius: Like many other John Green characters, Hazel and Augustus are insanely philosophical and verbally articulate for their age. Notably, though, they do get a lot of things wrong. For example, Hazel misunderstands relativity, statistics, and the concept of infinity, and Gus says "soliloquy" when he means "monologue". According to the author, this was on purpose, to show that even though they're very intelligent, they're still young and inexperienced.
  • This Is a Work of Fiction: In the Author's Note:
    "This is not so much an author's note as an author's reminder of what was printed in small type a few pages ago: This book is a work of fiction. I made it up."
  • Throwing Out the Script: Augustus, Hazel, and Isaac hold a "pre-funeral" for one another, where they've written quite unconventional eulogies that they, to each other’s appreciation, read aloud. However, at Augustus' actual funeral, Hazel gives Augustus' parents a glance before she's about to read that same eulogy she wrote for his pre-funeral again and changes her mind (even though she doesn't actually believe in any of the things she ends up saying instead) since, she states in the voice-over, "Funerals are not for the dead. They're for the living".
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth:
    • Augustus alludes to this, saying, "Like, are you familiar with the trope of the stoic and determined cancer victim who heroically fights her cancer with inhuman strength and never complains or stops smiling even at the very end, et cetera?"
    • "According to the conventions of this genre, he kept his sense of humor until the end, did not for a moment waver in his courage, and his spirit soared like an indomitable eagle until the world itself could not contain his joyous soul. But this was the truth..."
  • The Topic of Cancer: Inverted: Both of the main protagonists (and half of the supporting cast) have cancer. They all speak of their condition with a blase-ness that only terminal cancer patients can muster. And people who try to sentimentalize or go emotionally overboard over the condition are heartily mocked.
  • Toplessness from the Back: A lingering shot of Hazel in this state after Gus takes off her bra is the most explicit that the film's depiction of their sex scene gets before cutting to the nigh-mandatory Modesty Bedsheet.
  • Trauma Swing: Gus is so attuned to the traumatic symbolism of Hazel's depressing old swing set that he helps her sell it on the internet.
  • Wham Line:
    • "Just before you went into the ICU, I started to feel this ache in my hip."
    • "Augustus Waters died eight days after his prefuneral." No matter how obvious or predictable it is that it's coming, it still hurts like hell.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • In-universe: The main characters love a Cut Short novel and want to know what happened to, amongst other things, the pet hamster.
    • Ironically, the same thing happened to John Green by readers of the actual novel, even after explaining in an author’s note in the novel and several times on this blog that he doesn’t know anything more about the plot or characters than that which is contained in the book. Effectively, he knows exactly no more and no less than his readers. Even when they don't believe him.
  • Writer on Board: John Green has admitted Van Houten's pro-Death of the Author views are essentially his own (though he hopes he's less of a Jerkass about it).
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: While she's right that some infinities are larger than other infinities, Hazel incorrectly believes that the infinite set between zero and two is larger than the infinite set between zero and one. However, Word of God states that it was intentional, as he didn’t want his characters to always be right.

Alternative Title(s): The Fault In Our Stars