“The Fault in our Stars,” by John Green, Penguin Books, 313 pages, $12.99.

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings,” says Cassius in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.”

The author has shortened and changed it for the title of his book. The title implies the opposite of Shakespeare’s quotation, that fate (our “stars”) plays a role in human affairs, that no matter what we do we are controlled by forces beyond our ability to manage.

It’s not hard to understand the author’s point of view, since this is a book about teenagers with terminal cancer, experiencing heartbreaking first love. Don’t let that turn you away, for it is not a sad book, just realistic, and you will marvel at Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus “Gus” Waters.

Hazel has metastatic thyroid cancer (it’s in her lungs), and Gus has osteosarcoma of a lower extremity, requiring amputation. The striking thing about their relationship is that they realize that they will not live long lives but do not, therefore, fall into depression or try to escape from living.

They have friends with cancer, since they attend a Cancer Support Group, and Caroline Mathers has died of it. Isaac is blind after cancer in his eyes, and this reader wondered why dying teenagers would want to associate principally with others similarly affected, their loss certain. On the other hand, where would they likely find more acceptance and compassion?

An author, Peter van Houten, who wrote a novel greatly appreciated by Hazel and Gus, is encountered when they visit Amsterdam (the fulfillment of a final wish). Hazel wants to know what happened to the characters after the abrupt ending of the book, but the haughty, difficult, unpleasant van Houten is scornful and declines.

Here is Hazel: “That was the worst part about having cancer, sometimes: The physical evidence of disease separates you from other people. We were irreconcilably other ...”

This exceptional author puts us squarely into the minds if not the bodies of the protagonists, and we are personally affected by what happens to Hazel and Gus. You may shed a tear or two, but you’ll be glad you read this one.

Melvyn Schreiber is a physician at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Melvyn Schreiber’s essays are now available as a paperback book (without the book reviews and opera reviews). If you want one, send $15 to him at 12 E. Dansby, Galveston, TX 77551, and he will mail a copy to you.

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