Van Houten is as wrong about characters as a character/person can be. They do exist beyond the pages. But this book has taught me that their lives are just as fleeting as the supposedly more “real” lives we all possess. Characters are real, but just as assuredly do they continue living past the last chapter, they also eventually expire.
Hazel wanted to know what happened to the characters surrounding Anna because that will also be the mystery of her loved ones when she passes. She’s frustrated because she can’t know what will happen to Isaac, or Augustus, or her parents. When she dies, it’s the end of her personal story, but hearing what happens after Anna’s last sentence is cut off would ensure her that a world continues on.
I was so fearful that this book would pull a Van Houten and cut off Hazel’s sentence.
It occurs to me now that Van Houten’s cutoff robs the reader of important closure that they get when grieving the loss of a loved one. Augustus’ death is tragic, and I felt real pain and shed real tears as I read. It hurt like any loss I’ve ever suffered in life. I was Hazel for those pages. But Anna’s mother and hamster get no such closure. Their story is eternally paused, their opportunity for closure taken from them. As Hazel, I got to see the story continue. I got to experience how awful a world without Augustus truly is, but I also got to see that there WAS still a world to grieve in.
Van Houten got everything right about death and dying except for the eternity that follows. He thought a story can just be a first person perspective of a slow decline, but the story belongs to the other characters as much as it does to the protagonist. Anne Frank’s story is also Otto Frank’s story, and the story of the museum’s patrons. Anne Frank’s story has a chapter about Hazel and Augustus kissing in her childhood home, and of strangers applauding two teenagers finding love in a place normally reserved for reverence. The act happened in spite of reverence, and was itself a reverent act because it played a part in Anne Frank’s life after life.
The Fault in Our Stars is An Imperial Affliction is Anne Frank’s Diary is John Green’s dealing with the loss of Esther Earl (despite and because of his disclaimers).
That book thoroughly knocked me on my ass.