John Green’s young adult novel The Fault In Our Stars became an instant cult classic upon its release in 2012. Hazel Grace Lancaster is 17 and has Stage 4 thyroid cancer. Her life is a series of bad daytime television and reading her favourite novel until her mother forces her to go to a support group. There she meets the alluring Augustus Waters who sparks a new chapter in her seemingly mundane life. Green was inspired to write The Fault in Our Stars after meeting Esther Earl, a 16-year-old girl who died of thyroid cancer in 2010. The following novels are like The Fault in Our Stars as they focus on the importance of living the life you’re given, even when you’re faced with difficult or impossible circumstances.
1. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Green has a distinct writing style, one that captures the teenage condition beautifully and honestly without patronising the experience. In Looking for Alaska, Miles Halter changes schools to go to Culver Creek Preparatory High School in Alabama, a boarding school and a complete shift in his previous academic experience. He quickly befriends Chip, Takumi, and the elusive Alaska, a girl who fascinates Miles. Although she has a boyfriend, Miles can’t help but fall for Alaska, who remains an enigma to him. This story depicts a group of teenagers who are often full of pain but try to smile through it. If you were a fan of the characters and writing in The Fault In Our Stars, you’ll love Looking for Alaska and the Hulu TV show adaptation released in 2019.
2. Before I Die, by Jenny Downham
Jenny Downham’s novel Before I Die follows Tessa, a 16-year-old girl dying from leukemia. Sick of being sick and knowing she’s going to die, she makes a list of all the things she wants to do before then. The only problem is, many of these activities are illegal. She enlists her wild best friend Zoey and boy-next-door Adam to help her achieve these goals, no matter the consequences. Like Hazel Grace in The Fault In Our Stars, Tessa has goals she wants to achieve, even when her condition and her age make it almost impossible. This is a young adult novel but it has a universal message about the importance of living life to the fullest.
3. If I Stay, by Gayle Forman
This young adult novel opens with a car crash that kills 17-year-old Mia Hall’s family. Mia survives the crash but is in a coma, treading the line between life and death, faced with the choice of whether she wants to wake up or not. She reflects on her life, her relationship with her boyfriend Adam, and her passion for the cello, which she was hoping to turn into a career. Mia is faced with the impossible decision of whether to return to Adam or stay with her family in the afterlife. If I Stay was made into a movie in 2014 starring Chloe Grace Moretz after the book’s huge success. Like Hazel Grace, Mia faces life and death situations and must ponder her mortality in the prime of her youth.
4. Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver
Sam has everything. She’s popular, has a great group of friends, and a good looking boyfriend. She gets everything she wants, and she certainly doesn’t anticipate the fatal car accident that instantly kills her and her friends after a party on the night of February 12th. Sam wakes up the next day, back to the beginning of February 12th, and lives the day over again. She is caught in a time loop that will make her question everything she’s ever believed, and reflect on the kind of person she is as she strives to break free.
5. My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult
Anna is a test-tube baby—she was born to save her sister’s life. Kate has been sick since she was a child with a form of leukemia that requires a rare type of bone marrow. Her parents agree to create a genetically engineered child who will have the DNA required to save Kate’s life, and thus Anna becomes Kate’s saving grace. But no donation is ever enough, and when Anna is 13, she seeks legal representation to be medically emancipated from her parents, or in other words, to sue for the rights to her own body. This results in a legal battle that splits Anna’s family in half; without a kidney transplant, Kate will die, but what happens when saving one child means you lose the other? A difficult tale of morality and grey lines, Kate will remind you of Hazel Grace for her illness, but also her outlook on life.
6. A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness
Conor O’Malley knows his mother is sick with cancer, but he refuses to accept she could die. At 13, he is frightened, and just wants everyone to stop saying she’s dying. One night, Conor is visited by a monster who says he has three stories to tell him. In return, Conor must tell him a true story, but the truth the monster seeks is something Conor can’t ever say out loud. This novel was born from the imagination of Siobhan O’Dowd, who unfortunately died of cancer before she could write it herself. She enlisted Patrick Ness’ help to write the tale, which he did after her death. A Monster Calls delves into difficult truths about mortality and the effects a cancer diagnosis can have on the family of the patient.
7. Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom
Tuesdays with Morrie is a work of nonfiction, as it was written about Mitch Albom’s last few months with his Sociology professor Morrie. Morrie has ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, an illness that affects the neurological system—it is both incurable and terminal. Mitch, his former student, somewhat lost in his own life, meets with Morrie on Tuesdays where Morrie instills some well-needed wisdom on the younger man with the hopes he will make the most of his life. What Augustus is for Hazel in The Fault In Our Stars, a beacon of positivity and hope, is what Morrie is for Mitch. It is a story about the clearest lessons of life in the face of certain death.
8. When All Is Said, by Anne Griffin
Where many of the novels on this list focus on teenagers, When All Is Said focuses on Maurice, an elderly man sitting in a pub toasting to the five most important people in his life. As he does this, the events of his life unfold, and it quickly becomes evident that he has had a difficult life filled with violence and pain. Maurice is gruff and stubborn as an older man, and the reasons behind this become clearer with every toast. But even amongst all the pain, there are moments that Maurice looks back on and smiles, making this a novel about appreciating the good and trying, even when it seems impossible, to let go of the bad. Like Hazel Grace with the pain of her cancer, Maurice struggles to let go of the unjust moments in his life.
9. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
Susie Salmon is just 14 years old and doesn’t suspect anything bad will ever happen to her. When her neighbour invites her to a secret hideout on her way home from school one day, she thinks nothing of it—until he does the worst thing a man can do. Now Susie is dead, but she’s not gone. She’s in her own personal heaven, but she can’t be at peace until her murderer is discovered. The Lovely Bones is a fictional novel, but it is based off a real life rape/murder from the 1970s. It was made into a film starring Saoirse Ronan in 2009, and it should be noted it is one of the darker novels on this list. Susie, like Hazel Grace, must deal with tragedies beyond what anyone her age should encounter.