Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 599
That evening, Hazel re-reads part of her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction. It is about a teenage girl named Anna, who is dying of cancer but does not act all brave and heroic like most cancer victims in stories. She has a mother who is obsessed with tulips and who starts a relationship with a Dutch tulip salesman Anna believes to be a fraud. The mother and the Dutch man are talking about getting married, and Anna is about to start a strange new treatment, when the book ends in the middle of a sentence.
Hazel loves and hates this ending, which she takes to mean that Anna dies or gets too sick to continue writing. However, Hazel also desperately wants to know how the story turns out. Hazel has written many letters to the author, Peter Van Houten, asking him to tell her what happened after the book ends. He has never replied.
The following day, Hazel goes to a community college lecture on poetry that she finds uninspiring. Afterward, she is disappointed to see her mother already waiting in the parking lot. Her mom claims that she kept busy with a book during Hazel’s class, but Hazel remains worried that her mother has no life. When she says so, it seems to hurt her mother’s feelings. Hazel tries to make amends by suggesting that they go to a movie.
After the movie, Hazel has several text messages from Augustus on her phone. He has finished An Imperial Affliction, and he begs her to tell him what happens next. Like Hazel, he seems to love and hate the book all at once. A few hours later, she calls him, expecting to talk more about the book—but she hears sobbing in the background. Augustus tells her Isaac is there, upset, and he invites her to come over.
When Hazel arrives at Augustus’s house, she finds Isaac and Augustus playing Counterinsurgence, the video game that inspired the book The Price of Dawn. Isaac is wailing loudly, tears running down his face, and he keeps making mistakes in the game. He and Augustus are defeated just as they are trying to save some pretend schoolchildren from some pretend terrorists. At the last second before they lose, Augustus makes his character commit suicide and save the children. He seems proud of himself, but Hazel points out that the children would probably die soon anyway. He says: “All salvation is temporary. I bought them a minute...And that’s not nothing.”
After this strange speech, Isaac explains that his girlfriend broke up with him today. He sobs as he says that she dumped him now because she did not want to wait until after he went blind. “She said she couldn’t handle it,” he says. It infuriates him that he has to deal with cancer and blindness, while she can just walk away and forget him.
In his fury, Isaac starts kicking his chair, and then he beats up Augustus’s pillow. Augustus and Hazel watch from a safe distance and discuss An Imperial Affliction. She explains that she has had no luck finding out what happened after the story’s abrupt ending. Augustus says he wants to know too.
After a while, Augustus advises Isaac to attack something more breakable than a pillow. Isaac proceeds to destroy all of Augustus’s basketball trophies while Augustus cheers him on. Afterward, Isaac says he does not feel any better. “That’s the thing about pain,” Augustus says, quoting a line from An Imperial Affliction. “It demands to be felt.”