Why We Shouldn’t Call The Pragers The Real-Life Fault In Our Stars Couple

Photo: Courtesy of Penguin Books.
Yesterday, after a long fight with cystic fibrosis, Katie Prager died at the age of 26, just days after her husband, Dalton Prager, passed away from the same disorder. The Pragers had been dubbed by the media (including myself on this site) as the real-life Fault in Our Stars couple, after the John Green book that became a hit movie. Ultimately, it seems strange that their story was so often covered as entertainment news, when in reality, their situation was a real-life tragedy that affected the lives of their friends and family. Additionally, their story, however tragic, bears little resemblance to the fictional romance featured in the YA book. In TFIOS, two teenagers meet in a cancer support group. Gus believes his bone cancer is in remission, while Hazel believes her thyroid cancer is terminal. Katie and Dalton did meet at 18, but connected through Facebook and bonded through their shared condition, cystic fibrosis, which is life-threatening but can be survived into middle age. In the novel, Gus' cancer returns, and he dies after a months-long relationship with Hazel. The Pragers married two years after they first connected, and maintained a long-distance relationship as husband and wife for several years. There are really few parallels between the two stories beyond the very broad themes of young love, and tragically, early death.
John Green dedicated his novel to Esther Earl, a 16-year-old he befriended through a shared love of Harry Potter. Earl died in 2010 of thyroid cancer. Green took great pains to make it clear that he had been working on the book before he met her, and that Hazel was not modeled after his young friend. Still, in a foreword to Earl's posthumously published book This Star Won't Go Out, Green explained: "Esther inspired the story in the sense that my anger after her death pushed me to write constantly. She helped me to imagine teenagers as more empathetic than I’d given them credit for, and her charm and snark inspired [The Fault in Our Stars]."
The desire to link the Pragers to fictional characters with whom so many people feel a connection is understandable. In some sense, it's heartening for people to believe that the kind of love they saw depicted on the page existed in real life. It provides a context in which to consider two short lives that might otherwise have gone unnoticed beyond their friends and family because, sadly, young people die every day. The Pragers were not the real-life embodiment of the couple in The Fault in Our Stars. But their loss should be mourned. Their loss should remind us that love can be found, and endure, in the face of terrible adversity.

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