Remember this post about John and his brother Hank Green's vlog? I subscribe and watch every video (2 per week).
But with the big news last month that the BPL RA Dream Team is taking over the Teen collection this fall, reading and talking about John Green incessantly is now considered part of our job. We are still a bit too stalkerish, but hey, its for the teens of Berwyn. (Or so we tell ourselves).
Way back in April, I read The Fault in our Stars, which is already showing up on just about every Best of the Year... So Far list. It deserves to be there.
The plot sounds sappy, but the book is anything but. This is why critics and readers love it.
Our protagonist is Hazel, a girl who is only alive because the last chance. experimental drug for her aggressive thyroid cancer seems to be working. She should be dead, but somehow she keeps living. Hazel is a color between green and brown and she is a girl between life and death.
Hazel took the GED a few years ago, but she is only 16. She takes community college courses, but her only social outings are to the cancer support group she attends weekly. There she has one real friend Isaac, who is going blind (but will live) because of his cancer. Isaac in turn introduces Hazel to Augustus another cancer kid. The two share a love of books and become close quickly.
Together they go on a journey, both existential (will I be remembered when I die?) and physical (to Amsterdam, but I won't give away why and how). They fall in love, but when you have cancer, life is short.
This is a poignant story that forces the reader to contemplate big questions about the meaning of life, why we are here on earth, and the power of love. But again, Green's talent is that he does this with a believable voice. It is not sappy or schmaltzy. It is real and rings true.
Hazel is sarcastic, but lovable. Her mom is her best friend because, as she explains, when you are sick, who else is around. She is level headed and smart. She understands that she could get sick and die at any moment, but does not attack life in a cliche way. She simply lives like a regular teenager.
Hazel and Augustus have some hysterical conversation about his favorite SF adventure series of books, but they also have some serious and some tender conversations. They talk about life, death, love, and books. There is lots of talk about books. And a memorable trip to the Anne Frank house by kids who know they days are numbered. The parallels between the 2 stories are clear.
And, I have to say this serious, tragic book also contains one of the funniest scenes ever in any book-- a newly blind Isaac playing a video game with Augustus and complaining that Augustus is playing badly. That also summarizes a lot of the humor in this book. If you find the humor in a sick blind kid playing video games, as Green does, you will love this book, as I did too.
Three Words That Describe This Book: sarcastic, poignant, existential
Readalikes: John Green is the best example out there of an author who is a sure bet cross over from YA to Adult. So, I will break up my read alike options into YA and Adult. But please note, all are good for both audiences.
- I just finished The Age of Miracles by Karen Thomason Walker. Even though the main character there, Julia, is not sick, the world she is living in is. She narrates the book as a 23 year old looking back on when she was 12 and the earth's rotation started slowing, changing the world forever. The ideas of living in the moment are very similar here. Also the young love in a time of crisis is poignant and has a eerily similar ending.
- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer is also a great read alike here. The narrator here is a young boy who has lost his father to the 9/11 attacks. There is an existential journey in both books and the forging of a deep relationship that is destined to end badly, but be worth it all the same.
- I also think City of Thieves by David Bennioff will appeal here. Bear with me. Although it is set in Russia during WWI, the young protagonist, his friend, their journey, and the tragic ending resonate here. On paper these books look very different, but I have read read both and I can tell you the feel, the writing, the protagonists, the sense of awe when you read them, are the same. Click here for my full review of City of Thieves.
YA Suggestions: I am less well read in the YA field but I will do what I can here.
- First, run out and read more John Green. He has won multiple awards for a reason. Currently, Looking For Alaska is on the Sophomore Reading List for the Berwyn high school and An Abundance of Katherine is also great.
- Its Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini came out in 2007 with starred reviews. The main character ends up in the psyche ward after trying to commit suicide. The protagonist has a similar voice to Hazel.
- Sarah Dessen is an author I also like to suggest to Green fans. Like Green she tackles serious subjects without talking down to teens. Try The Truth About Forever.
- Finally, there are many YA novels about teens with terminal diseases. With help from NoveList I found these suggestions: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews, Before I Die by Jenny Downham, and A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner.
As Green always says: DFTBA (Don't forget to be awesome).