The Fault in Our Stars: A (Rapid Fire) Review

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (2012)

The Fault in Our Stars by John GreenThis book hardly needs talking about. Certainly no summary is needed. Despite the hype and the accolades, I’m still not sure I understand the appeal here. Like every other John Green book there are overly intellectual characters pondering the universe and trying to find meaning in it. Because these characters both have cancer there is also the inevitable pall of death hanging over the novel.

The story is interesting in its own way. There is a fun thread about loving, truly loving a book. There is romance. There are grand gestures. There are also unconvincingly intellectual teens who are shockingly self-aware (which, I feel, is likely not a side effect of dying no matter how literary a book it might make).

I’m just not sure why all of that added up to making this book a huge phenomenon. Maybe that’s my fault. Maybe it’s because the hospital scenes and the illness hit too close to home. Maybe it’s because I really hated that Isaac is blind for most of the novel but is never shown learning to use a cane or travel on his own.

This book sells itself and you’ve probably already read it. If you have, maybe you can explain the appeal to me.

Ticket to Ride: A Book List

Do you dream of travel? Do you just want to go on a crazy trip now and then? These books will take you around town, cross country, and maybe even around the world without ever leaving your chair.

  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher: Clay Jensen always pined for Hannah Baker, but it’s only after it’s too late that he really understands her as he listens to thirteen tapes she left him mapping out their town as she experienced it and all of the events that led to her suicide.
  • What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell: The year is 1947 and everyone is eager to put the hardships of the War to End All Wars behind them. When Evie takes a trip with her mother and stepfather to Florida, she finds first love, secrets, and lies in this noirish read.
  • Heist Society by Ally Carter: Katarina Bishop knows all the angles and more than her fair share of cons. She even knows how to steal a legitimate education. But when her father is blamed for high profile theft, Kat will have to travel across Europe and put together her own heist society to clear his name and right some wrongs.
  • Bloomability by Sharon Creech: In her first life Dinnie lived with her family first in Kentucky, then Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana,Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, California and New Mexico. In her second life, Dinnie is whisked away to an eccentric international boarding school in Switzerland by her Aunt and Uncle.
  • A Room With a View by E. M. Forster: Lucy Honeychurch comes to Italy to see the art, broaden her cultural background, and admire the views. Instead what starts as a fight for a room with a view leads Lucy to witness a murder in the street and find an unexpected, and completely improper, romance.
  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (see also: Paper Towns): Colin Singleton is a former childhood prodigy and the former boyfriend of 18 girls. All named Katherine. Colin and his best friend Hassan set off on a road trip to help Colin forget his problems. Along the way he might even forget he only dates girls named Katherine.
  • North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley: From behind, Terra looks perfect. But looks can be deceiving. A chance encounter takes Terra and her mother out of their restrictive lives and on a once-in-a-lifetime journey through China where Terra might find real love and, even more importantly, herself.
  • Kitty Kitty by Michele Jaffe (see also: Bad Kitty): Jasmine is in Venice, the most romantic city in the world, and in a beautiful hotel to be home-schooled (not from her actual home) while she takes intensive Italian lessons and her father writes his definitive book on the history of . . . soap. Oh and there’s also the matter of a murder that needs to be solved.
  • 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson (see also: Girl at Sea): Ginny is good at following rules–even really weird ones delivered in 13 little blue envelopes by her infinitely more interesting Aunt Peg directing her to travel to London and across Europe.
  • Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough: The night Savannah brains her stepfather Jack with the frying pan is the night she decides to leave home for good. She takes her little brother and they begin a road trip that will change their lives almost as much as when their mother, Alice, made the same trip in reverse eighteen years ago. (
  • Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta: Taylor Markham is prepared for war with the Townies and the Cadets. What she isn’t prepared for is finding out her greatest enemies could be her greatest friends and that her past isn’t the closed book she expected.
  • The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson: Thanks to the sudden appearance of a car, Destiny and three of her classmates start a road trip searching for one fair day–a day where the good guy wins and everything adds up to something just right.
  • The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan: As if finding out he was the son of a god wasn’t weird enough, Percy also has to travel across the country to complete a quest and prevent the next world war.
  • A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell: Cora’s life fell apart abruptly. Now all she can think about are the maps she draws constantly and escaping her suffocating life. But the freedom Cora yearns for is closer than she thinks.
  • Jungle Crossing by Sydney Salter: Kat has dozens of reasons to skip her family’s vacation to Mexico from dangerous bandits to heatstroke. Could it be that, instead of being the worst vacation ever, going to Mexico will turn into one of Kat’s greatest adventures?
  • Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer: The year is 1817. Kate is in London enjoying a proper Season while Cecelia, much to her consternation, is left to languish in the country with her brother Oliver for company (at least until he’s turned into a tree). Will the girls be able to unravel a mystery (and fix Oliver) while they’re miles apart?
  • Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee: Maybelline Mary Katherine Mary Ann Chestnut (“Maybe” for short) is sick of living above her mother’s charm school. And of her mother. So Maybe recruits her best friends Ted and Hollywood to go with her to Los Angeles to find Maybe’s father.

Looking For Alaska: A review

Miles Halter isn’t sure what to expect when he arrives at his new boarding school in Alabama. All he Looking For Alaska coverknows for sure is that life at Culver Creek has to be better than the mundane subsistence he had in his Florida hometown. Memorizing famous last words can only take a young man so far in life, so Miles decides to head off into the great unknown–or, as Francois Rabelais put it right before he died, off to seek the Great Perhaps.

What Miles find is unexpected. In addition to earning a nickname (Pudge) and a place in this wacky school that’s now home, Miles finds Alaska Young. Possibly the hottest girl ever, Pudge knows that his life will never be mundane again. Not if Alaska has anything to say about it at least.

What Pudge doesn’t realize, what he can’t know, is that life after coming to Culver Creek and meeting Alaska Young will never be the same.

Looking For Alaska (2005) is John Green’s first novel, followed by An Abundance of Katherines (2006) and Paper Towns (2008). It was also the 2006 Printz Award Winner for excellence in young adult literature. (An Abundance of Katherines was selected as  Printz Award honor book in 2007 making Green one of only two American authors to have received Printz Awards/Honors.)

Having read Green’s other books first, the writing style here was no surprise to me, but without that context the writing is really something different. The prose here is snappy. Pudge provides descriptions and anecdotes in his narration, but the story keeps moving along. The dialogue, in particular, has a lot of verve:

Finally I said, “Yeah, I went to public school. But I wasn’t hot shit there, Chip. I was regular shit.”

“Ha! That’s good. And don’t call me Chip. Call me the Colonel.”

I stifled a laugh. “The Colonel?”

“Yeah. The Colonel. And we’ll call you . . . hmm. Pudge.”

“Huh?”

“Pudge,” the Colonel said. “Because you’re skinny. It’s called irony, Pudge. Heard of it? Now, let’s go get some cigarettes and start this year off right.”

Having spent a bit of time reading/watching John Green, it seems safe to say that part of the unique writing style comes from Greens unique sense of humor. But a lot of it also just comes from his being a talented writer (as those nods from the Printz committee suggest).

Looking For Alaska is broken into two parts: Before and After. That breakdown, and the chapters that begin with how many days before (and later after), lend this novel a strong undercurrent of suspense. Even though Pudge is enjoying life and Culver Creek, the writing remains taut with tension because it is so clear that something is going to change everything. While reading the book I had expected the story to go one way only to have it turn in a completely different direction After. The narrative was so tight that I was left completely floored.

As the quote above illustrates, this novel does have teens smoking. They also drink, talk about sex, and often run amok. A lot of young adult literature endeavors to show the “real” lives of teens by having them go to a lot of parties and drink and what not which often leaves me wondering what “real” teens the author knew. While Looking For Alaska features some of the same behaviors, it works better here. Because the characters are at a boarding school in general. Specifically because Culver Creek is set up as such an eerie and mysterious place that, in some ways, it becomes irrelevant how realistic the events are (and I mean maybe they are, I never went to a boarding  school so I cannot accurately gauge).

Everything else aside, there is primarily one reason that I am very fond of this book. That reason is the Colonel. Within a few moments of his introduction it became apparent that the Colonel would be one of the best characters I ever encountered in a work of literature. Clever, acerbic, and even diabolical, he was like a character actor in a supporting role who quietly and indisputably steals the entire show.

Possible Pairings: Paper Towns by John Green, The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Fracture by Megan Miranda, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

Paper Towns: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review (kinda, sorta)

Paper Towns cover #1I didn’t plan on starting my review of John Green’s newest book Paper Towns (2008) with a mention of Brotherhood 2.0, I really didn’t. But having finished the book I find that, really, it is the right place to start.

Back when I had a myspace page, a lot of my friends were authors, library types, and bands. One of those friends was John Green who posted a bulletin about a project he and his brother decided to start in January 2007. Having noticed that they communicated almost entirely through e-mails or instant messages, Hank Green decided that he and John should communicate for a year only through daily (except for weekends and holidays) video blogs. The rules are more elaborate, but that was the basic premise. Throughout the course of the year, John and Hank exchanged a lot of videos about two things: Being a Nerd Fighter, the true meaning of Awesome, and World Suck Levels. (Fans might also remember an entertaining Valentine’s Day post relating to pink wine.)

At some point during this crazy brilliant idea, John Green and Hank Green continued to work. For John Green that work was writing a book. And, maybe it’s because I now know more about Green, but reading Paper Towns kept bringing me back to those Vlogs whose themes seemed to have made their way into this novel to interesting (and entertaining) effect.

Now for some linkage: The original Brotherhood 2.0 videos can be found at Brotherhood2.com. (They also have their own channel on Youtube.) Since the vlog project’s end in December 2007, the Brotherhood 2.0 site has been reshaped into a  Nerd Fighter headquarters at Nerdfighters.ning.com. Last, but totally not least, you can find John Green’s site at Sparksflyup.com.

Now for some actual review:

Quentin Jacobsen has loved Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar for most of his life. It’s hard to not love someone who is equal parts phenomenon, mystery, and adventure. With end of high school mere weeks away, Q is prepared to accept that Margo will always be closer to fantasy than reality.

All of that changes when Margo, dressed like a ninja, opens Q’s window and asks for his help:

Tonight, darling, we are going to right a lot of wrongs. And we are going to wrong some rights. The first shall be last; the last shall be first; the meek shall do some earth-inheriting.

And so begins an eleven part, all-night odyssey that will change Q’s life, particularly–he hopes–how his life relates to the lovely Margo Roth Spiegelman.

Before Q can find out if everything will be different, Margo disappears–on its own, not an unusual occurrence. Part of being Margo Roth Spiegelman demands the occasional disappearance to plan and execute further adventures. The strange thing, the reason Q can’t pretend this disappearance is normal, is that Margo left clues. For him. As Q, with the help of his fantastically-written friends, tries to trace Margo’s path he finds more questions than answers, realizing that he might need more than clues to lead him to the girl he loves. He might need to revisit everything he thought he knew about Margo Roth Spiegelman, both the person and the phenomenon.

Paper Towns combines elements of a coming-of-age story and a mystery. Q’s search for Margo is, in many ways, just as important as working through the tedium and nostalgia of his last weeks in high school. The story is also very contemporary: the characters have (very clever) screen names that they use to instant message, a website not unlike Wikipedia (here called Omnictionary) finds its way into the storyline. Still, the timelessness of the story seems to ensure that this novel will not become dated as technologies change. Green’s inclusion of excerpts from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass also points to this book’s lasting power.

Like An Abundance of Katherines (2006), the writing here has a verve and wit that keeps readers’ attention and makes the book speed along. Although Green treads similar territory to his Paper Towns cover #2previous novels, Paper Towns remains unique and Q’s narrative voice is utterly his own. The tone here is also something new; a blend of a nostalgia and the jolt of the now as Green expertly moves between past tense and present tense narration to emphasize key parts of the plot.

Green won the Michael L. Printz Award in 2006 for his first novel Looking for Alaska. In 2007 An Abundance of Katherines (his second novel) was selected as a Printz Award Honor Book. I almost never make award predictions, but I think John Green might have a third Printz Award Winner (or at least Honor Book) in his future.

It took me longer to realize that there were two covers floating around for Paper Towns than it took me to actually read the novel. The first cover, yellow and bright, seems to be the primary marketing cover. But there is also a mystery second cover with a different photo and darker colors that was on my copy. Without revealing too much, I wanted to mention the Two Cover Strategy because it’s so apt. Margo is so iconic, so important, so multi-faceted, that it makes sense that she cannot be contained by one book cover.

*4/30/09 UPDATE: Paper Towns did not win the Printz Award I predicted for it, but it did win an Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery.

Possible Pairings: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, The Wessex Papers by Daniel Parker, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

An Abundance of Katherines: a review

An Abundance of Katherines coverPicture this: You used to be a childhood prodigy. Member of an academic game team. You excelled in school. You were special. You met a girl named Katherine and the two of you started dating.

Then she dumps you.

Then eighteen more girls named Katherine dump you.

Suddenly, you’re a teenager with no claim to fame except for your former status as a prodigy. No new ideas. No girl. No plans for the summer excepting wasting away in your room and moping.

This is not your life. But it is Colin Singleton’s life immediately after his graduation from high school.

Given Colin’s history with girls, you might not be surprised that John Green chose to name his second novel An Abundance of Katherines (2006)–a title that proves itself even more apt as the novel progresses.

After sulking for several days after being dumped (again), Colin is dragged out of his room by Hasan, his best friend. Hassan is confident that the only cure for Colin’s depression is a road trip. So Colin and his Judge-Judy-loving, overweight, Muslim pal head off for the great beyond that is the United States between the coasts. Their road trip stops in Gutshot, Tennessee. But the adventures don’t. Hired by a local bigwig to compile an oral history of Gutshot, Colin and Hassan find themselves staying with Hollis and her daughter, Lindsey. It is in Gutshot that Colin finally has what he has always wanted, a truly original idea. Thus, Colin begins to create a theorem of love in his attempt to understand his own rocky love life.

Most of my friends who have read this book and Green’s first novel Looking for Alaska agree that his second novel is not as compelling a read. Having only read “Katherines,” I cannot make a judgment one way or the other. What I can say is that I loved the style of this book. There has been a growing trend to use footnotes in novels–notable examples include The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Johnathan Stroud, Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels, and Ibid A Life by Mark Dunn which is a novel written entirely of endnotes. Green continues that tradition here to good effect.

The tone throughout is quirky, nerdy, and generally fun. I don’t know that reading this novel will change any lives, but it will certainly get a lot of laughs. The best parts are, undoubtedly, the dialogues between Hassan and Colin. The guys are just so likable! In addition, Green’s writing is snappy–all the better to keep the laughs coming.

Some readers might find the name John Green familiar although they cannot say why. This year John and his brother Hank have earned a good amount of notoriety on the internet for their Brotherhood 2.0 vlog project (available on YouTube) in which the brothers send videos back and forth each weekday in lieu of text conversation (if you’re curious be sure to check out the Feb. 14, 2007 post because it’s my favorite). They are really funny and seeing John Green and his brother in these vlogs makes it easy to see how Green came up with the idea for Colin Singleton.

Like Nothing but the Truth by Justina Chen Headley, this book includes a bit of math. The “real” math behind Colin’s theorem appears in the back of the book in an appendix and Green even has a website where you can use the theorem for your own relationships (if it doesn’t crash your computer). Despite all of that, Green is a self-proclaimed lost cause when it comes to math. (The theorem was drafted by friend (and “resident mathematician” for Brotherhood 2.0), Daniel Biss.) I wanted to share this for a couple of reasons. First, because I think it’s great that Green is writing outside of what some might call his “comfort zone” and, second, because it should illustrate that you don’t have to like math to enjoy a book that features a lot of math.

Anyway, if you need a cheerful book with some fun, lovable characters I don’t think you can do better than this book which was recently nominated for the LA Times Book Award in addition to being selected as a Printz Award honor book.

Possible Pairings: Ibid A Life by Mark Dunn, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, Nothing But the Truth (and a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen Headley, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, The Amulet of Samarkand by Johnathan Stroud, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee