Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars

bookcoverThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green 

Available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats.

As a reader, I am rather picky when it comes to reading books that others recommend.  It took me about five years before I picked up any of the Harry Potter books and that was the result of being stranded in an airport pre-Kindle.  Mainly, because everyone I talked to about the series loved it like crack and I don’t do drugs.  So as I was reading the Fault in Our Stars and ran across the quote below,  it was easy to fall in love with the book and its two protagonists, Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters.

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. ” (pg  33)

This was the type of zeal that I have been running from most of my life in making my reading selections.  And Hazel Grace understood it and put it into words that make sense to others. Because let’s be honest, telling people that the book they love is crack and you don’t do drugs is a metaphor that most find difficult to comprehend, which leads me another thing that helped me to fall in love with the book.  The metaphors.

Augustus Waters, the male protagonist, loves them.  His favorite is placing an unlit cigarette between his lips and never lights it. He doesn’t give it the power to kill him. A metaphor like the sad swing set that resides in Esther’s backyard that has never been used.

The antagonist in the book is cancer, non-discriminating cancer.  Cancer that takes the lives of children as well as adults.  Yet, it is cancer that brings Hazel and Augustus together.  They met at a cancer kid support group that Hazel’s mom makes her go to in order to help her deal with her depression, a side effect of as Hazel would say dying.  Did you expect me to say cancer? Sorry, no, the book is quite direct when it tells you that Hazel Grace Lancaster is dying.  She will never be cancer free. It is also quite direct when it comes to the reality that cancer kids experience.

It is Hazel Grace’s love of a book entitled Imperial Affliction that leads the two on their greatest adventure, a trip to Amsterdam to meet with the author.  The book is about a young woman like herself who has cancer and it ends in mid-sentence.  The implication being that the book’s protagonist, Anna, has surcome to her cancer.  Now, both Hazel Grace and Augustus want answers to their questions about happens to the characters after the book ends.  Did the Dutch Tulip man marry Anna’s mother? Was he really a con-artist? And what about the hamster?  Unfortunately, for the two of them, the author one, Peter Von Houten, is a miserable drunk who only cares to dwell in his own misanthropy.  There are no answers in Amsterdam.

There is however love to be kindled and passion to be set on fire.  This is where Hazel Grace falls in love with Augustus.  You knew it was going to happen, but Green lets the love affair between these two build slow so you connect to them.  You want them to have their happily ever after.  But, cancer, our ever present antagonist, doesn’t care.  You will and you may end up crying. As another reviewer put it, this book will break your heart. It won’t do it in the way that you think it will which is why this book made the New York Times Bestseller list.

While I can appreciate that an emotional book like John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars isn’t for everyone, I cannot appreciate some of the critiques of it. Do we really have to criticize because it involves deeper emotions in order to promote other books?

Yes, there are other YA authors out there that people will enjoy and there are a ton of books that don’t get the attention they deserve. Bashing one book in order to promote another or more importantly bashing people’s genuine reaction to the book just seems wrong to me. And a little like bullying. There is nothing wrong with crying. I think it actually speaks to John Green’s talent as a writer that he invokes just deep responses in readers. I love books that help me escape my day to day, but books also have the power to do other things like make us think, feel and sometimes, cry.

 

 

Book Review: This Star Won’t Go Out!

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Esther Earl

This Star Won’t Go Out

By  Esther Earl, Lori Earl & Wayne Earl with John Green

Available on Amazon in both hardback and Kindle formats.

 

A while back, my friend, Kevin, gave me a formula to use for reviews.  It goes something like this one-third summary, one-third what others have thought of it and one-third positive or negative critique.  He told me not to be afraid to criticize the books I read. It makes the review more authentic. You can’t like every book you read or everything about a book. Except, there is nothing I didn’t like about this book. Even when it made me cry. And it did. Several times.

There were days when I was reading this book that I didn’t pick it up because I knew I would cry.  There is no denying the emotional impact of its pages.  I can’t imagine anyone reading this and not falling in love with Esther Grace Earl.  One would have to be heartless not to cry or at the very least tear up at her lost.  And the book makes no bones about it. This book is about a young woman who lost her battle with cancer.

Esther Grace Earl died on August, 25th, 2010.

So why should you read a book that is guaranteed to make you cry? Why should you read a book about someone who dies ? Who lost her battle with cancer?

Because this is a book that needs to be read.

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John Green and Esther Earl

You need to read this book because it brings both reality and humanity back to cancer. It reminds us that even the brave die. Even good people die.  It doesn’t make Esther out to be a saint, although if anyone deserves to be one, she does. It does put a face on cancer.  A real and imperfect face, though  a compilation of Esther’s journals, letters, photographs and v-blogs, Esther comes to life and enters your heart.  Her words are aided with entries from her family’s blog  and more personal reflections from friends and her siblings.

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One of Esther’s drawing. Her cat, Blueberry, relaxing.

The introduction is written by John Green, author of the Fault in Our Stars. Green makes it quite clear that his now famous book was not written about Esther or her life.  She inspired it, but it isn’t about her. After Esther’s death, Green began to write and write.  As a writer, I know that sometimes an idea is sparked by an event and what follows becomes its own. So when Green tells us that his book turned movie isn’t about Esther, I believe him. Are their similarities? Yes, but they are few and far in between. Esther Grace Earl and Hazel Grace Lancaster are two different people who will steal your hearts. One real and one fictional.  Both powerful.

After reading this book, it is easy to see how Esther could have inspired someone to write a book. She certainly inspired me and I never met her. I just read about her, but somehow through the book I felt like I was laughing along with her. She inspired so many because she was a genuine person who honestly cared about others.  She was real with herself and others.  When she was brave, she wasn’t trying to be brave she just was. She went through depression and normal teenage things like wondering when her first kiss would happen if ever.

The book is a compilation of Esther’s journals, letters, photographs and v-blogs. Along with entries from her family’s Caringbridge blog (Please note this is a link to site not the family’s blog ) and more personal reflections.  It is well organized and the color coding is brilliant, it lets you know which are entries of her diaries, letters to her folks and the aforementioned Caringbridge entries.

My favorite part of the book was when Esther received her wish from the Make a Foundation. Something that Esther took her time in choosing. She didn’t want Disney or to meet a celebrity.  She felt for much of her life that she had want she needed.  When she finally did choose something, it was as unique as her. Something what allowed her to touch the lives of others. (Sorry, no spoilers.)

Towards the end of the book when I realized that we were getting to the end of Esther’s life,  I thought that they didn’t give us enough, but then I got to the final section – Esther’s own fiction. It was beautiful and amazing.  She wrote about her own cancer, bullying and the last romantic piece.  This is not to diminish contribute of all of Esther’s friends and family.  They were truly amazing and helped round off the book.

Since her death, her family and friends have begun an organization entitled The Stars Won’t Go Out foundation which is dedicated to helping relief the financial pressures for families who children have cancer. They help families to focus on their child’s treatment by providing funds to take care of bills or cover travel expenses. It began the day after her funeral when a young man stopped by her parent’s home with a note and five dollars.  The note read as follows:

In my experience, in times of need, every bit helps. Although I don’t have much, I still would like to donate $5 to the Friends of Esther Fund. Esther was an inspiration to many. And no matter what adversity she was faced with, she always maintained a happy outlook on life. She never forgot to be awesome. She will be remembered forever. – Nerdfighter Jarid from Braintree

Another mandate of the TSWGO is to give funds towards other causes and projects that Esther would have supported.  If you are curious as to what a nerdfighter is or want to learn more about TSWGO check out the links below or read the book.

More Link

Esther’s YouTube

Caring Bridge 

Wayne’s blog 

Nerdfighters 

NPR Interview with the Earl’s