Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

When I started this book, I thought it would be a fluffy teenage romance.  Although it's a bit cheesy, I could see that a younger me would have enjoyed the playful banter and the excitement the main character feels when she meets a boy that is interested in her.  As the book goes on, I thought it dealt with several layers of emotion that are realistic for teenagers.  I think the main characters are clever and interesting and I actually really enjoyed reading this book.

The two main characters are Hazel and Augustus.  They both have cancer.  Hazel was given a terminal diagnosis, but responded miraculously to one of her treatments.  So now she lives with her oxygen tank, her worried and caring parents, and attends community college.  Gus is in remission, and is immediately interested in Hazel when they meet.

The reason I think this story works is that it explores how having cancer has changed these kids' perspective on life and living.  They have some great insight to life, but are also burdened with forboding of the future.  I think it works.  Gus wants to be a hero, he wants the mark he leaves on the world to be important.  Hazel is worried about how many people she is going to hurt when she dies.  They bond over a book they've read that seems honest and insightful about living with cancer.  I liked them both.
There are times when I laughed and times when I cried, that's usually a good sign for a book, right?

My one complaint, which forces me to add a caveat is that *Spoiler* they have sex about 200 pages in. It doesn't add anything to the story, it doesn't change their relationship, it isn't addressed at any point later in the book. I can't figure out why John Green included this scene in his story unless he thought that it's what teenagers wanted to read. I think it is lame.

Since finishing this book, I keep seeing John Green books pop up on lists.  Apparently he's really popular right now.  This is the first book of his I've read, and I'm interested to see if I like his other ones.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

small as an elephant by Jennifer Jacobson

I thought this was a well-written story, but I have struggled to review it.  I liked the writing style and I think young readers will enjoy all the excitement.  Jack is a logical protagonist who tries his best to help himself in difficult situations.

The premise of the story is that Jack's mom is bipolar, and she leaves him alone at their campsite a few states away from their home.  Jack is 11.  He knows that if the authorities find out what she has done, that there will be dire consequences.  He is fiercely loyal to his mom and understands that she is not herself when she is "spinning."  I think that Jack is a perceptive boy, and that his choices are age appropriate.  He is well-developed and interesting.

My struggle with the story is that he is ABANDONED, LEFT ALL ALONE!  As a mother this is terrifying to read and I just want him to trust the level-headed adults that he meets on his quest to find his mom and return home.  Also, I am concerned about young readers reading this and thinking that they too could survive in such circumstances.  Jack doesn't have it easy, but let's face it, in real life HORRIFIC things could have happened to him.

The title is clever and Jack has a poignant memory of touching an elephant at the circus as a young boy.  I liked how elephants brought him comfort and the powerful moment of enlightenment involving an elephant at the end.  The chapters begin with elephant quotes or facts, which string the story together well.

I gave it to my 13-year-old to read and he really liked it.  He read it in one night and we had some good discussion about it.