Tag Archives: death

Book Review: Looking for Alaska and Looking for Answers

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9780142402511Looking for Alaska is my second John Green novel after The Fault in Our Stars. When I started out, Gwen, who graciously gave me her copy, warned that this was her least favorite, noting that in this novel is rougher, that what in his later novels gleams like gold and makes us all gold-sick, hoarding his book and wanting more, is not polished here. That was a pretty fair assessment. In the beginning, I noticed glimmers of beautiful wordsmithing and musicality. I think it more likely that I got sucked into the story and lost track of the poetry than that those glimmers disappeared, but they didn’t gleam enough for me to notice them once I was in the tunnel as they had when I read The Fault in Our Stars.

I knew fairly little about this book going in other than that it was a teen book of John Green’s. I’m not sure here what I should say and what I should keep to myself as spoilers.

It’s a contemporary fiction piece, a school story about outcasts and friends and prank wars and finding your place in the universe. Miles Halter leaves behind a life in Florida for a boarding school in Alabama. Miles wants to hang on to very little of his old life, to recreate himself, judging by how quickly he abandons the promises he made—and I’m sure all kids make—to his parents before they left him to live away from home for the first time: “No drugs. No drinking. No cigarettes” (7). Only that first rule does Miles not break, and the third he breaks within ten pages. Miles’ roommate, the Colonel, gives him almost immediately the nickname “Pudge” because of Miles’ skinny frame, and inserts him into a group of rebellious scholarship kids (at one point early in the book, Pudge himself as the narrator remarks, “The phrase booze and mischief left me worrying I’d stumbled into what my mother referred to as ‘the wrong crowd’” 20). This group includes Alaska Young, at times infuriating and frustrating, at times lovable and cuddly, always unpredictable. Miles is infatuated with the vivacious Alaska, but she is in a stable relationship with a musician from out of town. Pudge has come to Alabama looking for a “Great Perhaps,” something exciting, something beyond his less-than-exciting, rather friendless existence in Florida. For him, Alaska in all her unpredictable rebellion against society and standards represents the Great Perhaps. She is living while he merely coasting, and that I think is why he is so excited by the idea of her, apart from her apparently being a good-looking, curvy girl who wears tank tops and cutoffs and talks openly about sex and sexuality. But then in one wild night, she is no longer living, and Pudge has to decide if the Great Perhaps and he have died with her.

This book at once discusses the consequences of suicide and of drunk driving—but it is so much more than an issue book—really more a bildungsroman. The second half of the book masquerades as a mystery: what happened and why? The Colonel puts his analytical mind to work trying to unravel Alaska’s final mystery, her final act, her final rebellion. The school story form here helps too to provide a context and answers to the plot’s questions as the predominate class is a religions class where the students are encouraged to think about and write essays on the Big Questions that religions seek to answer: life, death, and our place in the universe.

The ultimate answer to suffering that Pudge finds is forgiveness—of the living and of the dead. Pudge chooses not to be held back by the past—or rather learns how to let go of the past—the very thing that I think he’s been seeking since his decision to leave Florida for Alabama and since his first cigarette. That message I can get behind—and I think most parents will find that they can too.

There is a great deal here too about the secreted world of teenagers—the one that they hide from adults, mostly represented here by the Eagle, the dean of students.

This book rarely disrespects or belittles teenagers and their small and large decisions, and I think that is part of what has made it so popular.

Other Goodreads reviewers have pointed out that Green’s characters are fairly flat and at times reliant upon stereotypes to uphold them or define them. I can definitely agree that the accents and syntactical decisions in particular were at times distracting and overblown. At times I saw Green as trying to distance his characters from their stereotypes, but more often than not—frankly—the characters did all seem a little flat and a little cartoonish.

Green works with a fairly small cast, each character standing for a group or a trope: the Eagle for adults, Alaska for the Great Perhaps, Longwell Chase for the rich Weekday Warriors who return home on the weekends to their parents…. Lara is really only present to be an attainable alternative romantic partner for Pudge.

All this said, I enjoyed the time that I spent in this book, and I tore through it— devoured it, you might say, in nine days (a short time for me).

I recognize that it definitely has some literary value, and is a worthy first novel, but I don’t think that it is Green’s best work.

****

Green, John. Looking for Alaska. New York: SPEAK-Penguin, 2005.

This review is not endorsed by John Green, SPEAK, or Penguin Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: September 2015 Picture Book Roundup: Just Shy of Outstanding

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A note.  It’s been just over a month since my last update to this blog.  For that, I apologize; life just became too chaotic for me to update.  I am beginning now to piece my life back together and regain some semblance of organization and relaxation.  I have had, though, two reviews sitting partially done for a while in my drafts box: this and one more.  These two I want up on the blog sooner rather than later.  I will post them regardless of it being a Tuesday.  Look for Nine Pages to return to its regular schedule soon.

9780670013968Llama Llama Gram and Grandpa by Anna Dewdney. Viking-Penguin Random, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

Meet the latest in Dewdney’s Llama Llama family. Llama Llama is spending a night at his grandparents’ house. After all the fun, when Llama Llama is getting ready for bed, he realizes that he has forgotten his stuffy in his mother’s car, but Grandpa is ready with a beloved stuffy of his own to keep Llama Llama company in the night. Told in the series’ usual singsong rhyme and rhythm and with illustrations I’ve not appreciated enough before, I’ve been able already to put this book into the hands of many grandparents as the perfect gift for grandkids because it is part of a popular series, expresses grandparents’ love for their grandkids, and is new enough that it is unlikely to be a book that the grandkids already have. Just an adorable book, really. It so truly captures the waffling of that first night away from home.

****

cvr9781442445864_9781442445864_hrOlivia and Grandma’s Visit by Cordelia Evans and illustrated by Shane L. Johnson. Simon Spotlight-Simon & Schuster, 2013. Intended audience: Ages 3-7, Grades PreK-2.

With Grandparents’ Day falling as it does in September, I suppose it ought to be unsurprising to have two grandparents’ visit-themed books in this roundup, but I admit myself surprised. This one is an older book that I stumbled across only because a grandparent whose grandchild loves Olivia asked about it. This time Grandma is coming to visit Olivia, and Olivia is being told that she must give up her room and share her brother’s for Grandma’s comfort. Olivia is not pleased. She doesn’t want to sleep in her brother’s room. It smells funny, and she thought that she’d get to share with Grandma. She tries several times to get back into her own room, and her insightful Grandma detects her desire and hesitation and invites Olivia back into the bedroom herself, favoring Olivia with an ice cream sundae. Olivia then learns that Mom is always right when she is chased out of her room and into her brother’s by Grandma’s snores. This plot packs in a lot of life lessons: about sharing, about family, about obedience, about trust, about cultivating a positive outlook. Something about it left a niggling doubt in my mind. Maybe I felt that Olivia was somehow rewarded for her attempts to wheedle her way back into her room when Grandma treats her to an ice cream and some special attention. Maybe I felt like not enough time was spent on how she ought to treat her brother or not enough was said about how she was treating her brother poorly. This book is based off of the Olivia TV series, which is an offspring of the original book series by Ian Falconer. I wonder how the plot plays out in a 15-minute episode instead of as a picture book, if these things that bothered me would be dealt with or be dealt with differently so that they bother me less.

**

9780312515812Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr and illustrated by Eric Carle. Priddy-Macmillan, 2013. First published 2003. Intended audience: Ages 1-4, Grades Pre-K.

Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? is very much like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, written and illustrated by the same pair. It uses the same pattern. The edition that I read uses sliding panels to reveal the animal seen on the next page before turning the page. The sliding panels were a big hit with my young story hour crowd. I’m not sure, however, that the sliding panels actually help tell the story any better. One of my eager listeners, excited to be taking part, kept sliding the panels before I could read the sentences printed on them. The book being written in a certain pattern though, it was easy enough to guess at the text. What might have been fun is to reveal just a bit of the animal on the next page, have my listeners guess or tell me what they could about the animal. This book more than Brown Bear, Brown Bear uses obscure animals: a whooping crane, a macaroni penguin…. Carle’s illustration of the dreaming child was an interesting choice too. The child looks only vaguely humanoid. I would have better believed it to be a moon than a child. By the time we arrived at the dreaming child, though, I’d lost the attention of most of my audience, so no one really batted an eye at it but the parents and I.

***

20578965Dinosaurumpus! by Tony Mitton and illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees. Cartwheel-Scholastic, 2014. First published 2002.

This book is a play off of Giles Andreae’s Giraffes Can’t Dance, also illustrated by Parker-Rees. Instead of African animals gathering for a dance, it is a group of dinosaurs meeting in the sludgy old swamp. The text rhymes and repeats the phrase “Shake, shake shudder… near the sludgy old swamp. The dinosaurs are coming. Get ready to romp,” which easily becomes singsong, which is perfect for its dance-themed plot. Given time I’d learn to read the whole of the book in that same cadence. This book is not as easily dance-along as, say, Sandra Boynton’s Barnyard Dance, but it has the potential to be dance-along nonetheless with the descriptions of dinosaurs twirling and stomping. There are a lot of onomatopoeias in the text that make it even more fun to read aloud. Some less familiar dinosaurs (like deinosuchus) appear beside the more familiar triceratops and tyrannosaurus rex, so be prepared or prepare to stumble; I did stumble, but I think that I hid it decently. Small facts can be gleaned about the dinosaurs from the text and pictures. The tyrannosaurus does frighten the other dinosaurs and may frighten a few children, but he only wants to dance too. This book I came to read because a young would-be paleontologist asked for a dinosaur book, and I wanted something that would be fun enough to keep the interest of my other listeners but factual enough to please him.

****

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Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and illustrated by Jill McElmurry. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. First published in 2008.

Little Blue Truck Leads the Way by Alice Schertle and illustrated by Jill McElmurry. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. First published in 2009.

I actually read the sequel to Little Blue Truck first because a child asked me to read it. Maybe because I read it first, I enjoyed Little Blue Truck Leads the Way more than I did Little Blue Truck. Little Blue Truck Leads the Way is a story of taking turns and being kind to one another. Little Blue Truck is a story of being kind and helping one another. In the wake of Little Blue Truck Leads the Way, Little Blue Truck seemed repetitious—but then I know that that should be reversed—that Little Blue Truck Leads the Way repeats the themes of Little Blue Truck without much variation. That being said, there was a little more, I thought, to the plot and to the moral of Little Blue Truck Leads the Way. Little Blue Truck, however, is an animal noise primer, which Little Blue Truck Leads the Way is not. Both books have some onomatopoeias that make the read aloud fun.

***                     ****

25773980Max the Brave by Ed Vere. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2015. First published 2014.

Max knows that cats chase mice, but Max isn’t sure what a mouse looks like. A la Are You My Mother? Max asks different characters that he encounters if they are mice. They are not, and the mouse tells Max that he is a monster and that Mouse is asleep just over there. Turning the page reveals an actual monster—big, green, and hairy with sharp teeth in a wide mouth—which Max mistakes for a mouse, antagonizes, and is swallowed by. Afterwards, Max only chases mice, which he has been taught by Mouse are “monsters.” I enjoyed this story. I enjoyed this precious, precocious kitten. I enjoyed a story of a cat that believes it is chasing monsters. But I also recognize, that long term, this book hasn’t really got a lot going for it. It’s a fun book and it will remain a fun book, but I don’t think that it’s original or stand-outish enough that we’ll have many people asking for it or remembering it beyond Barnes & Noble’s promotion of it.

****

9781770496453Bug in a Vacuum by Mélanie Watt. Tundra-Penguin Random, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 5-9.

A fly leaves the sunny outdoors and lands inside “on top of the world” (a globe), but from there he is sucked up by a vacuum and goes through the stages of grief as he believes his life is over. There is a place for this book. This may even be a helpful book for grieving children. When reading it aloud, I skipped the section headings that list the stages of grief, and doing so I think gave the book a better flow and made the book more appropriate for a general audience, making the educational aspect of this picture book more subtle. There are very few books for kids about death or grieving and even fewer of those that deal with the grief in an unobtrusive way or broad way (most will make direct references to death and to grieving and it being okay to grieve), and so I think this is one that I may recommend to customers in the future when they need a book for grieving children. Outside of the context of grieving, this is an odd book and a harder sell. Flies aren’t the sort of protagonists that one readily attaches too (though there is a popular Fly Guy series by Tedd Arnold), though Watt does give the fly a bold and memorable and relatable voice, rather like Mo WillemsPigeon. Fly’s dialogue is generously emotive, which makes it fun to read aloud. The illustrations especially I think have some clever details for parents.

****

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Challenge: Legal Theft: My Goldfish Ran Away Today (153 words)

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Mommy says my goldfish ran away today. He was gone when I came back from preschool. Mommy says a goldfish circus came to the house, and they thought Freddie was the best swimmer they’d ever seen. They wanted Freddie to join their circus and give him all the food flakes he could eat. Freddie jumped into the potty to join them. Mommy kept looking at the potty when she told me. He really wanted all the food flakes he could eat, she says. And he loves swimming. He swims all the time.  He’s the best I’ve ever seen too.

Mommy may think that a goldfish circus took Freddie away, but I know she’s wrong. Goldfish don’t jump into the toilet to join the circus.

They go to visit the ocean and swim with whales!

I hope Freddie meets a nice whale.

Maybe Freddie will bring the whale back with him to visit me!

Mine was the stolen line this week.  I’ve been fiddling with the idea myself for a while.  This is the best that’s yet come out of it.

Trebez at Machete Diplomacy wrote “Mad Science,” and it is adorable and clever.  Go read it.

Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master wrote “Big Girl” (823 words).  It is also adorable and clever.  I have adorable and clever friends.

Kate Kearney at More Than 1/2 Mad wrote “Vanishing Trick,” a much more serious story.

Check back later for some posts by more thieves.

Book Review: A Feast for Crows is Rations for a Reader

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I read George R. R. Martin’s A Feast For Crows, fourth in A Song of Ice and Fire, for half a year, starting it in June and not finishing it till late December.  Granted, it is 976 pages, but that is still a relatively slow pace of some 160 pages per month on average, less than 5 pages a day—and I know that there were months where I read less and months where I read more.  This is the first of Martin’s books that I have read in absence of fans.  The other three I had read with coworkers there to rant to and whom would commiserate with me, and I was in an unspoken competition with one to see who could finish the series first (I lost that race miserably).  This is—and I was thankfully warned by these same fans—a bridge book between the stories of most of our more beloved and enjoyed heroes and heroines—which is not to say that all of them were absent, and I made some new friends—or characters with whom I expect to be friends until their likely untimely deaths.

For all that we—that is to say the Internet—prod Martin for killing all of our friends, death within A Song of Ice and Fire is becoming as uncertain an end as it is in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alias, or Doctor Who.  That had begun in A Storm of Swords—if we call the White Walkers alive and not reanimated, then even within the first prologue of A Game of Thrones—you tricky man, Martin, with your foreshadowing and early reassurance that we neglected to notice while we thought you were shredding our hearts with your character deaths.  I had been almost pleased to read a series, however, with the author killed characters with so little regard for the hearts of his readers, with the realism and senselessness of war, and I find myself almost disappointed with this new development—more so because of all of the gods to have power to resurrect, the god that seems to have power to do so is not the one I would follow, nor the one that I would most entrust with the ruling of Westeros.  All this being said, I still feel a prickle of fear for one of the heroines I had most liked in Westeros, even despite the Internet-researched assurances of friends.

This book sailed a ship for me, and with the assurances that A Dance with Dragons would return me to my favorite characters, kept me sloughing through the pages.  My ships have slowly been destroyed by canon, and I have but one left standing and that only if those Internet-researched assurances are not red herrings put onto the Internet by fans.

The book started out very well by introducing me to a new hero that I quickly liked.  [SPOILER] I should have known better because the prologue ended with his death. [END SPOILER]  What slowed me after that, I cannot rightly say, though as I have said, it likely had something to do with the absence of Dany, Jon, and Tyrion, and I know too that I was slowed because there are times that I just want to read something lighter than A Song of Ice and Fire, something that involves less death, less darkness, less explicit sex and violence.

Overall, this will never be my favorite of Martin’s books, though I did enjoy early in the book learning about the culture of the Iron Islands and the Sand Snakes have potential to skyrocket to being my favorite of Martin’s characters.

**3/4

Martin, George R. R.  A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4: A Feast for Crows.  New York: Bantam-Random, 2005.

This review is not endorsed by George R. R. Martin, Bantam Books, or Random House, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Challenge: Legal Theft: Passing of the Torch (292 words)

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He put an arm around her shoulder and pulled her over so that she rested against his side, her head on his shoulder.  She had always shied from displays of affection, more likely to push him away, sometimes with a laugh or a smile, sometimes with a frown or a growl, than to let him hold her.  Her head now rested comfortably against his shoulder.  She didn’t complain, and she didn’t fuss.  He turned his head to hide his face amid the cloud of her hair, warm with the heat of her body, smelling of her and the shampoo that she used.

Her hand when he took it in his was cold.  His tears, the sob on which he gagged was hot.  Her name was mangled by that sob, and he choked back any more words, because mangled words wouldn’t suit her, never could suit her.

She had been the speaker he never had been.

Now the burden of her words would fall to him.

But tonight was not for words.  Tonight was for mourning the woman in his arms.

Tomorrow would be for words, words to incite the rebellion, to chisel the bedrock of the society that had done this to her.

Tomorrow would be for following her.

And if he didn’t follow her tomorrow into the chill, numb place to which she had descended, he would wake up the next day, and he would continue to spread her story, to fan the flames that would destroy the Waykeepers.  He would wake each morning with his heart and his words aflame till he followed her.

He laid her body down on the concrete and stepped back.  He looked down at her.  And he called for oil.  He called for a flame.

Done so much earlier than midnight, and I bet that wasn’t you were expecting, Bek!  I thieved this first line from Bek of BuildingADoor.  Check out her blog tomorrow for the original story that she wrote beginning with this same line.

Challenge: Legal Theft: The Unforeseen Trial of a Woman in Man’s Armor (903 words)

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I am a thief!  I stole this line from Gwen of Apprentice, Never Master.  Her original piece, “Run Away,” can be found on her blog now.  I actually did have this one ready yesterday, but then WordPress was acting up, I went out to enjoy friends’ company, and I came back exhausted after midnight.  So this is the legal theft that ought to have gone up Thursday, September 26.

Danneel looked down at the knife in her hands and the long, thin blade made her stomach twist.  When she had taken up her charade, she had thought only of the thunder of Sunflash’s hooves beneath her and the weight of the lance in her arms, the thrum of the wood as it struck its target, and the prizes that a victory would win her.  While a victory would have pleased her, it would have surprised her too, and she had hoped only to remain unhorsed, not to unhorse veteran knights.  Certainly she had not thought to wound any of them and certainly not enough that the knife would be put in her hands by his squire.

Perhaps Kellin had really been too old to joust.  Perhaps he had never fought against such a small knight (unlikely in a man of so many famous battles and bouts) and hadn’t been able to adjust his balance to counter the hit of her lance against his shield.  A small voice in the back of Danneel’s mind whispered, Sabotage, but she ignored it.  If a felony had been committed, it was not for her to suss out.

Kellin’s foot had caught in the stirrup as he fell, and the horse, spooked perhaps by the clanking of the armor or the sudden unexpected weight, had bolted.  The gray had gone perhaps seven good, long strides, Kellin’s head striking the ground with each stretch of the horse’s legs, before the weight had ultimately unbalanced the horse.  The gray had crashed down onto Kellin, who had been trod upon too while the horse struggled to rid itself of Kellin’s weight and right itself.  It was while the horse struggled that the squire and two of the watching and waiting knights had freed Kellin.  The gray had gone as far as Danneel knew, taking the knight’s saddlery and heraldic caparison with it to flaunt the knight’s defeat.

Kellin’s helmet had maybe saved him from immediate death, but he had been slow to come around.  The chest plate was badly dented from the horse’s hooves.  At least one dent may have been caused when the horse had put its weight upon the knight’s chest in trying to stand again.

“Do it,” the fallen Kellin croaked at Danneel.  Another spittle of blood boiled out of his lips on the command.

“You—”  Danneel cleared her throat, pitched her voice lower to better match a man’s tone.  “You could live.  With a surgeon’s help.”

Kellin jostled his head and winced.  “No,” he groaned.

“Do it,” the squire parroted.

“You’ll have to, my lord.”

This was her own squire, Dickie, whom she had taken into her confidence.  Of them all only he knew her secret.  At least only he would think less well of women for her hesitation.  But Dickie looked at her with pity now.  Danneel had a half-mad thought to hand the knife to Dickie to do the deed, but that would be seen as the greatest insult to Kellin and to all watching.

Danneel shut her eyes, took a breath, and knelt down beside Kellin.

Another mad thought crossed her mind, to lift her visor enough to kiss Kellin and at least let him leave the world with a woman’s kiss on his lips—as no doubt he would have liked to have gone if he could not have gone in war.  But with that kiss, he would take too the knowledge of his defeat by a woman’s lance.  It was a favor she could not bestow without bestowing too great embarrassment upon the knight.  She instead said, not bothering to mask her voice overly much in the whisper, “Would you like to watch, or shall I shut your visor again, Sir?”

“I will watch.”

Kellin was too proud.

“I will be quick,” Danneel promised.  “Remove his plate, squire,” she said to Kellin’s boy.

The squire was beside her quickly with his knees too in the dirt.  His fingers shook as he fumbled with the straps.  Danneel looked away to spare him the shame of having his fear spotted and to hide what little of her face was left exposed by the helmet too.

When the boy had done, Danneel said to him so that Kellin would hear, “You bring your master’s arms to his family.  The horse too if it can be caught.  He returns home with all that he brought with him.”

The squire nodded and backed away, holding the chest plate like a shield before him, as if it could protect him from the death about to come for his master.

Kellin’s chest exposed, Danneel took another deep breath and poised the knife above a weak point between two ribs.  It would still take two hands to drive the dagger down to his heart.

She whispered the ceremonial farewell, “Ride well in the sky, Sir Kellin,” and pushed with both hands.

Kellin had time only for a quick gasp before the loosed blood of his pierced heart drowned his life’s fire and blocked the light from his eyes.

She drew the blade out.  It emerged bloody.

And she dropped it in the dirt to cover her face with her shaking hands.

It wouldn’t be seemly for a man to cry on his knees in the jousting arena.  A woman who had just had to kill a great knight, an idol of her childhood, might be forgiven for it.

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars Doesn’t Have Many

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First let me say that I am and was before reading this book a fan of John Green’s and of everything he has been doing to “decrease worldsuck.”

The Fault in Our Stars, the love story of star-crossed Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters, young teenagers whose lives have been ravaged by cancer, is his latest novel and the first of Green’s books that I’ve read.

I had before reading it heard so much about The Fault in Our Stars.  It’s been lauded by many as a must-read and has been on the bestseller list for many weeks.  As I was warned, I had a strong hate-and-love relationship with this book while reading it.  I cried and was angry with Green, and I laughed aloud even more often than I was upset.

Death hangs like a Damocles sword over the heads of so many of the characters, and Green shows how that threat effects all the characters from the protagonists to their parents to their friends who understand and their friends who don’t down to people in the food court at a mall who catch a glimpse of Hazel’s oxygen tank, a full and round cast.  There is a hopelessness and sadness in the knowledge that few characters that you love here will live long or healthy lives.

Yet, their lives go on despite the disease that tries to destroy them—they live, play video games like ordinary boys, The Fault in Our Stars reads primarily like a romance—and disease brings the cast together.  There is hope in the continuation of their lives.

The story tells of parents caring for a child that they know that they will lose too early and parents who have lost a child, of the devastation that a young death can cause and of the ability of a parent to move on.  Though categorized as and reading like a teen book, Green does not neglect directing a message to adults.

I do not know if it’s merely that I tend to avoid this genre, but it seems to me that Green gives voice to a pretty much voiceless group, which I believe to be an important endeavor.  I believe that cancer is oft talked about in our society as the great evil, the last, great American disease to be conquered, but there is little hope offered to those suffering from it.  Survivors are lauded as heroes and heroines, but we speak of discovering a cure for cancer the way we speak of finding Atlantis or of planting a colony on the moon.  There’s not a lot of hope beyond the example of survivors given to those suffering from the disease.

Green captures the exile of disease well.  Green’s is an honest rather than a glorified look at cancer and death and disease, though he does take a rosy glass to life.

With likeable characters, intelligent banter, philosophical thoughts, and quotable one-liners, the text is enjoyable—surprisingly so for the depth of the subject matter (the nature of life, death, and immortality), the characters’ circumstances, (try explaining to people who don’t know about the book that you’re laughing aloud at a story about a group of cancer-riddled friends; they look half-scandalized), and the stilettos with which this book’s plot stomps on your poor heart.

Now something must be shared that was not shared with me and would have had me reading this book (one that’s out of my usual comfort-genres) much sooner:  Augustus Waters is Jace (from Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series) with fewer thorns.  Now go out and read some realistic fiction, Shadowhunters and Mundie Moms.

****1/2

Green, John.  The Fault in Our Stars.  New York: Dutton-Penguin, 2012.

This review is not endorsed by John Green, Dutton Books, or Penguin Group, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.  DFTBA.

Book Reviews: June Picture Book Roundup

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This June I read a lot of picture and board books and little else.  I seem to have a harder time reviewing in depth such books, but I don’t want to utterly ignore them either, so I’ve opted for a monthly roundup of such books, each with its own brief review, starting now.  I want to mention that the idea owes some to Rick Riordan, who posts monthly brief reviews of books that he’s read.

BabyLit: Little Miss Austen: Pride & Prejudice by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Alison Oliver.  Gibbs Smith, 2011.

I built this book up too much in my mind and didn’t realize it was a number primer/counting book.  This book counts 1 English village, 2 rich gentlemen, 3 houses, 4 marriage proposals, 5 sisters… up to 10 thousand pounds a year!  Round about the middle—maybe it was by 6—the numbered objects became more nonsensical—horses and soldiers—unless there were actually only that many horses and soldiers mentioned in the books (which I find unlikely), then it’s rather brilliant.  I expected Pride & Prejudice to be more like the Les Petits Fairytales, the illustrations for which I find more appealing, softer, more childish, and more complete.  Some counting books are masked in a plot, but this one, while it might use a plot as its basis, cannot claim to tell the story coherently through its pages.  I have a difficult time with stories without a plot—even when I know that plot is not the point.

*1/2

Les Petits Fairytales: Sleeping Beauty by Trixie Belle, Melissa Caruso-Scott, and illustrated by Oliver Lake.  Henry Holt-Macmillain, 2013.

I’ve been reading a lot of books in this series because they are quick and I can read them while I walk them back to their assigned shelf.  I have read Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel besides.  These are board books, meant to be the earliest introductions to the fairy tales.  These are the fairy tales reduced to their simplest ideas, nouns attached to illustrations, simple and complete illustrations, not like those that are attached to Eric Carle’s Favorite Words books. Belle et al.’s books seem to invite its own retelling by a child in time, for which I’d laud it.  They cannot really be read aloud—or would be dull and extremely short to read aloud.  These are books to give to young readers or would-be readers, essentially a set of flashcards in board book form attempting to tell a tale because of their arrangement.

***

Are You a Cow? by Sandra Boynton.  Little Simon-Simon & Schuster, 2013.

A simple story in which the characters of Boyton’s books ask the reader if he or she is a cow, a dog, a duck, a frog, etc.  It ends with the affirmation, “You are YOU,” sure to get a giggle out of most young children, whom I’m sure will take it as a responsive, interactive book, sure to mean a little more to readers who return to it as more aware children, teens, or adults.

****

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen.  Candlewick, 2011.

The illustrations say so much that the words do not.  The bear searches for his hat, asks a number of creatures whom he meets about his hat, always politely, always thanking them for their denial.  Young readers might spot the hat in the pages, might guess before the bear that the wearer’s fierce denial should be taken as an affirmative.  The bear gets the last laugh, squashing the thief and winning back his hat.  It’s a much darker book than I expected.

****

What Makes a Rainbow: A Magic Ribbon Book by Betty Ann Schwartz and illustrated by Dona Turner.  Piggy Toes, 2003.  First published 2000.

Magic ribbon is right!  If I at 23 am marveling over it, I can only imagine the wonder in the face of a child of the appropriate age.  This is meant for the very young, a concept book to teach colors, and given a loose plot to string the colors together—and what better way to string the colors together than in a rainbow?  The little rabbit asks his mother “what makes a rainbow?” and she sends him across the forest to query his friends, each of whom responds with a color needed to make up a rainbow that also happens to be their primary color. The pages are bright.  The text is nothing stellar but neither is it entirely forgettable.  With the turn of each page, the appropriate color is added via a ribbon to the rainbow growing at the top of the pages over the gutter.

***

Bluebird by Bob Staake.  Schwartz & Wade, 2013.

This is a powerful book.  I was left staring at it in my hands after I was done.  Bluebird is a wordless picture with lessons in moving past grief after a loss and death, anti-bullying, and true friendship and love.  A young boy befriends a bluebird that follows him on his way home from school through the city, even into a dark and twisted forest where they meet several bullies who throw sticks at the boy and bird.  One stick catches the bird and kills it in the air.  The bullies and the boy are appalled.  The bullies run away and the boy is left to mourn his dead friend.  Then they are descended upon by a flock of brightly colored birds that lift boy and bird into the sky where the bluebird undergoes some kind of resurrection and flies away.  I’m not entirely sure what Staake meant the ending to mean.  While the resurrection of the bird and the soaring boy give hope to children dealing with loss, I’m not sure that the ending doesn’t also give unrealistic expectations—of birds, of death, maybe even of friends, though I count myself extremely fortunate in my friends.  Yet, I cannot say that the nebulous and potentially overreaching ending much diminishes the power of the book.

****1/2

That Is Not a Good Idea! by Mo Willems.  Balzer + Bray-HarperCollins, 2013.

Willems’ retells Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddle-Duck, itself arguably of the Red Riding Hood tale type.  I wish I’d realized before or while reading it that that was the premise of this book.  The tale stirred distant memories, but I thought it an old Aesop’s tale maybe.  Retelling Potter is better.  Jemima was foolish and had to be rescued.  Willems’ heroine can save herself.  Not only that, she can manipulate the situation from the beginning.  Women and tricksters win!  Illustrated to remind audiences (mostly the parents who will understand the reference while the kids, I’m almost sure, will not) of silent films, this tells a common story, a fox and a mother goose meet by chance the fox invites the duck back to his home for supper.  The audience of the film within the book—a flock of young goslings whom I assumed from the get-go were the geese’s children—yell at the screen that what the characters are doing is not a good idea, really, really not a good idea, don’t do it!  In a twist both in the age-old story and my imagination and understanding, the duck throws the fox as the last ingredient into his own stew, and the chicks, it is revealed, were warning him not her of the danger.  I enjoyed the surprise, I enjoyed the twist, I enjoy it all more that I realize its inspiration.

****

The Pigeon Loves Things That Go! by Mo Willems.  Hyperion, 2005.

This book starts out simply enough, listing a few basic modes of transportation: a bus, a train, an airplane, objects that seem to catch the interest of many young boys.  Following these is a twist.  “A hot dog?  What is that doing here?”  The duckling explains that a hot dog can go too—right down into his stomach.  It works as a board book, meant to have a simplistic “plot” and a few pages, but I don’t think it would work as a hardcover, where I expect a little more.  This is a book for the very young—and the parents tired of reading books that are solely lists and in need of a good laugh; call it a variation on a theme.

****

An Elephant and Piggie Book: A Big Guy Took My Ball! by Mo Willems.  Disney-Hyperion, 2013.

Elephant Gerald and his best friend Piggie are back, and a big guy has taken Piggie’s ball.  Elephant Gerald is big too.  He’s going to get the ball back for Piggie.  But the big guy is very, very BIG, and he says it’s his ball.  Gerald returns empty-handed, but he’s soon followed by the big guy, but like many other side characters in The Elephant and Piggie books, he seeks to share Gerald and Piggie’s friendship, and whale ball is invented.  Elephant and Piggie stories are often heartwarming and always funny.  Best friends like Elephant and Piggie are hard to find—in real life or fiction.

****

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An Elephant and Piggie Book: Happy Pig Day! by Mo Willems.  Disney-Hyperion, 2011.

Elephant Gerald feels excluded because he’s not a pig and feels he can’t celebrate with his friend.  Gerald’s sadness makes Piggie sad too, but Happy Pig Day isn’t just for pigs.  This book shows kids how exclusion feels and reminds them to include everyone—a common theme in The Elephant and Piggie books.

***

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.