A World of Words

Reviewing children's books

The Fault in Our Stars: a grenade of great writing

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

ISBN: 978-1455869916, £4.99 at the Kindle storeThe_Fault_in_Our_Stars

Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 13, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs… for now.

Two years post miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

I saw somewhere that the 4th of February was World Cancer Day, and thought I’d re-read The Fault in Our Stars so I could review it today. If you don’t want to read a long review, here’s my summary: Read. This. Book. It is perfect.

In my last review (of Beautiful Creatures)I was a little harsh about the portrayal of love stories in teenage/young adult fiction. The backbone of this book is that slowly but surely, the two main characters, Hazel and Augustus, fall in love. It’s not some pre-determined, intense force that sweeps the characters off their feet. It’s slow and steady, with a few set-backs, much like Hazel’s breathing at times, if you like. As Hazel puts it, perfectly:

“I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

There’s nothing glamorous – life goes up and down, it’s sad and it’s funny, it’s not fair. It’s real.

In The Fault in Our Stars, John Green introduces us to two extremely philosophical teenagers that have been through a lot more than most people, with the knowledge that there is only more hardship to come. He humanises something I know I have never really thought about – the feelings, and more specifically, the sense of humour cancer sufferers/survivors have throughout it all. I talk about the humour later, but something that really got the message across was Hazel finally admitting her biggest fear to her parents. Hazel, the girl who decided to become a vegetarian so as to “minimise the number of deaths I’m responsible for.”

“‘I’m like. Like. I’m a grenade, Mom. I’m a grenade and at some point I’m going to blow up and I would like to minimise the casualties, okay?'”

It was the realness of the characters that got me so attached. For the last third of the story, I was unabashedly sobbing (luckily, alone. The first time I finished this, I was on a bus). To be blunt (and a little bit gross), the best way I can describe the end of this book is like this. When I was a child, I’d be crying my eyes out over something or other, and my mum would be comforting me. When the worst was over, she’d joke that I’d better not have got snot on her jumper, which would make me laugh through the tears. I’m trying not to put spoilers in here, but the next quote, for example, happens just after one of the most poignant parts of the book. It lightens the mood without altering the seriousness, and at the same time reminding us that they are, after all, only teenagers.

“He smiled. Gallows humour. ‘I’m on a roller coaster that only goes up,’ he said.

‘And it is my privilege and my responsibility to ride all the way up with you,’ I said.

‘Would it be absolutely ludicrous to try to make out?’

‘There is no try,’ I said. ‘There is only do.'”

John Green managed to blend humour and tragedy perfectly. If you’ve read the book already, he wrote a blog post answering questions about the book – I’d recommend a read. I don’t want to waffle, so I’ll leave it there, but I’d wholeheartedly recommend The Fault in Our Stars – it’s an instant favourite and already has a place in my heart. Don’t forget the tissues!

Oh, and about the film that’s apparently in the works – did anyone else picture Hazel as looking a little like Ellen Page in Juno? Maybe it’s a similar attitude to life, but I could only see her as this!

PS – Sorry for anglicising the quotes – habit!


Is ‘Beautiful Creatures’ another Twilight?

Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

ISBN: 978-0-316-07128-4, £4.99 at the Kindle store

Beautiful Creatures

Is falling in love the beginning… or the end?

In Ethan Wate’s hometown there lies the darkest of secrets.

There is a girl.

Slowly, she pulled the hood from her head. Green eyes, black hair. Lena Duchannes.

There is a curse.

On the Sixteenth Moon, the Sixteenth Year, the Book will take what it’s been promised. And no one can stop it.

In the end, there is a grave.

Lena and Ethan become bound together by a deep, powerful love. But Lena is cursed and on her sixteenth birthday, her fate will be decided.

Ethan never even saw it coming.

I was made aware of this book when, at the cinema to see Les Miserables, I saw the trailer for the film adaptation. Apart from loving the song, which immediately went on my iPod when I got home (Seven Devils – Florence + the Machine), what I saw caught my attention enough to jot down the name and read the book.

Beautiful Creatures is set in the fictional town of Gatlin, South Carolina. Ethan Wate, from whose perspective the book is written, describes his town’s residents as either “stupid or stuck”, and can’t wait to leave, bored with the banality of his life. Fairly soon into the book, the reader is pulled into his dream, where we meet a girl smelling of lemons and rosemary, in need of help. A girl who, although he hasn’t yet met her, Ethan can’t live without.

The girl is Lena Duchannes (“Duchannes rhymes with rain”), with black hair, green eyes, and mysterious powers that see her surrounded by the pathetic fallacy. It’s often raining when Lena’s upset, and at one point there’s even a tornado. Lena’s a Caster, a broader term for a witch that, within her family, also includes a palimpsest, a siren and an incubus. The main premise of the story is that Lena’s family is cursed, and on the night of their sixteenth birthday each member of that family becomes ‘claimed’ as either a dark or light Caster. Lena keeps a count on her hand of how many days she has left until this night, but until she gets to that point, she’s tormented by a Carrie-esque group of Gatlin-born-and-raised girls, alongside much of the rest of the town.

I read quite a good blog post on this a few days ago, although, sorry, I can’t find it again for love nor money now! They pointed out that Ethan had a fair few feminine qualities (being very observant of Lena’s clothes, for example), but that if the story had been written from Lena’s perspective, it would have been 900 pages of teenage angst. I agree with that! It’s easy to see why she would be feeling so fraught though – it is made clear that she has no control over which way she will turn. If she is claimed as a Dark Caster, the book says, her personality will completely change, and she’ll no longer be able to see the family she has grown up with (apart from Ridley, I guess).

I did enjoy the story – it was fast paced, there was always enough going on to hold my attention, and there was a great twist at the end that I didn’t see coming. I really liked the fact that Lena craved normality, even though it was, ironically, the thing that Ethan hates about his town. As a teenager with medical/weight/my share of social issues, I could really relate to the idea that, despite whatever else she had going on, she just wanted to be able to do what everyone else does, no matter how boring or basic it may seem. That really resonated with me.

More spoilers from this point!

I was also really fascinated with the character of Ridley. She came strutting onto the scene and automatically made my jaw drop, as I think she was supposed to. Even when we’re told she’s a Dark Caster, her struggle with good and bad always seems to be lurking somewhere. I thought it really added grit to the book that she and Lena were best friends all through their childhood – you can really tell that Ridley still wants what’s best for Lena, even if that later translates to her trying to help Sarafine turn Lena towards the dark side. Then, later on, it’s obvious she has feelings for Link, and even the darkness within her can’t squash that. It’s an intriguing conflict!

However, I think this book will only ever be a guilty pleasure, and that’s because of the love thing. Now, I must admit, it’s not as bad as the Twilight film (which sickened me, and put me off reading the books), where Bella and Edward meet and she’s almost straight away “in love” with him. However, it’s still obvious almost from the beginning that by the end of the book, Lena and Ethan will have said those 3 overused, under-meant words – “I love you”. She’s 15, and he’s 16, by the way. The book manages to make it seem like their destiny by making their ancestors romantically linked, but I’m still not sure. I admit this may be because I’m slightly biased; I’ve never been in love, and didn’t actually have a boyfriend as a teenager. Maybe it is really easy to fall in love, I don’t know. To me though, being realistic is important – even in a fantasy book. As a reader, I need to be able to relate to the characters in some way, and it seemed like a cliche to make their feelings so intense, despite the events in the book.

Then, there’s the ending. While I really enjoyed the twist at the end, it was over too quickly. There was so much build up to meeting Sarafine, only for her to die (it seemed like) 10 minutes after she was first introduced. Plus, what happened to Ridley? Technically, Lena didn’t choose a side, so I do want to read further on in the series to see what happened to her – I’ll be really disappointed if she’s just forgotten about. As well as this, I want to know more about the name changes – why are they necessary, and do the new names fit them better somehow?

If you want to read more about Beautiful Creatures, I found some good reviews here and here.

Well, if you’ve made it through my rambling, I’m impressed! I know I haven’t mentioned several important characters (Amma, for one), but I’ve covered most of the things I remember thinking about the book. Overall, I did like it and I’ll be going to see the film, as well as reading more of the series, but I did see some parallels with Twilight. What did you think?


Emmy's Mummy

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