The Fault In Our Stars Book Review

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green The Fault in Our Stars - John Green

Despite a medical miracle drug, Hazel has always been terminal, her cancer simply a side effect of dying. Forced to attend a Cancer Kid Support Group because she is depressed (also a side effect of dying), Hazel meets Augustus Waters, philosopher and fellow cancer survivor who shows Hazel what it means to really live and die.

Despite being beautifully written, this book is a hard sell. Not exactly a light read, I have found it difficult to recommend this one to teens and have watched on a number of occasions, a teen pick up the book from the shelf, read the dust jacket, and consequently put the book back on the shelf. The relative success of movies lie 50/50 and My Sister's Keeper apparently have not increased the love for books where cancer is the major crux of the story.

Truth is, this book is excellent. It is an existential crisis wrapped up in a love story, which is not to be confused with a romance story. There is so much more to this book than that. The character's Hazel and Augustus come off as a little smarter and pretentious than one thinks they should, but the sarcasm and humor make them likeable and relateable. Also, I would like to think that when kids have to handle such difficult situations like cancer and dying, they mature in a way that is the epitome of beautiful strength and terrible weakness.

Although this is not technically a book about disabilities, I still thought it was necessary that they
obey certain peremitters that I have previously set up in regards to those kind of books. The most important being that although there are kids with cancer, I did not want it to be a book about cancer. It was not. As Hazel drags around her oxygen tank, one doesn't forget she is sick, but for Hazel oblivion is to be ignored and her fierce need for closure is what drives her. What will her parents be like when she is gone? What will Augustus do if he falls for her and then she leaves?

I also loved how deep and real the parents were in the novel. Typically, in young adult and middle grade novels the parents are either dead or simply not around. I know in my own writing, I was advised to make the parents as non-existent as possible for it is hard to have an adventure with the parents around. The reality is that parents are part of these kid's lives and I love that Green did them justice.

The cover is a little bland, but it is a must read.

Mighty Miss Malone Book Review

Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis The Mighty Miss Malone - Christopher Paul Curtis

Deza Malone is one of the smartest girls in her class. That's why she is confused when her teacher gives her a second place on her English essay. But Deza's teacher knows that the life of any child in 1936 is going to be difficult. When her father is injured in a boating accident, the already struggling family is forced to make many changes that require Deza to see the world as it is. Always tenacious, Deza refuses to give up on her dreams or her family.

With the backdrop of the Great Depression, Curtis' newest novel paints a vivid picture of a struggling family in the 1930's. There is Deza's brother, Jimmie, who has quit growing due to lack of adequate food and nutrition. Her mother, whose clothes hang off her. And her father, whose efforts to obtain a job have proven fruitless and have forced him to travel further and further away in search of work and self-respect. Eventually Deza's family is forced to move, finding a home in a transient camp, a place full of people whose lives have been just as touched by the economic disaster as the Malones.

The thing that makes this story so endearing though is Deza's resilience despite all of this. She is aware of their difficulties, yet as all children do, she can see past this. Her teeth may be rotting in her head, but Deza powers through, concerned only for her family and her schoolwork. She never complains about her teeth even though they hurt excruciatingly. Deza's insatiable need to learn and love and see the best of any situation makes her easy to follow through this terrible ordeal.

Admittedly, there were times when I wondered if she was a little too innocent, a little too naive. One wonders if a twelve-year-old would truly be so self-absorbed and out of touch with what was going, but perhaps Curtis was attempting to capture some of the innocence that seemed to last longer all those decades ago. Luckily, Deza does grow and change and that innocence does begin to fall away a bit, leaving a much wiser little girl in her stead.

As in many middle grade books, I think there is a lesson to be learned here, but the story is by no means didactic. The lesson is simple, take nothing for granted. From your teeth, to your clothes, to your shoes. Appreciate everything, but most of all your family. No matter what happens to the Malones, no matter what they are forced to leave behind, their love and humor is what keeps them going. A wonderful book to be added to the historical fiction genre.

Biographies: To Bobble or Not to Bobble

I am a sucker for a good biography and even more enamoured by a good autobiography. People fascinate me and I often find myself flipping to the picture pages present in most biographical tomes. As a kid I loved history books with pictures of children from the turn of the century or during the civil war, something about those old photographs drew me into their world. These days, there are a number of places to turn if one wants to find a good biography for children. Everyone from Walt Disney to Mother Teresa to Albert Einstein to Neil Armstrong. The two biggest series though are the Who Was...? series and the DK Biography series.
The Who Was...? series' covers always have a rather comical caricature of the books' subject. Often the picture looks like one of those caricatures a person might buy at the fair or the beach. Except of course, the subjects of this art is none other than Michelangelo or Babe Ruth. The biographical information is on point, but something about the cartoon characters throughout the entire book really irks me. How is a giant bobble headed person going to help a child understand what George Washington looked like? Dispersed throughout the book are sidebars with other historically relevant information having to do with that particular time period or subject. Again, I do wonder if cartoons are really the best way to convey historical information here. Anyone know of a study regarding visual learning of facts, cartoons vs. photographs?
The DK series is my preferred method of biography. DK loads their biographies with all kinds of photos and whatnot. For example: Paintings of George Washington, a photograph of his house, pictures of his false teeth used in the day, letters, as well as other artifacts of the era.

Perhaps I should have made a caveat in regards to cartoons. As a child, cartoons were never my preferred viewing method. I would have rather watched a Disney live action film over an animated film any day. Hans Christian Andersen starring Danny Kay was one of my favorite movies. And it is just this bloggers' opinion, but if you are going to introduce a child to a historical figure, the lease you can do is show them a real picture of them rather than a giant bobble head.