Saturday, January 14, 2012

Writing A Book Review (and reviewing The Fault in Our Stars)

Last week, I signed up to write a review of John Green's most recent novel, The Fault in Our Stars for my school newspaper.

It was an interesting experience, to say the least.

I have written many book reviews for this blog, so, in a way, it should have been a piece of cake. But when I sat down to write, I suddenly felt like I had to take on a certain professional, journalist voice. This is the review I produced:

To put it simply, The Fault in Our Stars is John Green’s masterpiece.

            With his 2005 debut novel, Looking For Alaska, Green instantly found an audience for his brilliant prose and insights into teenage angst and human struggle. The only thing he struggled to find was genuine emotion. In The Fault in Our Stars, he has finally found his heart. In doing so, he has also created his masterwork.

            The Fault in Our Stars is about a girl named Hazel Grace. Many would consider her unlucky or unfortunate, for her life is doomed to be always less-than or almost. But Hazel refuses to see her cancer that way; she refuses to let herself be a victim. Hazel Grace Lancaster is an avid reader, a loving daughter, and a dedicated fan of America’s Next Top Model. She is not a cancer sufferer. Neither is Augustus Waters, though his amputated leg would suggest otherwise. That is just one of the many things that attracts Hazel to Gus, though she can’t help noticing his love for metaphors, his earnest pursuit of his desires, and, of course, his beautiful blue eyes. The Fault in Our Stars is their story, as they find each other, all the while knowing they could lose each other at any moment. 

            It is also, undeniably, a book about dying. However, it is not, not even for one second, a book about despair or melodramatic angst. Instead, it is a celebration of intelligence, of reading, of young love, of the beauty in life, and of existence. It doesn’t edit out the icky parts of illness, nor the gross parts of death, nor the hard parts of life. It is honest, and hilarious, and heartbreaking. In short, it is a complete work, a masterpiece, the novel that John Green fans have been dying for, and new readers need to get their hands on. 
It isn't very good. It's overly polished and generally uninteresting. It has no voice. So I rewrote it, more in the blog style (though not as informal). I'm really glad I revised. I was trying to be a "real writer" whatever that is. From now on, I think I stick with being the real me. At least I know how to do that.

Below, I'll share my final review. I'd be interested to hear what you guys think of it, of either of them really. But even if you don't want to give me feedback, I hope you enjoy my thoughts on this amazing novel.

I’ve always liked John Green’s books in the past; I’ve always appreciated his insightful prose and laughed at his clever characters. But I never felt emotionally connected to his books. This week, though, I fell in love with The Fault in Our Stars.  

            The novel stars Hazel Grace Lancaster, a teenage girl with terminal cancer. Hazel is a great narrator. I was worried that John Green would have an issue adopting a female voice. Fortunately, this did not seem to be a struggle, as Hazel is as well rounded and authentic as any of his previous male protagonists.

            Hazel is clever and too smart for her own good. She is passionate. Some of the best passages in the book describe her love of reading and her true appreciation of literature. She is also strong. Hazel accepts her cancer, and she does not let it define her. She is not self-pitying, but, rather, self-aware, and you can’t help but love her for that.

            Hazel undergoes an important personal journey in the book, as she learns to love in the face of death, and that is where we meet Augustus Waters. Augustus is a fellow cancer patient, who lost his leg to the disease, but is momentarily in remission.

            I love Augustus. I love even the way his name sounds when you say it. I love his silly metaphors and his loyal friendship. Most of all, I love how earnest he is and how vulnerable he allows himself to be. Augustus Waters is one of the sweetest boys I have ever known through print.

            The relationship between Hazel and Augustus is adorable. Sometimes they say the wrong thing. Augustus tries too hard; Hazel doesn’t know how to respond. They love each other, but they aren’t perfect for each other. Their relationship is realistic, and, to me, that is what makes it so romantic.

            I have always thought John Green was an amazing writer. But this book showed me that he is an amazing storyteller. For he managed to take what is a rather sad story about teenage cancer and make it a celebration rather than a eulogy. He managed to mix his typically breathtaking prose with real, tearjerking emotion in a way that is not maudlin, but rather moving and memorable. I cannot recommend this book more. 

So, what do you think? At any rate, I hope you read the book. I hope everyone reads it. That the kind of attention it deserves. It is just that good.


Friday, January 6, 2012

Book Review: Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Summary: Will Grayson, Will Grayson follows the lives of two teenage boys, with the same name (Will Grayson) in alternating perspectives, one written by John Green and the other by David Levithan. Their lives intertwine as they both try to find love and find a life.


Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a successful novel. It's smart, it's funny, and it's genuine.

Above all, it is well written. But do I really have to say that? I mean, it unites two great current YA authors, David Levithan and John Green. Whenever I've disliked parts of their previous novels, it was always the plot or character. It was never the writing. Because John Green's writing in Paper Towns and An Abundance of Katherines is so good. And because basically every word of David Levithan's Lover's Dictionary is brilliant.

For me, that is what makes this novel successful. The characters are strong, unique, and funny. And the plot is somewhat original. But what I'm going to remember from Will Grayson, Will Grayson is the writing.

What makes Green and Levithan so great, in my eyes at least, is that they attempt things other authors don't. They attempt to tap into larger emotions, universal truths, and philosophical questions. And mostly, they succeed. There are a lot of these types of passages in Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Here's one for you:
"need is never a good basis for any relationship. it has to be much more than that." 
 When I read that line, I thought of my relationship with my best friend, and how, sometimes, is has become of relationship more about need and less about want or like, and how that has been an issue for us. When I read that line I was able to make sense of a relationship that has confused me for three years. To me, that is the power of writing. That is what excites me about books. That is why I read.

There was also a lot of discussion in the novel about the relationship between truth and love. That didn't work so well for me. It felt a little forced, and it never really made much sense to my life or my experiences. But I can still admire it, and admire them for it. For they try. And, usually, they succeed.

When I hear people talk about this book, I usually hear about Tiny Cooper. And now I understand why. Tiny Cooper is a big character. He's unique and hilarious and loveable. The book is written in alternating chapters: one from John Green's Will Grayson, then one from David Levithan's Will Grayson. For a lot of the book, especially in the beginning, the characters were separate. What eventually united them was Tiny Cooper. I found it interesting to see how Green's Will reacted to something Tiny Cooper did in comparison to how Levithan's Will reacted. And Tiny Cooper's musical was amazing. There's no denying it.

I feel like I have to pick a Will Grayson or pick a stronger author. For most of the novel, I would pick John Green. I found his Will Grayson more enjoyable to read. But Levithan was writing about a depressed, nihilistic teenager. That's not always going to be enjoyable. Also, Levithan wrote entirely in lowercase. I never really figured out why. Was this some sort of e.e. cummings symbolic thing? Some rage against the machine? Maybe I'm just stupid, but I never truly figured it out. I've found that kind of issue with Levithan's previous novels as well. There are always pieces I have to interpret and I'm never quite sure I get the interpretations right.

The other reason I really liked John Green's half because of the romance. In his previous books, Green has never really had a wholly good romance. It's always about idealizing Alaska or deconstructing Margo. But here, we finally get a sweet romance from John Green. Hallelujah! The romantic moments between Jane and Will were original and adorable. Full marks on that front.

There was also romance in Levithan's half, but it was harder. The main relationships his Will Grayson have are doomed from the start, and I think every reader knows that. Levithan's Will ultimately ends in a good place, but it takes a long time to get there, and it's a hard road.

Speaking of Levithan's romance, I'd like to talk about the gay aspect to this book. On the inside cover of my copy of the book is referred to as a "LGBT title", which really surprised me. Because to me, this doesn't feel like an issue book the way a lot of the LGBT books do. I mean, yeah, there are gay characters--Tiny Cooper, Will Grayson, and many others--but I didn't think of them as "gay characters" per say, as much as "characters who happen to be gay". Their sexuality was in no way their defining trait to me, and I think that's really a strength of the novel. John Green is a proponent of "viewing other people complexy", as he describes in many of his vlogbrothers videos and many of his previous novels, particularly Paper Towns. I think that idea really comes through in Will Grayson, Will Grayson, as each of the characters is viewed so complexy that no one trait, not even sexuality, defines them. Furthermore, I liked how the novel viewed relationships complexy, in particular the relationship between Tiny Cooper and Green's Will Grayson. John Green always writes great male friendships; I was really glad to see him really develop and deconstruct such a great one in this novel.

Speaking of vlogbrothers, this novel made me question the relationship between the reader and the author, in terms of modern day technology. I have recently gotten into the vlogbrothers, a youtube channel John Green runs with his brother Hank Green, as well as the FIFA games his airs on the Hankgames channel. In my hours of watching these videos, I've heard John Green talk a lot about his personal beliefs, including his questioning of society's fascination with romantic relationships.

This same questioning is brought forth by Green's Will Grayson on page 259 of the novel. Now, I'm not sure how to react to that. I mean, in a way, it feels awkward to me, because I know it's something John Green believes. When I reading it, I specifically thought that; this had the effect of removing me the character a little bit and thinking "oh, this is what John Green wants me to learn." I have noticed this before since I've started following authors online. For instance, I know that Meg Cabot's grandmother gave her a doll collection, so when I read that one of her characters had a similar collection, I knew that that was something Cabot was taking directly from her real life. In a way, I think it's really cool to have all this access to author's the way we do today, and in a way I feel really awesome for knowing all this stuff. But in another way, I feel limited, like my reading experience is hurt because of it. What do you guys think?

Will Grayson, Will Grayson made me ask many questions. It made me think and it made me laugh. I didn't love it, but I enjoyed it. I easily recommend it to the world.

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