Monday, February 27, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars

by John Green
Published: Dutton Juvenile, 2012
Pages: 313

There has been so much hype around this novel since the book came out in January.  It is a #1 New York Times Bestseller and continues to be for the fifth straight week.  It has been a long awaited and highly anticipated novel for all of his fans, online and otherwise.  But does it live up to all of this?

The Fault In Our Stars is the story of two teenagers drawn together by a similar fate.  Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters are just normal teenagers living a normal teen-aged life, except that they both have cancer.  Augustus, in remission, lost a leg in his battle and Hazel lost the strength of her lungs.  This does not stop them from living their lives and falling in love.  Falling in love is only half the battle, Hazel learns to live life with one foot in the grave and the increasing knowledge that she is only a side affect of life. 

"That's the thing about pain," Augustus said, and then glanced back at me. "It demands to be felt" (page 63).

Indeed it does. John Green has the ability to take a subject so overdone and spin it so his readers feel a familiar hurt and excitement in a brand new way.  He eloquently balances tragedy with humor, making it a lethal combination.  His use of Venn Diagrams put a smile to my face and brightened the whole story. 

The characters in this novel are so completely believable, that at one point I honestly thought I had two friends named Augustus and Hazel.  They were perfectly flawed, aside from the whole cancer thing.  They spoke with the sarcasm and wit that I wish I could have harnessed as a teen.

The story told from Hazel's point of view let's the reader into her thoughts and insecurities.  It makes her seem more real, possibly because she tells us directly that she does not want to be an untimely grenade.  

The beauty lies in the writing and Augustus' metaphor is one example of John Green's beauty.  The idea of having a survivor of cancer use cigarettes as his personal metaphor is brilliant.  "You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don't give it the power to do its killing."  Simply stated, Augustus becomes so much more than another kid with cancer, he becomes the metaphor himself. 

In some ways, John Green has taught me how to cope with the inevitable sorrows of death its side affects.  He has broken and mended my heart (and the hearts of others) all in one fantastic book.  John Green is an author that knows his readers without actually personally knowing them.  In some ways, he is like the great Peter Van Houten, a creation of John Green and prolific author.  John Green is able to touch his readers through his writing and make them feel in a world that is overcome with numbness. 

Stars: 5/5

“A novel of life and death and the people caught in between, The Fault in Our Stars is John Green at his best. You laugh, you cry, and then you come back for more.”  
      - Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief

"The fault dear Brutus is not in the stars/But in ourselves, that we are underlings."   
        - Julius Caesar, Shakespeare

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Name of the Wind

By Patrick Rothfuss
Published: DAW Books, 2007
Pages: 722

This first installment of The epic Kingkiller Chronicle has been likened to a wittier, darker version of Harry Potter.  That is high praise considering Potter's popularity.  Is this a journey worth experiencing?

The Name of the Wind is the story of man with many names: Kvothe the Bloodless, Kvothe Kingkiller, and Kvothe the Arcane among them.  Kote is just your average bartender in your average small town tavern.  What nobody realizes is that he is in fact the legendary Kvothe.  After some persuading, he agrees to share his story, the real story, not the rumors that have traveled all over The Four Corners of Civilization.  Here begins the story of love, loss, survival, and the search for meaning in a world of magic and mystery.

Patrick Rothfuss' first novel has delightfully surprised me.  It is the first "adult" fantasy book that I have read in a very long time, so I did not really have any expectations.  I had been told that not only was it a fantastic read, but it was well written too.  I hate to say it, but that combination is sometimes hard to find in the fantasy genre.  However, all the recommendation were accurate.  The Name of the Wind was beautifully written with many vivid images and lyrical descriptions. 

One of the most unique aspects of this novel is how the story is told.  It is written for the most part in first person through Kvothe's voice, but there are also sections of third person.  The world of the tavern is built in third person, but when Kvothe agrees to tell his story it switches to first person.  The transition happens flawlessly and it feels as though you are going to be told a story, and not just any story.  You are going to be told a rare story that will only be spoken once.  There is something about this style that make the reader feel special, like they are getting to know a secret that no one else will be privileged to hear.

The characters are very well written.  My dislike for Kvothe's school rival, Ambrose grows every time I think about him.  Reading about his attempts to get Kvothe expelled for the Academy, a school for Arcane studies, irritates me and makes me wish that Ambrose would take his money and his title and shove it.  (Can I say that?)  His character is so unlikable but it makes the story that much better.  Denna, Kvothe's love interest, is wounded and mysterious.  Although she is beautiful, there is something that warns the reader that they cannot have a happily ever after.  It is not and cannot be written in the stars.  Yet, she is lovely and you cannot help but wish this would work out.

Despite it's length, I think that is it paced very well, with aptly timed breaks from the narrative to the real time Kvothe and friends.  This breaks up the plot a bit and allows the reader to digest what they are being told.  They are figurative bathroom breaks.  Well done.
There is a simple beauty in fantasy, in being caught up in a world full of magic and creatures unheard of before, where adventure is around every corner, where the unknown is the most wonderful part of life.  Let your imagination wander and you will come to Kvothe's great adventure.  It is truly an epic journey worth reading.

Stars: 4/5
"This is a magnificent book, a really fine story, highly readable and engrossing. I compliment young Pat. His first novel is a great one. Wow!"     
       -Anne McCaffrey

"Like the writers he clearly admires, he’s an old-fashioned storyteller working with traditional elements, but his voice is his own. I haven’t been so gripped by a new fantasy series in years. It’s certain to become a classic."
       -The London Times