#4 Review: The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

John Green is inarguably one of the most notable Young Adult authors of the new millennium. His first novel, Looking For Alaska, is a Printz Award winner and already considered a classic in the genre, being taught in many high school and college courses. His newest novel, The Fault in Our Stars, is a hilarious and heart-wrenching story of two teenagers living, not dying, of cancer.

John has earned most of his respect through the treatment of his fans, some of whom have been devoted and loyal since John began a more public interaction with his readers through YouTube in 2007. This book, a refreshing and new look on terminal illness in young adults, has been hyped over for the past six months mostly by John’s extensive fan base, more commonly known as, the “Nerdfighters.” If any new details about the book were released, the Nerdfighters were the first to hear them, and speaking as a nerdfighter myself, we were in no way disappointed when the book was finally released.

Hazel Lancaster is a sixteen-year-old cancer survivor who falls for a young man named Augustus Waters. After meeting in a support group held in “the literal heart of Jesus”, the two embark on an emotional and existential journey to discover the meaning of heroism in their short and seemingly helpless lives. Suffering is exactly what one would expect a young cancer patient to be doing, but Hazel and Augustus defeat that archetype by acting as they should: like ambitious, foolish, and adventure-hungry teenagers. After obtaining a mutual interest in the fictional work of fiction, An Imperial Affliction, Hazel and Augustus use a wish-granting organization for terminally ill children to travel to Amsterdam and interrogate the reclusive author of AIA about the questions he left open-ended after halting the book’s narrative in the middle of a sentence. It seems like the two are on a “roller coaster that only goes up,” but a shocking revelation changes everything just before the teens head back home.

The writing in this novel is outstanding. Green has a way of inserting tidbits that a reader might think are inappropriate tangents, but that end up being essential to the entire meaning of the story. He makes it known that he respects the minds of teenagers; he does not see them as vapid creatures on the brink of maturity. He knows they are capable of thinking deeply and thoughtfully about more than Justin Bieber songs. Not assuming, like so many other childrens’ authors, that kids don’t often ponder about the meaning of their existence. Green’s intelligent, witty language, slathered with dirty jokes, is the perfect combination for an out of the ordinary high-school love story. While reading The Fault in Our Stars, a different emotion springs up on every page. It will make you cry, laugh, and shake with anxiety. It will make you love and hate. Most of all, it will make you wonder yourself, if the fault is actually in the stars, or within ourselves.

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#3 YA Rocks

Music brings people of all walks of life together. Music speaks to us on a level nothing else can reach. Music touches us like nothing else can.

Young adult literature happens to be capable of doing all of the same things.

So, why not connect the two? Many artists have done just that. Not a lot of people have heard of this current phenomenon, but songs and musical artists focused on literature are becoming commonplace in the wonderful world of the internet. They aren’t songs that eventually get noticed and played on the radio or in clubs, either. They are raw, passionate tunes written by, for, and with readers in mind.

Most prominent are the songs written for young adult readers. You only need to spend ten minutes with the YouTube search engine to find a piece of music related to one of the popular books out right now. I’m talking about The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, The Fault In Our Stars, and, thought I hate to bring this up again, Twilight.

If you’ve never once heard about music written for books before this post, you most likely have heard of a thing called Wizard Rock. Easily the largest form of book-music synergy, Wrock, as it’s called in the community, is music about the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. And yes, although written for the slightly younger crowd, Harry Potter is considered young adult literature. I think we can also all agree that the series is definitely not written solely for children. I am twenty years old and still wear my Ravenclaw robes out in public.

Anyway…

It is believed that Wrock started sometime between 2002 and 2004. The first major musical act to be recognized in the genre was Harry and the Potters. Their style can be described as reminiscent of early punk rock and the nerd-ish rock band, They Might Be Giants. The band is made up of brothers, Joe and Paul DeGeorge. Joe and Paul take turns singing as Harry Potter, the character, in each song, creating a personal and often humorous view of the books themselves. Over the years, Wrock has developed into many genres within a genre. There are rap and hip-hop acts, pop acts, acoustic acts, and ridiculous-I-can’t-even-tell-if-this-is-even-music acts. One of my personal favorites is a Wrock band called Ministry of Magic. MoM are a poppier act than H&tPs, also writing songs from different characters’ perspectives. The members of M0M live in different places across the country, which makes their main place of collaboration YouTube and other social networking sites. Their videos are extremely entertaining, if you’re a Potter-head, and the songs are very well thought out, catchy, and have a professionally produced sound. These two bands are only a couple well known acts out of hundreds upon hundreds of Wrock artists. That’s the best part of this genre… Variety!

Here comes the part of the blog where I talk about John Green, yet again. I can’t help it. The man is an inspiration.

If you’re not privy to Harry Potter and all of the crazy nerdiness that comes with associating yourself with anything but the movies, I must reiterate the absolute prize that is YouTube. Recently, a number of songs have popped up from independent, royalty-free musicians on the video-sharing site about Mr. Green’s new novel, The Fault In Our Stars. Like the book, these songs are beautiful piano or acoustic guitar pieces that will probably bring you to tears (sorry, Jordyn). But the passion that these musicians show with their music in turn shows us how wide the impact of young adult literature is. Being a reader doesn’t mean your nose stays glued in the books. Being a real reader means that you do something with what you read. And I am so glad that some very talented people have chosen to do that by bringing literature to life in music.

I’ve created a playlist for those of you who would like to check out some songs. The hyperlinks above also send you to different music videos and performances of the subjects mentioned. This was an interesting blog to write, and I hope that you all enjoy what you hear.

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#2 Censorship is Bulls**t

On Wednesday, we talked about SOPA and PIPA in class. I wasn’t surprised at the number of students against these (very possible) laws, and I was so very happy to hear that some of us were participating in the blackout protest. Because of our discussion, I decided to retract my original second blog (a review on the holiday novel, Let it Snow) and instead, write about censorship and book banning in the world of YA lit.

If you were a child of the ’90s and early ’00s who watched the Disney channel, you might remember a show called The Famous Jett Jackson. What the entire series was about isn’t important, but there was an episode that aired way back then that has stuck with me all this time. The episode’s name was “Saving Mr. Dupree,” and it was all about Jett’s high school english teacher, who was teaching the book, Fahrenheit  451 by Ray Bradbury. Upon reading the book, Jett tells the class, “That can’t happen now, though. They don’t ban books.” A few minutes more into the episode, Jett’s teacher is in fact arrested for teaching Bradbury’s novel and the class is left astonished. The problem with the book, the county said, was that it made firefighters look bad (a much milder version of what has actually caused the book to be banned in real situations). The firefighters and other local officials took all of the copies of 451 that the school had and prohibited students from reading them. But the students fought back. They stood up to the police with sit-in protests and won the battle to get their teacher back and the book successfully unbanned. The moral of the story: Book banning still happens today, and it isn’t in the least sense, right. Have you ever seen an episode of Hannah Montana with that kind of message?

What happens when a book is banned?

Whether in schools, public libraries, or independent bookstores, book banning happens all of the time. Only one person has to be offended by the content of a book for it to be banned. One parent. One government official. One “concerned” citizen. In many cases, book banners don’t even read the books they are defacing. They claim that a book’s use of profanity makes it worthless (example: Huck Finn by Mark Twain), that its brief mention of sex is “pornography,” (John Green – Looking For Alaska), or even that it contains “witchcraft” that encourages kids to worship the devil (Harry Potter). It doesn’t take a lot of effort to have a book removed from the shelves, and when that happens, it becomes much harder for young adult literature to reach the hands of the those who need it, because it is also much more difficult to get a book un-banned than it is to ban one; an unfortunate fact to face.

YA helped me get through high school. I can list a hundred or so books I’ve read, that at some time were banned. But those books also lifted my outlook on life and school. For one second, imagine (if you have to) being a high school student with a disability or difference. You hear about a book featuring a character with that same disability or difference. Finally, you think, a novel you can relate to, instead of that boring old stuff they assign in English 10. You’re so excited to go to your school library and check it out, but when you ask the librarian where you can find it, she tells you, “Unfortunately, we don’t allow literature with that kind of language in this school district.” You’re gutted and don’t understand why they would make it impossible for you to read a book written for people your age. You do more research on the book back at home and find out that it was banned for the repeated use of the curse, “god-damn.” Tell me, does it sound right to you?

Book banning and censorship are ridiculous, unnecessary, and damaging abuses of power. Just because a book does not hold the same ideas and values that one person may have does not mean it is unacceptable and inappropriate for society.

Book banning and SOPA/PIPA are similar in that their supporters believe they are protecting the people of this country. I believe that they are doing the exact opposite. We read books to learn, to escape, and to grow. We share ideas and things over the internet to achieve the same. Censorship is wrong. It stunts the growth of society, and prevents needed content from being shared. If you witness censorship around you, wherever you are, stand up to it, so that maybe one day banned books and a censored internet will be the stuff of fairy tales and we, like Jett Jackson, can say, “That can’t happen now.”

Below is a video from Penguin Young Readers of young adult authors standing up against censorship that emerged not long after the news of SOPA spread.

The only thing I have left to say right now is read all you can, read when you can, and read what you want to read. That includes you, adults. You, who are afraid to read YA fiction, and all of its juicy, banned greatness.

Seriously, do you think they would go through all of that trouble to censor boring kids’ books?

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#1 Introduction

When you think of Young Adult literature, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Harry Potter? Cheesy romances about getting the perfect date to prom, or, god forbid, vampires? Do you think of anything at all? It’s all just for kids, right? No one out of high school should be reading things like Sarah Dessen or John Green, if those names even sound familiar at all. And while on the topic, those younger kids shouldn’t be reading it either. Middle school is clearly too young for reading books where the characters know what sex is. Any adult knows that. Oh, you didn’t know that they talk about sex in YA literature at all? Or other tough issues like addictions and mental illness? Hm…

Whatever your opinion or knowledge of this genre, I advise you to open up your mind and leave room for it to change. You may end up finding that these books are better than anything you’ve read before. This blog is here to tell you that books written for teenagers are not to be shoved aside. Often they’re more complex than many novels in the general fiction section of bookstores. I decided to blog about this topic because of my own love for young adult lit and the communities which have formed around the genre. What I hope to do is to cause just one person who comes across this blog to go explore the YA section of their local Barnes & Noble and give something they find a chance. To help that along, I will be posting my own book reviews, news about what’s going on in the YA world, and other fun and interesting things to encourage this bibliophilic evangelism. Hopefully, something will catch your eye and you’ll leave for the library right that second… Best case scenario, of course.

All I’m saying is give YA a chance.

Happy reading!

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