by Kim Van Sickler
When my local critique group hit a lull where no one was submitting pages to critique at our monthly meetings (for a variety of reasons to include a couple of beta reading arrangements with completed manuscripts), we decided to morph into a book discussion group as well.
Our last two book selections blew me away. I read them out of order. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is our assignment for January, but I read it as soon as my copy became available. I couldn't help it. That hand-sized paperback screams out to be cozied up with. Plus Perks movie teasers were all over the place to pique my curiosity (A senior high school girl befriends a freshman boy, for real? How is he going to pull this off?).
Stephen Chbosky pulls it off by making the freshman boy incomparably sensitive, über-observant, achingly honest, painfully aware (of everything he observes from a distance), but interestingly enough, not at all self-aware. Charlie's missing that self-imposed filter that all high school kids seem to have, whereby they stay in their place and don't question the social hierarchy. How amazing it is to see 9th grade—that drama-filled, uncertain time—through his unique eyes. And we do see the fun, the sorrow, the inane, and the awesome first-hand, because we, the reader, end up being the recipient of a series of letters from Charlie. Letters. It's brilliant. Puts us right in the action.
My reluctant-reader 9th-grade daughter picked up the book and was immediately drawn in by the letter format and Charlie's voice speaking as if directly to her.
Perks deals with a very serious topic. You don't even realize how serious until towards the end. By this time you are so invested in Charlie, and so desperate for him to find his way, that the revelation takes your breath away. Every fiber of your being wants to reach out and hug him and befriend him. And that brings me to our November assigned book, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. A love story between two kids with cancer. Another super serious topic told with a healthy amount of humor and whimsy.
I wondered if I'd be able to relate to this story at first, but my reservations fell away as soon as I met Hazel at her cancer support group. Then seeing her through the eyes of Augustus, the leg amputee in remission from osteosarcoma, and the effect these teenagers have on each other, triggers much broader universal issues like wanting to make your mark so you're remembered after you're gone, and living life today instead of worrying about tomorrow. In a neat twist, Green creates a fictional author and book that Hazel adores and teaches Augustus to love as well. The juxtaposition of the world-weary author, Peter Van Houten, into these cancer patients' lives, is mesmerizing.
Serious themes. Amazingly tender treatments of them coasting easily between denial to honesty to humor to pain, and ultimately ending on an uplifting note. I recommend both of these books to anyone searching for stick-to-your-bones meat in their YA.
And then I found this vlog series that John and his brother Hank do together. Fun!