Thursday, December 6, 2012

Handling meaty YA topics with skill


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, ├╝ber-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!


20 comments:

  1. Awesome your group is also reading books together. I need to read John Green's book. Thanks for reminding me.

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    1. Natalie! I just came from Literary Rambles and perused your Book Lovers Holiday Giveaway Hop. What an incredible idea! Who has time to write when there are so many creative books waiting to be read? http://www.literaryrambles.com/2012/12/book-lovers-holiday-giveaway-hop.html#comment-form

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  2. I agree--both books are AMAZING!!! Your recap of them is spot-on! Makes me want to read them again. *sigh*

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    1. I bet if I read them through again, I'd find something else to admire about them the second time around.

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  3. Thanks for the recommendations. I'll put them on my library list.

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    1. If your list is anything like mine, that might mean you get to them sometime within the next few years! :-)

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  4. I actually wasn't a huge fan of John Green's "Looking for Alaska" but did get into the Fault in Our Stars. I'm reading three books at the moment so I haven't finished Fault, but I'm enjoying the characters a lot more. Cool post Kim. Thanks

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    1. Fault is the first John Green book I've read, so now I need to go backwards. You're not the first person I've heard who wasn't enthralled with "Looking for Alaska"; kinda makes me want to read it to figure out why....

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  5. Haven't read Stars yet. My To-Read list is super long, but I read Perks back when it first came out. I don't recall being as enthralled as you were, Kim, but found it a good read. Was also stunned by its turn of events.

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    1. Would I have loved the book as much if there wasn't so much hype because of the movie? I like to think I would. BUT, who knows if I would have read it. I really was sucked right in with Charlie's voice.

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  6. I was looking forward to seeing the movie "Perks of Being a Wallflower" and didn't even realize it was a book. Now my interest is doubled!! :)

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    1. I first became aware of the book because of the movie too. I always like to read the book before I see the book adaptation.

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  7. I loved The Fault in our Stars but haven't read the other book. Thanks for the mention!

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    1. I do think anyone who loved Fault will also enjoy Perks!

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  8. I have to read that book! Very, very soon.

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  9. I'm so bummed at how TFIOS ended. I mean I not surprised it ended that way, but I'm still bummed. Great book, though.

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    1. Not your typical romantic ending, but so appropriate to the book. I was fascinated at how this atypical ending still managed to be somewhat upbeat though.

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  10. These books sound amazing! I will definitely have to check them out. Great post, Kim! :)

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  11. I absolutely loved The Fault in Our Stars. As soon as I finished the last page, I started again at the first.
    I picked up Perks once but it didn't grab me. Perhaps I need to give it another try.

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    1. That's happened to me before too. I think sometimes you need to be in the right mood to fully appreciate what a book has to offer. If you happened to be wanting a lighter read at the time, Perks would definitely not be the right fit.

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