Friday, May 11, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars and A Monster Calls: a Literary Pairing

  • both are books geared towards younger-than-adult people, 
  • both are written by authors whom I hadn't before experienced,
  • both were recommended by fellow bloggers, 
  • both are about cancer and dealing with loss, 
  • both approach the subject from very different, non-traditional directions,
  • both are books that I loved.

The Fault in Our Stars: A Synopsis (via GoodReads)

"Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs... for now.

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind."

A Monster Calls: A Synopsis (via GoodReads)

"At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting — he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments.

The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth.

From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd — whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself — Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined."

Despite all the similarities listed above about these two books, they are very different stories, and provide very different reading experiences.

John Green lets you know right from the get-go that things are not going to end up well for Hazel and Augustus.  He is blunt about the crappy hand that those with cancer have been dealt, without getting sentimental.  Showing the practical side of the ordeal isn't as depressing at it would seem to be, however, because Green's writing deftly incorporates that other side of humanity: humor.  His characters can be quirky, treating their conditions almost irreverently, but it is exactly that perspective that illuminates the gravity of the situation and connects you to the characters.

Patrick Ness, on the other hand, approaches the subject from an almost opposite angle.  Instead of being all, "Oh hi! I'm a cancer book!" this one sucks you into Conor's internal anguish from the very first words.  As the story unfolds, pieces of the story start to come together and begin to build on each other, telling a fairly simple story in an incredibly layered way.  There's a surprising amount of depth here, making it all the more amazing that it is a gripping, very readable story.  It isn't overtly about cancer, it's about fear and love and being distinctly human.

Green sneaks up on you - making you surprised that you are so invested by the end since you were having fun all along.  Ness captures you from the first word, the first picture - making it impossible to look away.  Green's story encompasses how other lives are affected by cancer - not only the one whose body is playing traitor, but also the family, friends, acquaintances.  Ness shines a light on the pain and confusion that hover beneath consciousness when coming to terms with an unfortunate reality.

While cancer touches many lives on a daily basis, hurt and fear have touched us all.  The wonder of literature is the power it has to touch those hurts and fears and offer some comfort and companionship, whether you're in the midst of it or not.

(Note on Content:  The Fault in Our Stars contains some boyfriend/girlfriend interaction and angst that would make it more of a YA level, while A Monster Calls is suitable for all ages.  My 6th grader adored it to bits and pieces and immediately sold her teacher, librarian, and fellow students on it.)


  1. I haven't read either of these yet, but I love how you put them together in this review. I definitely want to get my hands on A MONSTER CALLS and I hadn't had too much interest in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, but now I'm beginning to reconsider.

  2. I guess The Fault in Our Stars is fairly typical John Green style (though I was unfamiliar with him so it didn't affect me much) and while I enjoyed it a lot, it certainly didn't affect me the way A Monster Calls did. It was an incredible book. (I'm tempted to buy multiple copies just so that I can hand it out to everyone I see.) Hope you get a hold of it soon!

  3. Wow! Thanks for the review. These sound awesome. I don't know if you know, but my first husband died from cancer. I may have to check this out, and see if my kids would like them.

  4. Heidi, you should check if your library has A Monster Calls. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

    I dont' know that I'd recommend A Fault in Our Stars quite as readily for you--I enjoyed the writing but some of the content reflected values (mindset? worldview?) that isn't a reality in our house. I wouldn't suggest it to my kids to read unless I specifically wanted to address where our hope should come from.

    A Monster Calls, though...since it deals with a child losing a parents to cancer...I'm really curious about your perspective.

  5. Glad to read your thoughts on The Fault In Our Stars, which I loved to pieces. I reckon one of these days I'll pick up the Ness book, too, so thanks for the review.

  6. Crowe, Green's writing was so fun and refreshing - it was your enthusiasm that made me pick it up at the bookstore actually. I really enjoyed it. Like David Levithan, it fell into a funny category for me the target audience really the young'uns? The people that I think will enjoy it most inevitably end up being at least mid-20s. What's been your experience with recommending & selling Green or Levithan?


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