Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Death and the Maiden or Girls in Trouble 2

As I've said in the past, a huge amount of YA books are about girls in trouble. Here are two books from the subset of girls in trouble that also deals with death.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (YA)

Hazel is dying. Actually, she's been dying for years from thyroid cancer. Although she has survived much longer than expected, she knows that someday soon she will die since the cancer has settled in her lungs as well. However, Hazel is not a character who is going to teach the reader about dying with grace. Instead, she's going to live as much as she can before she goes. She meets Augustus Waters, who is charming and handsome and loves the metaphor of putting a cigarette (the killing thing) in his mouth and not smoking it. Gus is extremely lovable, as is anyone who loves a good metaphor, and as an aside, he has also been touched by cancer, but was saved through amputating his leg. Gus will convince her to go to Amsterdam to meet the author of her favourite book, An Imperial Affliction, to ask him what happened to all the characters after the novel finished.

This is a love story, of course, and it is both funny and sad. I read this on a bus and alternated between crying and laughing all the way home. There are some beautiful passages, and the characters go to Amsterdam! I feel that never happens in books. I went there a few weeks ago as a graduation present to myself, and I think Green really captures how beautiful it is. I loved Gus for being enthusiastic and charming and witty. Finally, I loved Hazel, since although she is bitter and exhausted and depressed, she still notices the beauty in the world.

I loved this book, but I do have to mention that a coworker noted that she found it too similar to Looking For Alaska, Green's first book. I didn't feel the same way, probably because I've read some of Green's lighter works as well, but if that's the only other Green novel you've read you may be disappointed by it. I wasn't though.

This is a choice quote for those who love people taking about love.
" I'm in love with you, and I'm not the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I'm in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we're all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we'll ever have, and I am in love with you" (153)

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (YA)

Clay receives a box of tapes in which Hannah, a classmate and coworker, explains the 13 reasons why she committed suicide. Each of those reasons align with specific people, in a specific order, and everyone involved will receive the tapes in the same order and will get to hear Hannah tell their part in her story. If they don't listen to everything and pass the tapes on to the next person, then someone else will release the tapes to the public.

The overwhelming feeling from Hannah's story is that a teenage girl can be completely ostracized for having (or being perceived as having) any type of sex life.  Of course, Hannah hasn't really done anything, but her peers spread rumours and humiliate her every chance they get to the point where she feels completely alone.

One thing that really bothered me about this book, was that Clay was very different from the other people on the tapes. He had a serious crush on Hannah and he tried to reach out to her at a party and help her. In spite of this, he still gets pointed out as a reason why she killed herself . Obviously, this lets there be a sympathetic narrator who tries to understand Hannah and her pain, but it leaves the reader with the overwhelming feeling that Hannah is being cruel. For me, Hannah works better as an example of the consequences of  bullying and shaming girls than as a character, which isn't a good thing if half the story is in her own words. I raced through this book trying to figure out Hannah's secrets, but I just didn't love it.

Fortunately, this book wasn't really written for me. It was written for teens who feel alone, and for others who need to know that words can have serious consequences. It has a huge following and at least at my library, always seems to be out.

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