I don't normally write book reviews, and there are reasons for that... mainly that I suck at them. When I read, I don't read to review. I read to absorb and feel and live the characters. Then, when I sit down to tell you how awesome it is, all I've got is "It was amazing!" And I'm terribly at knowing how much to spoil. So I just don't do it. But I'm going to today, anyway.
I first was exposed to author John Green, not through his books, but through YouTube. A friend of mine had sent me a link to a sweet young man from Britain reading his way through, and mocking, Twilight. (Young British guy wasn't John Green.) This led me through s series of jumps, over the ensuing few weeks, delving into the YouTube community, eventually landing on the Vlogbrothers channel, which John runs with his brother, Hank. They're one of a very small handful of channels that I've kept in my viewing folder. Absurdly long story short, I love them. Finally, I decided that I should follow up my from-afar adoration by reading some of John's books. I'm far past the young adult demographic, but good writing is good writing. I recommend him... I've not read all of his books yet, but what I HAVE read is fresh, funny, and poignant.
You're going to want to read it with a box of Kleenex. Fair warning. Granted, I cry at everything. But really, I was sobbing for this one.
Hazel and Augustus are your typical everyday teenagers... except for the fact that they are both cancer kids. See, I don't want to give this away. Basically, they meet at a support group for cancer kids, and the story unfolds from there, and it's beautiful and you should read it. The thing I like about John's writing, in general, is that he is really good at mixing the honest and poignant with the funny. He can have me sobbing in one moment, and then laughing through my tears in the next. This story is hard, I'm not going to lie to you. Kids aren't supposed to have cancer. That's not how it's supposed to work, right? It's not something kids should get... they're kids. They're supposed to be KIDS. But... life doesn't always work the way it's supposed to work, and sometimes it's hard, and sometimes it sucks, and sometimes you have to figure out how you're going to make your life work when it doesn't work the way it's supposed to. This book is, in part, about that.
Tonight, I went to his booksigning at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park. This is the bookstore I go to almost every Thursday night to read and write. I can honestly say I've never seen this place so packed. I'm not very good at judging numbers of people, but... 500? More? This booktour was designed to promote the new book, but Hank was also there, promoting his own music career.
When I was a teenager, the kids that knew songs about quarks hung out in the bandroom and got beat up and locked in their lockers. Okay, I really didn't know anyone who got locked in their lockers. But, being a nerd wasn't something you advertised when you walked down the halls of the school. (Not knocking being a nerd, mind you... I spent most of my lunches in the bandroom.) I couldn't help but smile as I watched these teens. Nerdfighteria had given these kids something that we all need: A place to belong. A place where being who they were was celebrated and not ridiculed.
The facetime with John and Hank was brief... TONS of books waiting to be signed and a finite amount of time to do it in, so saying much more than "Your book is wonderful" just wasn't going to happen. They're humble enough that they would pass it off anyway. But, creating the community that they have is an amazing thing. As a parent, there are a finite number of people with claim to fame about whom I can feel comfortable saying, "I'm glad you look up to them.... please keep doing it."
Maybe it's only when you haven't belonged that you understand how deeply important it is to find somewhere that you do, how much it means to have someone accept you for who you are. And to stumble upon somewhere where the unbelongable can find that acceptance... it's quite beautiful.