Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Sixteen-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster is a medical miracle living on an oxygen tank and a drug called Phalanxifor. Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at thirteen, Hazel has been through many surgeries and treatments. At one point, dozens of drugs were flowing through her body, trying to keep her alive. Later, doctors experimented on her with Phalanxifor, a drug that didn’t work on around 70% of people—but it worked on Hazel.

Hazel is made of cancer, but The Fault in Our Stars is in no way a typical cancer story. Hazel’s experience with cancer has made her seem a lot older and wiser than she is. Her insights are so interesting to think about, readers will contemplate them for days afterward.

When asked why she doesn’t eat meat, Hazel explains simply, “I want to minimize the number of deaths I am responsible for.”

When a boy in her Cancer Kid Support Group says he fears oblivion (the state of being forgotten by the public), Hazel replies in her wise and honest way, saying that one day everything will be gone and oblivion is inevitable, leaving the group speechless.

But by this time, cancer has completely invaded her body and identity. Hazel’s story is cancer, how it has affected her, and how she has bought herself a couple more years to live. There’s no going back now, no wondering what could have been if cancer had never showed up in her life—Who knows? Who cares? Hazel knows it won’t change a thing. But when she meets Augustus Waters, her entire life is turned around.

In spending time with Augustus, both expose, find, and realize their true and inner selves. On the surface, both are cancer-influenced people who have grown mentally older, wiser, and stronger. Hazel and Augustus discuss the deepest subjects and throw around a whole lot of fancy words. But underneath, both are still naïve teenagers learning how to navigate life.

Intuitive, fearless, poignant, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is a truly incredible story of life, death, and those in between. It will make readers smile, laugh, and cry all at the same time. I was not able to stop thinking about the story and its characters long after I finished reading, and the same will occur for you if you choose to read it. The Fault in Our Stars seems to reach beyond its pages, just like a pop-up book—but instead of paper figures popping out, it is the acute emotion that John Green paints painstakingly into his beautiful story.

“There will come a time when all of us are dead. All of us. There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything. There will be no one left to remember Aristotle or Cleopatra, let alone you. Everything that we did and built and wrote and thought and discovered will be forgotten and all of this will have been for naught. Maybe that time is coming soon and maybe it is millions of years away, but even if we survive the collapse of the sun, we will not survive forever. There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does.”

-Hazel Grace Lancaster, The Fault in Our Stars

-Lam T.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

At age twelve, Josh and his twin brother, Jordan, are teenage basketball phenomenons, radiant beasts, kings on the court. But when Jordan meets the new girl in school, everything unravels for Josh as the brothers’ bond comes undone and circumstances get progressively worse and worse for him than he could’ve ever imagined.

As Josh begins to lose his brother, he loses himself in his loneliness and jealousy, and what he does in a couple seconds changes their relationship dramatically. It worsens to the point where the bridge between the two is completely burned to ash.

Soon, pieces that have never made sense to Josh are suddenly fitting together to create the truth. Secrets are revealed to Josh and Jordan, and they present the dangerous possibility of changing their lives forever. As these possibilities transform into realities, they seem to suck all the light out of Josh and Jordan’s lives, leaving them darkened, deflated, and empty. Eventually, the brothers realize that they still have and need each other.

As ties are cut and secrets are revealed, Josh travels shakily through it all. There are moments when he walks proudly, straight ahead; stumbles forward with his head down; and even loses his footing and falls flat on his face. But even if it takes him a while to get back up and dust himself off, he always manages to continue marching ahead to whatever awaits him.

During the novel, I was really surprised by Josh’s incredible development throughout the story. In the beginning, he desires fame and glory. But later on, when he is presented with his father’s championship ring, which he has long wished to possess, he decides to share it with Jordan. His growth was gradual but eventually noticeable—readers watch and listen to him through his own eyes as he grows wiser and comes to realize that there are things in life more important than winning.

Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover tells the amusing, unfortunate, heartwarming, and heartbreaking story of Josh Bell and a sequence of unlucky events— entirely through free verse. It deeply moved me in a way that books usually don’t. If you have the time, please give this book a try—I promise you won’t regret it.

-Lam T.

Book Review: The Giver by Lois Lowry

Imagine a community where life is idyllic: Citizens are assigned their partners, jobs, and family units. Everyone, being the same, obeys the laws. Those who are slightly imperfect are released from the community. Aforementioned community is one relieved of conflict, inequality, divorce, unemployment, injustice, poverty, disappointment, and pain—but all the same, deprived of true joy, color, music, sunshine, choice, and love.

Jonas, an incoming twelve-year-old, is of course extremely eager to determine his predetermined Life Assignment, just as the other soon-to-be Twelves are. However, during the long-awaited Ceremony of Twelve, Jonas is completely skipped over. The Elders, who assign jobs to the incoming Twelves, have carefully studied the children for years—yet Jonas has been skipped over.

And here, he learns that he was not assigned, but selected—for the most honored job in the community. Jonas was selected to become the next Receiver of Memory.

Jonas enters a new life, one where he is entitled to rudeness, questioning, and lying. He is also prohibited from discussing his training, dream-telling, applying for medication, and applying for release.

In training, a mysterious man called the Giver—the last Receiver before Jonas—begins to transmit memories to Jonas. Memories of the entire world, memories no one else in the community has experienced before. With these memories, Jonas is able to experience sledding downhill in snow, sunshine, rainbows, holidays, and family. On the other hand, he has also transferred memories of sunburn, fire, vomit, war, and other sources and results of pain. As the days go by, the burden of the memories Jonas carries transforms him into a much wiser person. He often becomes aggravated with his friends, as they do not understand him—they know nothing and feel nothing of what Jonas does.

The Giver, a tale of a utopia and its downsides, is unforgettable. In the part it plays in telling readers how important the little things in life are, I’ve realized how much we take for granted. Maybe those things won’t ever be taken away from us, but that’s no reason not to appreciate them. One part of the story that truly shocked me was the aspect of family—assigned Birthmothers would give birth to children, and two would be assigned to a couple to take care of. Citizens have no way of knowing their blood-related siblings, cousins, parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents. Also, citizens are so shielded from pain and conflict that all seem to know nothing—all but the Receiver. Imagine!

Do not miss reading The Giver by Lois Lowry. This exceptionally perceptive novel tells of an unimaginable lifestyle in an unimaginable community through Lois Lowry’s powerful words, which craft a descriptive tale of law against love and safety against choice.

-Lam T.

The Giver by Lois Lowry is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares

On a day which did not seem particularly special at first, something extraordinarily special happened to occur—but none knew it until later on. In a thrift shop on the outskirts of town, Carmen Lowell stumbled upon a seemingly ordinary pair of pants and decided to buy them. When she got home, she tossed them in her closet and forgot about them.

Later on, Carmen and her best friends, Lena, Tibby, and Bridget, get together before spending their first summer apart. They discover the forgotten pants and each takes a turn in trying them on. Though the girls have very different body shapes, the pants fit them all in quite a magical way.

The pants are christened the Traveling Pants, and the girls decide that they will share the Pants throughout the summer to stay in touch. The Pants pass from Lena, in Santorini, Greece; to Tibby, stuck at home; to Carmen, in South Carolina with her divorced father; to Bridget, at a soccer camp in Baja California.

Throughout the four girls’ exciting adventures and incredible experiences, the Pants crisscross the globe, witnessing it all. This is the story of four girls and their first summer apart as a pair of magical pants comes into their lives.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares is an unpredictable novel which takes readers into the lives of four girls and their issues and triumphs. This book was one I absolutely loved—I couldn’t even put the book down until I’d finished, and afterward, I thought about it for a long time. Venturing into the stories of the relatable characters, readers will follow them through their ups and downs with excitement and anticipation. I promise you, after reading about the Sisterhood, you will never forget about Lena, Tibby, Bridget, and Carmen and what they represent.

“Bridget called for a moment of silence. ‘To honor the Pants,’ she said.

‘And the Sisterhood,’ Lena added.

Carmen felt tiny bumps rising along her arms. ‘ And this moment. And this summer. And the rest of our lives.’

‘Together and apart,’ Tibby finished.”

-Ann Brashares, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

-Lam T.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Make Your Bed by Admiral William H. McRaven

“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”

These are the well-known words of none other than retired United States Navy Admiral William H. McRaven, spoken during his commencement speech to the graduating class from the University of Texas at Austin. McRaven spoke of the ten lessons he learned from Navy SEAL training, ten lessons needed if one wants to change one’s life, or even the world. These simple lessons at the basis of his remarks dealt with overcoming the trials of SEAL training, but those ten lessons are equally important in dealing with the challenges of life, no matter who you are.

Admiral McRaven was not at all expecting much of a welcoming audience among college students. But to his surprise, they embraced his inspiring speech. McRaven’s wise words seemed to have a universal appeal, and many people wanted to know more about how the ten lessons shaped his life.

As a result, McRaven decided to write a small book, called Make Your Bed. There are ten chapters, each giving a little more context to the individual lessons. The book is filled with anecdotes about the origin of the lessons and the people who inspired McRaven most. These are the ten lessons:

If you want to change the world…

  • Start your day with a task completed. “Start off by making your bed.”
  • You can’t go it alone. “Find someone to help you paddle.”
  • Only the size of your heart matters. “Measure a person by the size of their heart.”
  • Life’s not fair—drive on! “Get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.”
  • Failure can make you stronger. “Don’t be afraid of the Circus.”
  • You must dare greatly. “Slide down the obstacle headfirst.”
  • Stand up to the bullies. “Don’t back down from the sharks.”
  • Rise to the occasion. “Be your very best in the darkest moments.”
  • Give people hope. “Start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.”
  • Never, ever quit! “Don’t ever, ever ring the bell.”

Now, these lessons may seem like the boring stuff you were told constantly as a kid, but Admiral McRaven’s book will go further than that. Reading through his heartwarming and heartbreaking stories, I took a different perspective to these lessons. McRaven’s powerful words touched me, and these days I’m trying my absolute best to live by these lessons so I can change my life—and maybe the world—for the better. Read Make Your Bed, and it will change you as well.

But that’s not it! If you don’t have time to read this life-changer, please watch a 15-minute YouTube edit of Admiral McRaven’s unforgettable speech by MotivationHub instead. McRaven’s speech is intercut with footage of SEAL training and powerful music, and it will leave you speechless and determined to change your life.

After watching the video, if you’re interested in learning more, check out Make Your Bed by Admiral McRaven! The simplicity of the ten lessons he teaches is astounding, but if you live by these morals, you will change your life—and maybe even the world!—for the better.

Don’t miss out on this chance to change! Admiral William H. McRaven’s wise words just can’t be passed over—try Make Your Bed or even his famous commencement speech! I promise you, you will close the book (or the video) with a newfound mindset of determination.

“Start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone. Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often, but if you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden, and never, ever give up… if you do these things, then the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today. And what started here will indeed have changed the world, for the better.”

-Admiral William H. McRaven

-Lam T.

Make Your Bed by William H. McRaven is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

At age eleven, Melody Brooks is full of knowledge and curiosity. However, she struggles from cerebral palsy, which limits her body, but not her mind.

For her entire life, Melody’s communication has been limited to a small board with twenty basic words printed on it. All she can do is point to the words, with no other way to put her complex thoughts into words and sentences.

Born with a photographic memory, Melody is a video recorder always capturing everything around her. However, she’s never been able to share what she thinks and knows. Always being underestimated, Melody’s daily routine at school is listening to nursery rhymes and reviewing the alphabet. Every. Single. Day.

All Melody’s memories have words, and all her words have meanings, but only in her head: She’s never spoken a single word. Most people don’t realize the importance and power of words, but Melody definitely does. She explains that thoughts need words, and words need a voice, which is something almost everyone except her has.

One day, Melody and the rest of her class—other kids with physical differences—are informed that they will get to attend some inclusion classes. Real classes with ordinary fifth grade students! But this experience isn’t as great as it sounds. The other students look at her funny and seem to believe she’s just as mentally challenged as she is physically. In truth, she’s the smartest student in her entire school.

But there’s no way anyone will ever know that. She can’t walk, she can’t write, she can’t talk . . . until she discovers a device that will allow her to speak—out loud—what’s on her mind, for the first time ever. At last, Melody has a voice! Even so, as she journeys through fifth grade learning, growing, talking, and making new friends, she realizes that not everyone is ready to hear it.

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper is an absolutely incredible must-read that cannot be passed over. The perspective and power of this book have significantly changed me and the way I think. As Melody Brooks strives to teach everyone—herself included—to believe in her, readers will be taken on an unforgettable experience. While taking in this wonderful story, readers will think about everything they’ve ever known in a different light and realize that some things we take for granted don’t come as easily to others.

-Lam T.

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.