Thursday, July 31, 2014

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green - Book Review

Rating: 3.5/5 - Great if you’re in the mood for it, only okay if you’re not.

Title: The Fault in our Stars

Author: John Green

Format: ebook

Published: 2012

Young Adult

  Dutton Books

Landed in my hands: purchased myself

Summary (from

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.


Here’s the thing: I found this book to be highly predictable. I reached the 75% mark on Kindle and I knew exactly what was going to happen next. Actually, I predicted how the ending went down. About the only thing I didn’t predict was some of the snappy dialogue.

Why do I think it was predictable? I figure it was because I’ve lived it. (Figuratively, of course.) Having a loved one struggle with cancer allows to you realize that everyone battling cancer has a story of tragedy, one that involves a struggle for meaning in a meaningless world.

Yes, there is that much desperation and sadness walking around you. Yes, there are that many people contemplating the meaning of life, death, and whether a handful more days is worth the torture of having more poison injected into them.

That's the reality of cancer.

And I’ll grant that that’s the strength of this book—bringing identifiability to cancer victims. If readers discover themselves empathizing more with those with the illness, seeing a bit of Hazel or Gus in someone else’s disease-ravaged frame, that might be a good thing. I’m all for the general public learning compassion, and if The Fault In Our Stars brings a bit of humanity to the story of others who could use some compassion, well, good job and rock on, Mr Green.

I was pleased to see he dabbles into the semi-taboo realm of morbid humour that often accompanies terminal illness. It's a quirk that many adopt when dealing with mortality, one that can be off-putting to outsiders. It's well portrayed in the novel, especially a passage late in the narrative, when the teens’ sarcasm bounces back and forth, peppy and realistic, illustrating well the gallows humour that accompanies the situation. As subscriber to gallows humour, I loved it.

But again, though I’ve heard people rave about this book, I found it felt contrived. For example (without getting too spoilery), the dichotomy of Augustus' name—how Hazel splits him into larger than life Augustus and regular, touchable Gus—it was great until the split was forced into the reader's view by another character mentioning it. Then it became clunky. I've always preferred subtlety and trusting your reader is intelligent enough to piece together what you hand them.

Granted, this is a young adult novel, but I don't believe that is an excuse.

Though I’ll give Green props: he’s only included details that are pertinent to the story—nothing appeared random or superfluous to distract from the narrative—and it tied up into a tidy little package with nothing left dangling. Though perhaps that’s where the predictability comes into play. I’m still not entirely sure if it’s because I’ve seen someone battle cancer up close and have realized that these questions of morbid depth are ones that are asked when swimming in terminal waters, or if the story itself was predictable on its own.

Overall, this novel is highly readable, but that snarly predictability is the source of my rating: great if you’re in the mood for it, only okay if you’re not.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

African Dwarf Freaks

It occurs to me that it's been a while since I've mentioned our aquarium.

Believe it or not, it's still here, and we're still swimming. Some of them are even original residents (though not all, as we had a hands on lesson in letting an eight year old overfeed a tank and subsequent nitrate wipe out. It's okay though, lesson learned. Just keep swimming—right?).

So. After our levels were balanced again, I took a whack of kidlets (whack = four) to the fish store, and we stupidly came home with—ready for this?

African. Dwarf. Frogs.

Three of them. Why? Oh, because the fish store says they do better in groups.

(Better in groups my arse—UPSALE! There I am, four kids in tow with sucker tattooed on my forehead.)

Yeah, I hardly believe it myself, because these buggers? Barf. They're not exactly high on the aesthetically pleasing scale for pets.

Not only that, but they're kind of stupid. They just sit there.

See him? Yep. There he is... the creeper in the tube. That's his favourite spot.

No, really. He just stares.

Creeper. You can't make this up.

Weird, right? And sometimes he pokes out a bit. But not much.

Occasionally he'll do it a bit more than others. But usually only enough to make you wonder, "WTF is he doing?!"

Of course the answer is probably smelling your soul or eating your dreams something equally unnerving. Weirdo.

And you'll think, "hm. Maybe he's coming out of there..." Nope. No, he's actually going to rest there for the next five minutes, lazily creeping out of the tube, until he eventually realizes he needs air and zips straight up to the surface—

Nah, just kidding. That looks like an action shot, right? Haha—nope! That bastard's decided to dangle himself out of that goddamn tube. Because patience is a freaking virtue or some other after school special lesson he's supposed to be teaching me the kids.

Maybe it's frog anatomy. (Possibly.)

It's not that they're slow (though cognitively it's possible... they can't seem to find their food even when I distract the guppies and tetras and it's right in front of them. Buncha tools).

No, they flit to the surface faster than I've seen any of our fish swim, and then pull a record breaking U-turn and crash nose first into the gravel bottom.

I've come to the conclusion they are not the brightest pet.

Though perhaps one of the creepiest...

"How YOU doin'?"

Monday, July 14, 2014

One day it will end...

[8:52pm, my eight-and-an-all-important-half year old boy, R, meekly descends the stairs after bedtime.]

R: Mom, I'm too angry to sleep.

Me: What's wrong?

R: I can't stop worrying. And it's making me angry. And my brain won't shut up.

Me: Come here.

[R crawls into my lap, all coltish knees and elbows, slinging his arms loosely about my neck. He's my one who needs softer parenting, who tries so hard to be good he cries when things fall apart at the seams, who wants the world to be black and white and perfectly straight lines and easy decisions, because everything should always be right and fair. He's my one who's content to be alone tinkering on a project by himself for hours, whose shoulders cinch up at a cross word, who barks at peers because his nerves are so easily set on edge. He's my one diagnosed with mild anxiety.]

Me: What are you worrying about?

R: I'm worried about the end of the world.

[I look into his eye and answer sincerely, with the slightest trace of a smile—not a condescending one, but a relieved smile that this pop parenting quiz is less sticky than I'd imagined, what with the outbreak of summer; parents speaking of world politics within boy earshot; the eight year old's newly found and quickly voiced mortification at random acts of parenting; and our recent policy of battling anxiety through honesty—by allowing him to learn what is going on inside his own head to better understand why he gets distressed, and thereby helping him slay the monster and giving him more control over his agitation. (It's all baby steps. And so far it's working for us.)]

Me: Well. You are not the first person to worry about that. At all. I think everyone at some point in their life has worried about the end of the world. You are not alone. Does that help?

R [sighs]: Yes.

Me: Does it also help to know that you don't need to worry about it because it's likely not going to happen in your lifetime? The world has been trucking for a long time, and it'll keep trucking after we're gone.

[I erred on the side of NOT discussing climate change with my anxious eight year old at bedtime. Sue me.]

R: Yes.

Me: And who's job is it to worry?

R: Yours.

Me: Right. And you did the right thing, coming to talk to me. Always come and talk to me. Especially if your brain won't shut off with worry. Do I help?

R: Always.

Me: Okay. Off to bed. Love you.

R [Unfolds himself from my lap and kisses my cheek.]: Love you too.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Spoiled Rotten

This morning when I came into the kitchen I was met with a surprise. On the counter was a puddle. An expansive one. Clear, but not water.

Well, not exactly.

Our watermelon rotted.

Poor cat, at first I accused her of knocking over a water glass. She was insulted. Sorry, Minette.

No. No, this teeny, tiny, mini watermelon—home from the grocery store a measly three days—had cracked and spilled faintly foul-smelling water across the counter.

I'm lucky it didn't drip into the crack between the counter and the stove. Ugh.

It was deflated. The rind no longer felt solid, and when touched it had the give of an under-inflated basketball. I've never seen anything like it.

So I'm sharing. Because I've already made four kids poke it, and showed my underwhelmed Mr Lannis (of course this evokes his bemused bafflement by my need to broadcast the peculiarities of Mother Nature and isn't it cool that this happened without a mark on the rind?! Yesterday this entire melon was completely firm! Fascinating... WHY IS HE NOT CAPTIVATED?!).

One torn, soft, putrid watermelon. And please enjoy the dirty splendor of our sink. I'm full of gifts today. You're welcome.

I blame Mr Lannis' defunct grocery shopping. This shit never happens when I'm on duty...

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Why do I read last?

Why? Why is it that the last thing I get to on my mental list each day is read?

And we're talking the ultimate last thing: after laundry, and housekeeping, and kid activities, and baking, and organizing, and gardening, and meals, and... and... and...

And everything else that would be done if the day had more than a measly 24 hours to its name.

Oh, sure, I read newspaper articles and Internet blogs, but I'm talking about books.

Fiction. Stories. Transport-me-to-another-realm epic tales. Literary fiction. YA lit. Classics. Zombie apocalypse thrillers. Smut. Anything.

Why is reading—one of my favourite pastimes in this ever-loving world—dead last?

Which means, if you're keeping score: it doesn't happen. (Gasp!)

I know, right? I'm a reader for crying out loud!

Hell, right now I'm even blogging during a rare kid-free moment instead of reading. (And as we can clearly tell that doesn't happen very often nowadays, either.)

This needs to change. My Kindle currently holds 78 unread books, and my To Read list is umpteen kilometres long (which is really long, for my metrically-challenged friends, trust).

And it's summer.

Summer. The historically relaxed time of year, when one can take the time to lounge, sleepy-eyed under an atrociously floppy hat and the unforgiving glare of the sun, and read.

So. I'm making myself a pledge to read this summer.

I will unplug. I will sit. I will—despite maintaining a schedule chock full of daycare charges—pretend I am on vacation. I will put up my feet. Keeping dishes, laundry, and lack-of-ants a priority, I will pretend our house is a cottage and maintain a minimal level of housework.

I. Will. Read.

(Wish me luck.)