When Friendship Followed me Home by Paul Griffin

A boy’s chance encounter with a scruffy dog leads to an unforgettable friendship in this deeply moving story about life, loss, and the meaning of family Ben Coffin has never felt like he fits in. A former foster kid, he keeps his head down at school to avoid bullies and spends his afternoons reading sci-fi books at the library. But that all changes when he finds a scruffy abandoned dog named Flip and befriends the librarian’s daughter, Halley. For the first time, Ben starts to feel like he belongs in his own life. Then, everything changes, and suddenly, Ben is more alone than ever. But with a little help from Halley’s magician father, Ben discovers his place in the world and learns to see his own magic through others’ eyes.

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As a huge dog lover, I knew I had to read this middle grade book. I just didn’t expect the story to be so heartbreaking AND heartwarming at the same time. There are some serious issues like abandonment, illness, and grief that could be emotional for some younger readers (heck, even I got teary eyed!) Regardless, the tone remains quite optimistic throughout. As a librarian, I loved all the public library, and librarian references, especially when former foster child Ben declares, “I think if there’s a heaven it’ll be my own private library. I walked along row after row of books and dragged my fingertips over their spines. In the twilight I felt the magic in them.” Books can be used to help individuals cope with certain emotional (and other) problems, and it’s clear that both the characters Ben and Halley use books/reading/writing as a form of bibliotherapy as they write their own sci-fi story together. The dog, Flip is an extra bonus and helps cheer up all those that meet him. Overall, a wonderful story about friendship and the true meaning of home.

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

In all the ways that matter, Mark is a normal kid. He’s got a dog named Beau and a best friend, Jessie. He likes to take photos and write haiku poems in his notebook. He dreams of climbing a mountain one day. But in one important way, Mark is not like other kids at all. Mark is sick. The kind of sick that means hospitals. And treatments. The kind of sick some people never get better from. So Mark runs away. He leaves home with his camera, his notebook, his dog, and a plan to reach the top of Mount Rainier–even if it’s the last thing he ever does.

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Readers are introduced to the story with an author note explaining that the book was written in honor of a friend that passed away from cancer.  A nice gesture of course, but the book just didn’t do it for me.  This quick middle grade read is utterly depressing.  Basically, a suicidal boy diagnosed with cancer runs away from home to climb a mountain with his dog.  His best friend has a good idea of where he is and experiences an internal struggle of whether or not to spill the secret to his family and the police.  Oh, and his dog almost dies.

The phrase ‘that’s the truth’ was so over-used, that it irritated the heck out of me.  Another repetitious section was Jessie’s (the best friend) struggle of whether to maintain her loyalty to Mark or save his life.

My thoughts on the book matched Mark’s viewpoint on dying: “I’d never felt more ready. I’d had enough of everything. I just wanted it all to be over (p.161).”

 

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl By Jesse Andrews

Greg Gaines is the last master of high school espionage, able to disappear at will into any social environment. He has only one friend, Earl, and together they spend their time making movies, their own incomprehensible versions of Coppola and Herzog cult classics.

Until Greg’s mother forces him to rekindle his childhood friendship with Rachel.

Rachel has been diagnosed with leukemia—-cue extreme adolescent awkwardness—-but a parental mandate has been issued and must be obeyed. When Rachel stops treatment, Greg and Earl decide the thing to do is to make a film for her, which turns into the Worst Film Ever Made and becomes a turning point in each of their lives.

And all at once Greg must abandon invisibility and stand in the spotlight.

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This book completed my Goodreads challenge for the year! I met my goal (just barely) with 35 books! Yay! Despite two moves, new job, new city, buying our first house, and getting engaged, I still think next year will be busier as the wedding date approaches. I hope to keep up with my blog in 2013, but if posts aren’t as frequent—you know why.

Ok, back to the review. For my last book of 2012, I was looking for a funny, quick read and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl sure delivered. By the title, you may assume the book is a serious, thought provoking read, but it was actually one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time. There was a message about death and dying, but not the typical takeaway message. It was more along the lines of death sucks, and sometimes you don’t learn anything from it. Actually, in Greg’s note at the beginning, he warns readers, ‘this book contains precisely zero Important Life Lessons, or Little-Known Facts about Love, or sappy tear-jerking Moments When We Knew We Had Left Our Childhood Behind for Good, or whatever’.

I must admit, it took me a bit warm to Greg’s voice and the writing style. His teenage frame of mind is quite edgy and in no way G rated. However, I think it’s very realistic of how teenage boys think. Here is a sample of what I mean:

The Greg S.Gaines three step method of seduction

1. lurch into girl’s bedroom pretending to be a zombie

2. go for a fist pound

3. suggest that you habitually masturbate all over pillows

He’s totally awkward and makes sexual references all the time (especially with his friend Earl.) Speaking of Earl, one of favourite parts is when Greg and Earl accidentally ingest marijuana and think it was from their teacher’s soup. It had me laughing out loud!

I can see how the stylistic choices would appeal to reluctant readers. First off, the bright cover art, immediately grabs the reader’s attention. Next, the inclusion of screenplay style, bullet points, and newspaper headlines throughout the book all visually help to break up the text. Also the interesting chapter titles like ‘Earl Betrays Our Entire Creative Partnership While I am Distracted by the Munchies’ are just so much fun! Who wouldn’t want to read that chapter?

Overall, the book was a strange but wonderful contemporary read.  Although nothing really happens, it’s the quirky characters that make the book stand out. This book may not be for everyone but I sure loved it.

–FIN–

Review- A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

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.

Inspired by an idea by the late Siobhan Dowd, Ness has succeeded in creating a heartbreakingly dark story about the difficulty of facing your fears and letting go.  Monsters both real and imagined take centre stage as Conor attempts to deal with the many difficulties in his life, including: his mother’s illness, his father’s absence, and being bullied at school. We see Conor go through many emotional states, including confusion, loneliness, sadness and denial. 

Conor only begins to see the importance of truth and acceptance after a monster (in the form of a Yew tree) appears and over time tells him three stories. These stories teach Conor essential truths, including  “There is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between.”  In the end, the monster exists to push Conor to admit the truth to himself.   The monster itself can be interpreted in different ways.  I’ve read other reviews, and I too believe that Conor’s grief had consumed him (literally) like a monster.

This monster was illustrated in such a unique way throughout the book. Check out this Youtube trailer for a sample of the amazing artwork. My favourite illustrations were of the monster’s first appearance (pg 6) and of the monster and Conor standing in field (pg 100).

Although classified as a YA title, A Monster Calls can definitely appeal to adults too. Since all humans experience grief we are able to empathize with Conor’s experience. In the end, I recognize that not all stories can have happy endings but I’m glad that Conor was finally able to find acceptance in his truth.

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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.

All John Green fans were eager and excited to get their hands on one of the most hyped books of 2012. Often labelled a ‘cancer book’, it undeniably includes content on death and philosophical ideas on the afterlife. However, it was the love element between the two fabulous characters of Hazel and Augustus that really touched me.

John Green fans know and expect phenomenal writing and there was no let down there. Chalk full of raw emotion, Green was even able to make me tear up. Yet, I also enjoyed the humour to break up some of the sad moments. For example, when Hazel and Augustus are talking about their ‘make a wish’ wishes, Augustus pokes fun of Hazel for using a wish on Disneyland, telling her “I can’t believe I have a crush on a girl with such cliché wishes.” Another part I loved was when the two put Hazel’s swing set for sale online with the ad ‘Desperately Lonely Swing Set Needs Loving Home’. It has a hilarious description of the swing set that will undoubtedly illicit memories from the buyer. All ads should be written like that!

Overall, Green does provide perspective of what it may feel like to know you are dying (both physically and emotionally) and doesn’t shy away from the uglier aspects. I appreciated that. Without a doubt, it can be a depressing read but I feel like it does capture the tragedy of children with cancer.

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