[Book Review] 50 Ways To Find A Lover

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I like chick-lit as a genre. I really, really do; ever since I read The Princess Diaries back when I was 13, I have gone from Meg Cabot to Sophie Kinsella and back so many times I have a hard time keeping track of which ones I have and which ones I haven’t read. That does not mean, however, that every chick-lit is fantastic. Hell, it doesn’t even mean it’s entertaining. And sometimes, even though everything about a book makes you hope for classic, simple, sweet romance with a failed main character finding her “Prince charming”, the result is such a disaster you can’t help feel a tiny bit frustrated about love stories for a while.

That is precisely what I felt as I read 50 Ways To Find A Lover (Lucy-Anne Holmes, paperback by Pan Books, 328 pages): frustration. It all begins the moment you have to get over the title and explain again and again to anyone who sees you carrying the book around that no, this is not self-help literature. I understand they must have decided on it as a funny little joke, as if it somehow made the novel more sophisticated because of its mock title, but it is more embarrassing than it is cute.

Then comes the plot: a complete and absolute mess. I can’t remember reading a novel with such poor organization or fluency since Jane Green’s Mr. Maybe, also classifiable as chick-lit. The main character, Sarah, has been single for more than three years (imagine that! Being single! The horror!), is almost turning 30 and becomes desperate after she asks a balding bartender out, but he decides he’s better off watching the new Narnia movie at home. She then joins a reality show after her family and friends enter her name, which sounds like an interesting idea for a chick-lit novel, but is dropped right at the beginning of the book and is completely and absolutely useless. Then she decides to start a blog, trying out fifty different ways to find a lover (whoa, look at how clever that title is) and reporting her success.

From this simple summary one can already gather how absolutely chaotic this plot is. Not only is the part about the reality show useless, it is also obvious from the simple fact that the book is 328 pages long that the aforementioned fifty methods will not be fully executed. The book, released in 2009, has a character in her twenties who had never heard of a blog. Entire chapters could have been cut off without changing the story in the slightest; characters could have been written off and made it a much more pleasant experience. I really hadn’t read anything this bad in quite a while.

Two things annoyed me the most, though, and they were precisely the two key elements to a decent chick-lit novel: the main character and “Prince charming”. While no one can endure reading about a perfect main character to whom one can’t relate, it is equally irritating – or at least so it is for me – to read about someone who simply cannot make a single decent choice, who can’t take a single rational decision and who behaves so recklessly. As to the “prince”, I can only say this man was such an obvious choice and a boring character I had actually convinced myself that Sarah was going to end up with the only interesting, charismatic, polite man she meets in the whole book. By the end of it, I hated Sarah so much I was seriously happy to see her ditch him and end up with the boring boy. It’s the first time I’ve seen chick-lit in which I root against the main character, which is, of course, absurd.

I also need a couple of lines to point out something highly annoying about the idea of this book per se: why does Sarah even need a boyfriend in the first place? I imagined she would throughout the book find independence and notice she was born and would die as a perfectly functional woman who does not depend on the existence of a man, but no. Quite on the contrary: she is miserable until she finds her match. Also, what is the problem with being rejected by a balding man? Does the lack of hair on the top of his head mean he has to accept any girl who is interested in him? How can balding possibly be used as a symbol to decadence? If I were him, I would reject Sarah and spend my night watching Ben Barnes as Prince Caspian as well.

Don’t be fooled by the pretty little cover and the promise of romance: this is such a poorly developed story it hurts. If you don’t mind a poor plot, an annoying main character, a boring “prince”, bad writing and wasting hours of your life on something that basically goes nowhere, maybe, just maybe, you might actually care for it. I’m pretty sure, however, you probably won’t.

[Book Review] Will Grayson, Will Grayson

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In today’s world of information, exposure and judgement, going unnoticed might seem to be the high school equivalent to heaven. One’s clothes, one’s body, one’s very thoughts are judged by the harsh society that inhabits the very grounds in which the development of personal qualities should be done. No institution seems to repress diversity with more efficiency than schools: we go in as potential artists and come out as an employee of Chaplin’s Modern Times factory. Students are faced, at early age, with a question that is highly unfair: is giving up on being yourself better than to feel punished for being who you really are?

Will Grayson, Will Grayson (John Green and David Levithan, paperback by Puffin, 336 pages long) is bold enough to address that issue. The book tells the story of two boys, both named Will Grayson, who end up meeting by chance and affecting each other’s lives more than they ever imagined possible. Each Will Grayson has his own personality: one is a shy boy trying at his best to go by unnoticed while having a friend who feeds on attention; the other is a boy filled with anger at the world and trying to start a relationship with a guy he met online, Isaac.

Each Will Grayson was written by one of the authors: Will Grayson number one, by John Green, and number two (always written will grayson, without any capital letters on his chapters), by David Levithan. The idea, which might sound confusing at first, works splendidly well. Both authors impressed me for different reasons: John, by the constant quality of his writing, though there aren’t as many beautiful lines of his in this novel as there are on his other works. David Levithan shocked me at the complexity of his Will, who curses and spits, kicks and crumbles, but never gives in to the temptation of giving up on himself. Levithan seems to have tailored the words so they would fit his character perfectly – all the insults and shocking confessions of will grayson are even more compelling than those of John’s Will Grayson, which is a remarkable fact of its own.

With one Will so obsessed with fitting in and the other so desperately trying to be different, one might guess the book would risk being good by going cliche and leaving characters to fight against each other until the climax. Quite on the contrary: much like in real life, all these teenagers are able to learn from each other’s experiences and turn them into knowledge and wisdom. The secondary characters were so well built they deserve as much attention as the two Wills: my favorite character in the book, Will Grayson #1’s friend Tiny Cooper, is an overweight gay boy who doesn’t care in the slightest about anyone else’s opinion and has a self-confidence enviable by the vainest of people. Great main characters  give you a good premise; add great secondary characters and you’ll have the final touch for a good novel.

There is, however, one thing I disliked: the ending. I won’t spoil anything in this review (how annoying is it when people tell spoilers in book reviews?), but all I can say is that David’s last chapter sounded a bit like that final speech north-american movies seem to love so much, the one in which the main character stands up in the middle of an agog crowd and changes everyone’s lives with their words. I’ve always found those speeches more awkward than inspiring, more surreal than moving. The rest of the book had moved so incredibly well and in such a creative way I was left expecting a bolder finale than the one I got.

This is still, however, a nice book. Maybe it won’t touch the hearts of those who have always fit in, but it certainly gets it right for those of us who didn’t. Living in a society that encourages only small differences as a form of keeping reality from radical change, embracing our singularities may seem like a herculean and suicidal mission, but it is just the first act of courage needed in order to give our lives some purpose. If living isn’t faced as an endless attempt at building, constructing, changing ourselves and our whereabouts, it isn’t living at all. It’s killing time.

[Book Review] The Statistical Probability Of Love At First Sight

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I have never believed in love at first sight. Not in the boy-looks-at-girl-and-they-see-that-their-lives-mean-nothing-unless-they-are-together sort of way. Sure, it sometimes works on some very romantic, highly idealist movies, but it always sounded to me more like passion than real love.

Maybe that has to do, though, with what you consider love at first sight to be in the first place. When I first started reading The Statistical Probability Of Love At First Sight (Jennifer E. Smith, paperback by Poppy, 236 pages long), I wasn’t so sure I was going to fall for the characters just as they fall in love with each other – and, when romance is involved, the reader has to fall for the characters or everything sounds fake, plastic, inorganic. I did.

The magic of Smith’s book stands on the fact that it isn’t, despite its title, all about love, and that the love it contains doesn’t happen, in fact, precisely at first sight. The main characters, Hadley and Oliver, aren’t airheads waiting for love to give their life purpose, but people with real concerns, concerns so great they – at least for me – steal the show and make the book worth it all by themselves. Their relationships with their families are very credible and well built, described in a way that isn’t melodramatic (which would make the reader impatient for the romance parts), but has actual feeling. Unlike so many novels that give characters backgrounds just for the sake of filling up space, you can actually observe how these intricate relationships have made the characters who they are and how they affect what they are on the verge of becoming.

The best part of it all is still the romance. Oliver will make any girl swoon in ways he himself probably never imagined, by pure accident, simply because of his charming personality. And what makes this a great love story is the fact that it is, indeed, love, and not pure passion or lust: these characters get to know each other, their flaws included, and only then fall in love. It reminded me of a line from John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars: “as he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once”. They slowly get to know each other – even if they do it in a short period of time, nothing is rushed – and fall in love yes, at first sight, but after a very, very good look.

Without any spoilers, I can also say the end is perfect. The only sad thing is that Smith writes so, so well that the reader has no choice but to become attached to these characters, which leaves one longing for more when it’s all over. I find it amusing that prose this simple can be so effective and delicate. As short and basic as it is, it manages to be a beautiful story about love in every meaning, every manner and with every sort of beginning. Love requires friendship, and great friendships do not require much time to happen.

[Book Review] Anna Karenina

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What do we all live for? Do we live simply because we exist? Because we were sent into this planet by a God with a “bigger plan”? Does this question even matter?

In Anna Karenina (Liev Tolstoy, Vintage, 976 pages), that question is the essence of the entire story. The book follows mostly the story of two couples: Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky and Kitty Shcherbatsky and Constantine Levin. Without telling spoilers, I can say in advance that these couples are radically different in absolutely everything, especially on the development of their stories.

As I began reading this, I assumed it would be mostly about Anna and Vronsky and, I must admit, was a bit disappointed to find out that Levin dominated most of the book. Though he is quite an interesting character – it’s fascinating how much he changes throughout the book and how innocently he believes to be different from Moscow society when he actually isn’t –, I did grow impatient waiting for the focus to shift back to Anna. Levin, much like Tolstoy, questions everything, even himself; he judges everyone while not realizing how much wrong there also is in his behavior.

Anna, however, is one of those intoxicating characters that will make you take her side  and fight for it. She knows herself so well that she is ready to fight battles most of us wouldn’t be able to fight, to give up on what can’t be forgotten, to love when everything tries to keep her from loving. I loved everything about her, from beginning-of-the-book Anna to end-of-the-boo Anna, because she is more coherent than many people I know.

And Vronsky, oh, boy, Vronsky. Though he doesn’t even appear that much on the book, he is a constant presence on Anna’s behavior, shaping her every mood even if only on her mind. What makes Vronsky so remarkable is how human he is – unlike most “princes”, he has flaws and doubts, but also virtues and certainties. And don’t we all? That’s probably what made Anna and Vronsky into one of my favorite literary couples: the fact that their love, every time it was tested, came out stronger and deeper. Vronsky’s reactions to the facts around the story were, at least for me, better than anything Levin did on the entire story.

I must warn you about something, though. This is not an easy read. It’s nearly 1,000 pages long and there are about a gazillion characters, all with three Russian names and sometimes even a nickname. It’s also one of the best pieces of realism, so expect long (actually huge) chapters about Levin learning to mow, Levin learning to hunt, Levin learning about elections and – something highly frustrating if you’re an atheist like me – pages and pages about Levin finding God.

I promise, though, that it is worth every page. I began reading this because I wanted to know the story before watching the movie, considering it was such a long book and I might lose some interest after knowing the main events and, well, how it ended. It ended up surprising me completely: you learn to understand every side of everyone, whether you liked them at first or not. Just like us, these characters seem to be seeking the only possible answer to keep us living, the quest we fight for with more or less success, trying to touch it with clumsy hands: to be, even if for a moment, happy.

[Book Review] The Fault In Our Stars

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I have finished reading this book more than a month ago and only now have I gathered the courage I needed to write this review. Without spoilers, here’s why.

The Fault In Our Stars (John Green, 2012, Penguin, 336 pages) tells the story of a couple of teenagers, Hazel and Augustus, and their friendship, which begins after they meet at a support group for children with cancer. From there on, to use an expression that appears in the book, everything is “a roller coaster that only goes up”.

This is not your typical sad book. Yes, it’s sad – don’t go anywhere near it if you don’t want to cry. But what sets it apart from others is that this isn’t a story about disease, it’s a story about love. It’s very easy to gather a legion of fans by writing about a couple which is cute and does cute things together and has their lives dramatically changed and cries endlessly and will always love each other (I feel sick simply by writing this generic description). But what did they feel? What did they think? What did they question, what did they learn, where did they start and who did they become?

John Green answers those questions and manages to treat death as it is: natural. Painful, yes, but natural. Both Hazel and Augustus know – and it is clear to us, from what is written, that adults do not understand them – how much it hurts to see decades of future, a future that had been promised to you from the day you were born, maybe being taken from you. Stolen, even, by this disease without an easy cure. The pain is so great that depression goes unnoticed.

And that is where Green excels every expectation and delivers a work of art. His reading of human nature and his ability to empathize are only comparable, from what I’ve read, to Nick Hornby’s. There are no writing skills – though his are remarkable – capable of surpassing lack of content, which implicates that a great part of the perfection that is this book is attributable to the author’s delicate perception of his object of study, people.

These people who are, in fact, the best part of the book. From Hazel’s religious obsession for a fictional book to Augustus and his videogame character suicides, every tiny thing is there on purpose; every detail adds up to creating complete, thorough personalities. Emotions aren’t there for the creation of climaxes or making readers cry: they are there because this is what real people, flesh-and-boned creatures, feel. And what are characters but depictions of us?

And the writing, oh, the writing. The pace is perfect, the phrasing is perfect, the choice of words is perfect. John’s latest is quite possibly his best, simply because it takes his skills to a whole new level. There are so many metaphors and symbols all over this – the book author, the videogames, the cigarettes, the endless saga of fictional war stories, the use of the words “Augustus” and “Gus” – I would dare say this will become a classic. Much like Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Green manages to make a book that is not only delicious at first, but discoverable at each read, a book other books should be written about and accessible to all audiences, who will the touched by the metaphors even if they aren’t clear at first. I have always felt that the smallest details could sometimes do a better job at telling a story than a hundred pages might. I’m not the biggest crier when it comes to books, but this remarkable author, with his words well chosen and feelings well exposed, made me randomly sob because of beautiful sentences lost between chapters, as diamonds to be found in a sea of pearls.

To use a line from the book, “my thoughts are stars I can’t fathom into constellations”; I would be able to go on about this forever and would still never do it justice.  The main reason, now that I think of it, is probably that, like love, everything that changes our hearts is partially unexplainable and surpasses all boundaries to become a personal experience. This book, as all good books, feels like more than reading. It is pure living.

[Book Review] The Hobbit

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When I was around 11 years old, I got a The Lord of The Rings copy from my parents. It was (is, I guess – I still have it and love it) huge, especially on my then tiny (ok, still tiny) hands. 1200 pages long, it included all three books, translated to Portuguese, and a huge picture of Gandalf on the cover, then intact, now rugged with age and flicking.

So is it too strange that I see LOTR as a childhood friend? After being seduced by Harry Potter, I went on to find out that these books, these much more complicated, dense, descriptive stories, caused a whole new level of reading satisfaction on me, and that Frodo Baggins and his companions were multifaceted, complex characters who would teach me more about life than many real adult figures ever managed to.

The reason I love LOTR so much is also the reason why I, ten years later, didn’t expect much of The Hobbit (J. R. R. Tolkien, read on Harper Collins’ paperback, 400 pages). I thought it would be more of the same and, being older, perhaps I wouldn’t be as interested, considering most of my favorite characters weren’t in it – and the fact that I had just read The Great Gatsby, which then became my favorite book. My mistake. I think I might have actually enjoyed this more than LOTR.

The Hobbit follows Bilbo Baggins on his adventure out of the Shire and throughout Middle Earth, joining Gandalf and a group of dwarves as they try to reclaim a treasure of their people from the claws of terrible dragon Smaug. And it is fun. While LOTR is such a serious journey that you feel yourself growing weary with the characters, Bilbo’s story is light, easy, funny at times, a simple, pure adventure – in fact, if I had to pick a word to describe this, I would really pick light. I flicked through pages and found myself having to save some of the book, in one of those moments in which something you read is so, so good that you need to put every word on your mouth, mentally say it twice, close your eyes and smile with joy. Probably the best storytelling skills I have ever found.

Another great part of this book are its characters. Bilbo lives every reader’s dream of running around, breaking barriers and living an adventure no matter what cost. Isn’t that what reading is all about? I do believe we read partially because it feels so good to live what the characters live, to dream higher and higher and still believe in it, to run around and slay dragons and kiss princesses and win the world. People who don’t enjoy reading must never have discovered that reading is actually feeling, and I feel sad for anyone who hasn’t experienced falling in love with characters. Bilbo and the dwarves are the perfect mix of crazy and smart; they are small, but they conquer it all. Gandalf is wise, but lets everyone make their mistakes and learn from them. Smaug is a dragon with more personality than a lot of people I know. All secondary characters are so perfectly created – and described – you keep wishing for spin-offs for every single one of them.

Every song Tolkien wrote, every new species he created, every short, fast-paced adventure that keeps you holding your breath is nothing but the expression of a master on the arts of heart touching and story telling. Whatever you do, whoever you are, I promise you’d finish this book with a smile on your face and the feeling of a whole journey lived. Bilbo is the ultimate improbable hero, who, by leaving his tiny little house on his tiny little feet, showed the entire world that, with wit and heart, anything is possible.

(This review is dedicated to my friend Raphael, who I hope will always keep one foot on the Shire and one running after Smaug)

[Book Review] Why We Broke Up

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“I was stupid, the official descriptive phrase for happy.”

Sometimes the end of a relationship is difficult to explain. Sometimes it isn’t. When Min Green and Ed Slaterton – respectively a movie-director-wannabe and a basketball player at a regular high school that I’m sure looks a lot like yours – break up, it certainly isn’t easy to pinpoint what when wrong, but Min manages to do so with perfection. After filling a box with her ex’s belongings that were still in her possession, Min drops the box and a letter at Ed’s doorstep, explaining in a long, long text and going object by object, why they broke up.

That is the basic story line to Why We Broke Up (Daniel Handler, Electric Monkey, 368 pages, read in Portuguese: Por Isso A Gente Acabou, published by Companhia das Letras). Handler, famous for writing A Series Of Unfortunate Events as Lemony Snicket, creates the text that, accompanied by Maira Kalman’s beautiful illustrations, covers the story of Min and Ed’s relationship, from object number 1 and how they got together to the last one, showing how every day they were a couple was a day closer to their breaking up.

The book is beautiful. Not only because of Kalman’s drawings – which seem to have been handmade by Min herself, so perfectly they fit the character’s style -, but also because it is rich in detail and speaks truthfully through the voice of a teenager, without sounding fake or pretentious. Min, a lover of old movies, is a great, complex character, who escapes all cliches and is, therefore, highly credible: she likes things, she hates things, she feels jealous, she feels numb, she takes a stand, she gets hurt. I have rarely come across a fictional teenage girl so coherent, reminding me instantly of Juno MacGuff and her strong personality.

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Other than Min, there were three very strong points for me in this book. First of all, the rhythm. I’m a big fan of authors who write on the perfect pace for the story, getting you to fly through pages and even (am I the only one who does this?) to breathe according to the lines and dialogues. Handler is a master of rhythm: there are paragraphs of Min’s thoughts that go through pages, some with very few dots, which gets the reader on and on with her opinions, understanding her logic and feeling her pain better. It made me wonder if the author had ever read José Saramago, who uses that same technique, even if he takes it to the extreme.

A second aspect that touched me was how Min’s friend, Al, clearly had a crush on her without her noticing. This isn’t even a spoiler, I swear – it is very explicit from the first pages on. Just like Meg Cabot, Handler has that great ability to reveal facts unknown to the character who is telling you the story, making the reader go wild, trying to shake Min by her shoulders and point out what she can’t see. And, of course, rooting for her to notice that her sweet friend is better for her than jock Slaterton.

The third – and best – aspect of Why We Broke Up is also the most shocking one. Reading the book, I was fascinated by Min’s favorite movies and wanted to watch every single one of them. She referenced titles, actors, plots, release years, everything. I considered making a list of all those wonderful movies I absolutely needed to watch as soon as I was done reading it. Imagine how heartbroken I was to find out that none of them existed. Not a single one. Handler created title by title, story by story, of at least fifty different movies, an information that, I must confess, brought tears to my eyes. You don’t have to write deep, complex plots to be a genius – brilliancy is waiting to be discovered by eager hearts in every corner of human creativity. I’m still desperate to listen to Hawk Davies, the fictional jazz artist whose songs seem to play as a soundtrack throughout the entire book.

Though the translation to Portuguese was poorly done (I even had to mentally translate some parts back to English in order to understand them), this is such an adorable, honest book that Min’s heartbreak will speak to any reader in any part of the world. Even if we can’t have Min’s movies, songs and thoughts, the author makes it possible to love them unconditionally, just as she loved Ed Slaterton unconditionally. Love is, after all, an international language.

[Book Review] Invisible

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Sometimes we come across books for the weirdest reasons.

I had never heard of Paul Auster and still can’t believe how lucky I was to discover about him in such an unorthodox way. Being a FC Bayern Munich fan, I was scrolling around on Tumblr one day, in a period when all players were on vacations and saw a photo of my favorite player (and one of my favorite people, if it is possible to make such a list), Bastian Schweinsteiger, reading a book at a beach in Miami, completely focused, while his gorgeous girlfriend stood beside him, ignored for a while in favor of what he was reading. Yes, I have proof:

So  of course this must be a hell of a book. I googled the author, found out which book it was and, about a month later, bought it, imagining it would be just another great, regular thriller.

I couldn’t have been more surprised. I don’t think I have read something as innovative as Invisible (Paul Auster, St. Martin’s Press, Paperback 308 pages) since I was in high school and was introduced to Brazilian Modernism. This book is so wildly new, fresh and brilliant I hope I manage to find words to show at least half of what I felt about it.

The story revolves around Adam Walker, a young student at Columbia University and aspiring author. In 1967, Walker meets a couple at a party: the beautiful, seductive, mysterious Margot and Rudolf Born, a strong, loud, polemic man. The tiniest event that will, however, change his life forever: as his relationship with both Margot and Born develops, a chain of events (which I will not, of course, reveal) lead to a profound change in Walker’s character, turning his life upside down and leaving him alone to pick up the pieces of his developing personality. I can’t say much about the story itself without spoiling it, but I can talk about the technicalities of the book, which are exactly what make it such a masterpiece.

The book is divided in four parts, all written by different narrators, who tell us four parts of the same story, Walker’s story, from four different points of view. This is where Auster reveals his genius: every part is written in a completely different style, as if real people had actually sat down with a pen and handwritten their quarter of the story. The vocabulary is different, the phrasing is different, the pace is different – even the information each character shares is different from the others, making us eternally skeptical of what each one is saying and, by the end, completely paranoid, trying to figure out which version is true. To make this immersion in each character’s mind even more complete – and, therefore, each line that is written less neutral and objective -, Auster uses no signals on dialogues. Without a “, ‘, or -, the reader is compelled to read through the entire book as fast as possible, the voices are mixed during long dialogues, we lose ourselves inside characters only to have this attachment cut on the next part.

The fact that Walker is writing a book is also part of what makes Invisible so great: Auster seems to put pieces of himself in Walker and the entire book mixes itself with the struggle of writing a novel, making the reader wonder how much the character’s frustration is also Auster’s. Very metalinguistical, the author’s ability to play with text and texture, words and phrasing, prose and poetry, styles and personalities is one of a kind. I had never read anything alike and I’m not sure if I ever will.

I can’t find words precise enough to describe how much I loved this. Who would say that a soccer player would introduce me to one of the most intriguing books I have ever read? Just as I was pleasantly surprised to find out about it, I hope I managed to do Invisible some justice and that, just maybe, someone might end up reading this review and giving the book a chance as well. Maybe it’s too ambitious of me, but as one of the most brilliant lines on the book puts it, I believe we all live by

“Never nothing but the dream of nothing / Never anything but the dream of all”.

[Book Review] Looking For Alaska

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I believe I have fallen in love with John Green.

Yes, I am quite aware – as Inkheart, a perfect book filled with metalanguage, taught me – that authors aren’t their characters and that we tend to fantasize about them, even though they are real, flesh-and-bone creatures just as you and me. And yet I can’t help bonding with them, feeling like I know them a little, thinking of them as friends and, when one of them writes something this precious, giving them a place on my heart.

I can’t imagine how anyone might possibly dislike Looking For Alaska (John Green, paperback by Penguin USA, 221 pages), the brilliant tale of how Pudge meets the Colonel, Alaska and Takumi, characters as special as their names would suggest. It follows my favorite topic for storytelling: people, simply people. A story set in high school, this is much, much more than your typical teenage book: the plot is so rich and the characters, so complete, that the reader is just as crushed by the events in it as the ones living the story themselves.

After a “Before” (the first half of the book, named that way by the author himself) that will make you fall in love with every single character, the “After” (don’t worry, I won’t ever intentionally give spoilers on this blog, I promise) is the cherry on top of the cake for Looking For Alaska. Unexpected, strong and well thought of, I hadn’t read such a good plot twist in a while; the simple idea of dividing the book in two parts is brilliant itself, for it divides not only the story per se, but also the tone in which it is told and the behavior of the characters around what happened.

If the story is already good by itself, John’s writing must also be praised. He understands the world he is describing well enough to create successful, credible dialogues, much superior to so many authors who only seem to reproduce a mirage of this generation. Every character has many nuances and, by the time you think you have gotten to know them, John slaps you on your face with the perfect white glove of short, simple, shocking lines. No flourishes, no unnecessary adjectives, no pretentious glamour, and yet worthy of study and reflection, filled with symbols (the cigarettes being my favorite), with color and warmth, with Alaska’s poetry and Pudge’s biographies, with every element that makes a classic. A classic just as I dare say this book will one day be considered.

Personally, I must say that this story seems to have shaken my heart and put it back on its place with a more desperate, more active pumping; one of my favorite things about reading is how words – simple, tiny, ink-on-paper words – can affect the reader in ways the author never expected. There was a passage in Looking For Alaska, after the, well, “After”, that made me close my eyes, take a deep breath and repeat the line again and again and again in my head: “We are all going”. If I had the opportunity to hug Mr. Green, I would do it, not only for being a brilliant nerdfighter, but for writing lines that broke my heart, which is just what you need of your literary friends every once in while. To break your heart so it can be fixed.

Pudge, a skinny boy who loves famous people’s last words, wouldn’t be disappointed to see this book as part of his biography. Perfect in its simplicity, it is as beautiful a daisy as Alaska’s favorite flowers and a great propeller of readers into the Great Perhaps.

[Book Review] Hush, Hush and Crescendo

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After the success of the Twilight saga, it is time for romantic angels to take the stand. But do not imagine that these angels will have fluffy white wings and save anyone from peril: in Hush, Hush and its sequels, they are bad-boyish, black-wearing, dark-eyed, flirty creatures.

When I bought Hush, Hush (Becca Fitzpatrick, Simon & Schuster, 416 pages), more than a year ago, I thought it had a 50% chance of actually being any good. Like many supernatural book sagas, it has a mysterious boy, an intelligent female protagonist and a simple plot with conflict being there probably only because an editor wanted it to make the cut. It has a pretty cover, the “prince charming” is attractive and it has positive reviews by other authors of the genre. That’s not, however, an infallible recipe, and it does end up poorly every once in a while.

It didn’t with the first book. On Hush, Hush, we are introduced to Nora, a girl who lives with her mom on a farmhouse and seemingly has only one friend, Vee. She studies, she doesn’t go wild, she calls her mom everyday: she lives as safely as it gets. Then in comes bad boy Patch, who ends up being her lab partner (I don’t know if the author has read Twilight, but this reminded me immediately of how Bella met Edward to the point of it looking awkwardly like a copycat) and has a mysterious aura around him that Nora is desperate to understand.

The story is incredibly simple. They meet, they talk, conflict comes, conflict is solved. Action, just as in Twilight, plays a nearly secondary role; in fact, if you have consumed enough books/movies/tv shows, you will easily solve the “mystery” much faster than Nora and find it a bit silly, but it doesn’t mean the book is bad. In fact, it covers perfectly the most important part of writing a good book: reaching its goal. The romantic parts are well written and Patch is an incredibly sexy “prince”, one of the sexiest I recall ever reading about. Vee is also an interesting, fun character.

On the second book, however, the author isn’t as successful, even though she tried to. She brings a plot much more complex and interesting than the one from the first book, which means the climax does actually work. The problem is, however, that this is a book with 400+ pages entirely told from Nora’s point of view, which requires her to be interesting (I’m not even asking for charismatic) enough to keep the pages being turned. The protagonist is, however, unbelievably irritating on Crescendo (Becca Fitzpatrick, Simon & Schuster, 464 pages), having unexplainable fits of jealousy and self-destructive behavior because of Patch. In New Moon, this worked out with Bella because it made sense: she got sad to the point of depression after Edward left and needed to feel something, anything. In Crescendo, though, Nora sounds like an annoying brat for about three quarters of the story, which made the book, at least for me, feel like an obligation rather than pleasure.

I have heard that everything improves on the third book, which convinced me to read it someday, but, if you don’t have enough patience, I’d advise on reading only Hush, Hush, which does have decent enough an ending to close the story with no need for sequels. But, if you don’t mind having to quickly scan through Nora’s thoughts on Book 2, I believe there is still enough mystery to make the rest of the books interesting enough – or so I hope.