336 pages, Dutton Juvenile
Review by S.F. Winser
The last thing anyone reading a review wants to read about is the reviewer whining about how hard it is to review things.
So here's that whine: in the past year I went from one of Booksquawk's most prolific reviewers to one of its worst. This is not because I suddenly stopped reading shitloads of books. Oh no! That will never happen. But mainly for the very complex yet simple reason that I became completely enamoured with the process of reading in a way that I haven't managed in years. I became obsessed with the unfolding of a novel. With the transition from beginning to middle. With the way an author draws in a reader from the very first sentence. To experience books completely I stopped reading blurbs and back-copy. I stopped reading reviews and started reading only on verbal recommendations from people who were allowed to only tell me the vaguest details of books that they'd loved.
I didn't want to know how or why a character went on a road trip in a road trip novel. I didn't want to know who got murdered in a murder mystery. Not just keeping the ending a mystery, keeping the beginning a mystery - that's what was important to me. Of course I didn't want to know the murderer. But neither did I want to know the weapon, or the detective's favourite car or how he or she became involved in the first place. I wanted good writers to show me all these very important things in their own words, not because the back cover told me so just to make me intrigued. Premises are just as important to novels as climaxes and denouements, and I wanted to find out the premise from scratch.
And reviewing, well... It was so hard to destroy even the slightest of that experience for others. Because reading this way was WONDERFUL! Stuff that didn't really count as spoilers still removed some of that joy of sinking into a novel knowing not the slightest thing about the structure or direction. Everything was a surprise. It was totally the author's responsibility to keep me interested or lose me due to their writing skill. I loved it and hated anything that took that possibility away. I certainly couldn't take that away from people whom I have never even met. So I found it very hard to write reviews. You should at least prove that you've read the book you are reviewing by writing a short introduction. I couldn't bring myself to do so.
I'd even taken to handing books to friends with paper taped over the back cover and the words 'trust me' written in the place of the back synopsis.
But here I am. Reviewing a book where I fear destroying this experience for the reader almost more than any other book that I have read this year. But I have to tell you about it. I loved it too much not to share.
John Green is a writer with a devoted, almost rabid, following. He writes books about impossibly smart, funny, geeky kids going through complex relationship troubles. He writes some great sentences and some gorgeous paragraphs. He has a few favoured ideas that pop up in various books, but are usually forgivable despite their overuse. He is one of the best YA authors out there, and a great place for curious and brave adults to start on the wonderland that is lit-YA.
Reading one of his previous works is what cemented my belief in 'blurbs destroy everything'. I had already been doing it for a while, but after reading his brilliant 'Paper Towns', finally reading the blurb and realising that it gives away two thirds of the plot and destroyed one of the central mysteries of the book, I vowed never to risk ruining a reading experience like that unless I absolutely had to. All I would have had to do is accidentally read one sentence and half the book would have been destroyed. Screw that. The book deserved better. I deserve better.
So, yeah, I kinda like John Green. I'm on a mini marathon of his books at the moment. Even counting all his other good stuff 'The Fault in Our Stars' is the best thing he has written. Reviewers are going mad for it. Myself included. Readers are loving it. For a time it had triple digit five star reviews on Amazon and NOTHING ELSE. Not even a single four star in over a hundred legitimate reviews. In my experience, that's near unheard of.
And considering how much of this book relies on gentle (or not so gentle) uncovering of incident and relationship, that's all I dare tell you. If that intrigues you, read it without knowing anything. Don't read a single review. Don't go to amazon. Don't look at the back cover. If you do decide to give it a go, don't even talk to anybody about it until after you've tried it.