Love Stories: Happy Valentine’s Day!

Hi everyone! So I am a bit of a hopeless romantic. I live for things like beautiful romantic gestures and cute couples and sweet love poetry. And since today is Valentine’s Day, it seems like as appropriate a time as any to post some of my favorite romances and love stories. So, let’s get to it, shall we?

1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars is about many things, but it is primarily about the friendship and romance between Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace Lancaster. I love Hazel and Augustus as individual characters, but I love them just as much as a couple. They’re both intelligent and flawed, and their relationship is full of nerdiness and banter and the kind of conversations that you just love to read about, about everything from An Imperial Affliction to scrambled eggs. They care deeply for each other, and I loved reading about the “third space” they entered when they talked on the phone, or how Hazel can hear his smile when he talks. They’re one of my favorite fictional couples ever. But please don’t even think of mentioning that last page because NO. >grabs tissues< (Review here.)

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

So to balance out the tears and heartache and asdfghjkl served up by TFiOS, I offer you Pride and Prejudice, which has to be one of the best love stories in literature. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are without a doubt one of my favorite pairings of all time. He’s prideful and awkward, she’s playful and reluctant to let go of first impressions. But they’re both so quickwitted and clever, and they complement each other in the best way possible. They argue and they engage in battles of wits and, despite their differences in society and class, there’s respect between them. I could listen to them banter for ages. And the walk they take in Chapter 58 made me want to bounce up and down with happiness.

3. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

This book fills me with so many feelings that I’m still not sure I can be coherent about it, despite finishing it months ago. Two Boys Kissing isn’t exactly a love story about one couple–it’s about multiple couples, or former couples, or people who are simply single. It’s about Tariq, and Harry, and Craig, and Cooper, and Avery, and a host of other characters. Some of them are in love, some of them are in like, some used to be in love but aren’t anymore. But each of the boys is completely his own, and they’re each written in a way that makes me want to read this book again and again. Also, the writing. I will never be able to stop gushing about this writing. David Levithan writes such beautiful sentences that I want to dive into this book and never come out. It’s so good. (Review here.)

4. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

I didn’t read Anna and the French Kiss for the longest time, but I am so glad I picked it up. Despite the excitement of it all, Anna Oliphant is a little bit terrified to be going to boarding school in Paris. But then she starts to make friends, one of which happens to be Étienne St. Clair, a short history nerd with absolutely amazing hair. It’s so much fun to watch Anna and Étienne’s relationship develop over time, through misunderstandings and jokes and the best series of holiday emails I have ever read. I love so many things about this book and their relationship that it would take me forever to list them all. Anna! Movies! Cuteness! Paris! It’s such a wonderful read, not to mention the fact that Stephanie Perkins writes some of the best characters ever. I may need to write a full review because I have so many feelings about it. I wanted to live in Paris with Anna forever.

5. My True Love Gave to Me ed. Stephanie Perkins

I remember reading about this book ages ago and immediately freaking out because it sounds like what dreams are made of. A holiday story anthology? Edited by Stephanie Perkins? With an absolutely perfect illustrated cover? It sounded wonderful. It was wonderful. (I literally finished it this morning, so I’m a little late, but oh well.) There are stories from a host of talented authors–Holly Black, David Levithan, Kelly Link. While not all of the stories were my cup of tea, there were quite a few that I adored. Stephanie Perkins’s has all the cuteness and romance that she does so well, Matt de la Peña’s made me decide that he is definitely becoming one of my favorite authors, and Laini Taylor’s was so magical and fantastic I never wanted it to end. I could go on. Each of these stories is so unique and original, and I may very well reread it when the holidays roll around again. Besides, that cover!

6. Love poetry

As much as I enjoy love stories, I adore love poetry just as much, if not more. Poetry can capture emotions like that so well–heartache, happiness, longing. There are so many love poems that I reread again and again, but some of my favorites are “A Red, Red Rose” by Robert Burns, “Zodiac” by Elizabeth Alexander, and “A Glimpse” by Walt Whitman. And many, many more, but by the time I was done writing about them it wouldn’t even be Valentine’s Day. (And I know Poetry Speaks Who I Am isn’t strictly love poetry, but it does have quite a few in it.)

Love stories are some of my favorite stories, and I’m not really sure why. Part of it might just be the magic of watching two people fall head over heels for each other, as they meet that one person and everything starts to click. It’s so much fun to read about characters who are wholeheartedly in love and want each other to be happy.

Loving is good. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “The right person at the right time can open all the windows and unlock all the doors.” —Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

P.S. There are many more great quotes from Two Boys Kissing here.

This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life & Words of Esther Grace Earl

Hi, everyone! Remember when I wrote that post a couple weeks ago about This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl? Well, I got the book. I finished the book. And I swear I’m going to try to be somewhat intellectual and coherent about this, but. . .we’ll see, I guess?

The first thing I noticed about this book when I pulled it out of the packaging and flipped through it was the presentation. First of all, there’s that gorgeous cover, featuring Esther’s smiling face. 🙂 The pages are color-coded depending on their content–diary entries, essays, posts on Esther’s CaringBridge website, and more. And. . .I can’t even describe the awesomeness. See for yourself:

TSWGO Collage 1TSWGO Collage 2TSWGO Collage 6TSWGO Collage 7I took a lot of pictures. But there’s a lot of gorgeous there. Now, on to the deeper stuff. . .

The thing abut this book is that it’s kind of hard to describe. It’s so expansive and unique, from containing samples of Esther’s artwork to transcripts of her YouTube videos. It’s hard to give a description that could possibly encompass everything held within This Star Won’t Go Out‘s pages, from diary entries to essays to stories to blog posts. But, anyway. I’m getting ahead of myself.

Esther Grace Earl, born on August 3rd, 1994, was an extremely empathetic, loving, and creative person who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when she was 12 years old. Many of you have probably already heard of Esther, who also became friends with John Green, the author of The Fault in Our Stars. Esther became Internet-famous when John featured her in a video on his and his brother Hank’s YouTube channel, but it has been said many times that John’s book isn’t her story. But This Star Won’t Go Out is.

The book follows the trail of Esther’s life, starting out with a look into her earlier years and then going deeper, starting in 2007. It evolves by showing various facets of her day-to-day life: Writing notes to family members, watching Doctor Who with her brother Graham, visiting the Jimmy Fund Clinic in Boston, and more.

When John Green said in this video about the book that Esther had a voice, he wasn’t kidding. I could still hear her distinctive tone in my head after closing the pages, playing in the background of my mind. Every one of her words is infused with her personality–whether she’s writing a diary entry about being upset, a Happy Mother’s Day note to her mom, or a funny page in a journal she shared with some of her friends that she met online.

Esther becomes so real in these pages. She is so alive through her writing and others’; she lives and breathes and loves in the words. As I kept reading, it became more and more impossible not to believe that she was at home, typing in an online chat or making a funny YouTube video.

Some of my favorite parts of the book were the parts concerning Esther and the group of friends she met on the Internet, collectively called Catitude. Keeping in touch through chats and Skype, they would stay up late into the night talking with each other, about all kinds of things. From the essays included in the book, and from Esther herself, it can be seen how strong Catitude’s friendships really are. I loved reading about these awesome people and how much they genuinely care for each other and love each other. It’s the kind of friendships that are truly valuable and real, and it’s so powerful and lovely to read about.

It feels like one of the absolutely best parts of the book–yes, one that made me cry–was the Make-a-Wish weekend. For her Wish from the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Esther opted to have an IRL (in real life) weekend with her friends from Catitude and beyond, staying in a hotel in Boston. They played games, cuddled, had espresso, and hung out. (John Green joined them and made a video here.) Of the weekend, Catitude member Lindsay Ballantyne said, “Hours were spent cuddling, gorging ourselves on candy, and laughing at nonsense. Mostly cuddling. After all, that’s what the trip was for: spending time with people you love and finding little ways to show that you loved them.” (Page 262)

That love–that complete feeling of caring for those around you–just pours from the book. Especially from those parts of it.

When we review books, we often focus on the big, important stuff–plot, writing, clarity, whether it makes sense, etc. And those are all vitally important, majorly important. But (and I don’t even know if I’m saying this right) the book has to have a feeling, too. I think it has to have some sort of emotion to it, some sort of liveliness that can truly make it that thing we all want in life–a good book. When I reread the end of Eleanor & Park a couple nights ago, I could feel an ache in my stomach. When I think about SPOILER SPOILER in The Fault in Our Stars, I’m just like GAH. These books hit us and knock us over and make us feel, because they have feeling. But even that’s not exactly like This Star Won’t Go OutThis Star Won’t Go Out has a similar effect, but somehow it’s different–this book is about a girl named Esther Grace Earl, and, very much because of this, it’s also about love. It’s about loving someone completely and absolutely and unconditionally and that love is everywhere. It’s in the essays and the blog posts and the introductions and it pours out of the book and into the reader. It makes itself known. (As evidenced by the fact that I’m tearing up.)

Love is at the core of this book. That’s one of the biggest reasons that you should read it, because you shouldn’t miss out on that, and you shouldn’t miss out on Esther.

I know I’m not going to be able to get all that this book is down into a blog post, even a mammoth one. I can’t completely describe how I like Esther’s fiction, that her father’s comparison of her and John Green to a companion and the Doctor gave me so many feelings, that her family started a non-profit in her honor that’s really, really awesome. That’s why you have to read it for yourself. Suffice to say that it’s awesome, it’s wonderful, and, of course, it’s supermegafoxyawesomehot.

This is a book I can honestly say everyone should read. Esther Grace Earl should be heard, and other people deserve to hear her. I’m so glad that her family and friends put this together and shared her with the world. I’m really thankful for that.

And to Esther. Thank you for sharing the gift of yourself with the world. Thank you for changing it for the better, and for continuing to do so. Thank you for existing and being you. Nobody could ask for more.

Rest in Awesome, Esther Grace. I love you to infinity and beyond.

Some Quotes (because I can’t pick just one):

“I’m not sure if it was entirely sadness that caused the tears, but there was so much love. And that’s all that mattered. Despite the fear, despite the sadness, despite the pain, there was love. To me, that’s how Esther was. She was all things human: imperfect, flawed, scared. But to me, what makes her so remarkable is that she was also so, so full of love and so willing and eager to share it.

Catitude continues to be imperfect, flawed, and scared, but we have a lot more love in our midst thanks to Esther. And we love her so much for that. I love her so much for that. I miss you, E.” –Teryn Gray (Page 270)

“I was just thinking how I don’t know if I’ll live. I’m so scared. God means so much to me, but I wish He could heal me. Is that vain? selfish? stupid? That I want to be better is, I think, any sick child’s wish. You know how God especially loves children? I’m a child–right? Well, I just want him to lift me up and hug me, like in all those pictures of Jesus and the children . . . Is that too much to ask for? Maybe so, I don’t know.” –Esther, diary entry (Page 71)

“Sometimes I just sit and watch the chat and everyone is so funny and intelligent and caring for one another. It’s like this truest, purest, most wonderful form of love and friendship. I don’t know. It’s just the best. And Esther was part of that. She was that. The best.” –Alysia Kozbial (Page 203)

“So I keep going between wanting to use correct grammar, punctuation, capitalizing skills and overall good writing, and not worrying about it. See, that night there was a briiiiiilliant LOL VIDEO! I meant sentence. bah aha oh man #nerd” –Esther, Catitude Stalker Notebook (Page 217)

And finally, here is one of Esther’s YouTube videos, and a video of the Wizard Rock band Harry and the Potters performing their song The Weapon with the crowd at the TSWGO launch event:

This version is pretty awesome, too, and this is a great song written for Esther, also.

I hope you all have a great week, and stay safe!

Love you all,

Nora

A Few Words on This Star Won’t Go Out

Okay. Not a few. Never a few. Again, I’m not famous for my short-and-sweet skills.

A number of you have probably heard of Esther Earl, as well as her book, This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl. And, since it’s coming out on January 28th, I thought I’d mention it. And Esther.

Esther Earl was a Nerdfighter who was known for being loving, Estherbright, and just a really awesome person. She loved to read, she was a writer, she made YouTube videos, and she was very enthusiastic about her family and friends (one of which was author John Green, whom she met at a Harry Potter convention). She was also known to be extremely empathetic and wise.

When she was 16, Esther died from cancer on August 25, 2010. Her family started a non-profit organization in her honor, This Star Won’t Go Out, which focuses on helping families financially who have children with cancer. (TSWGO is also a recipient of some of the money from the Project for Awesome!!! Yay!!!)

Esther also helped to inspire John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars, which celebrated its two-year anniversary this month. (Another yay!!!) But, as he says in a YouTube video, that book isn’t about her. But This Star Won’t Go Out is.

TSWGO is compiled of Esther’s journal entries, letters, sketches, and fiction. It also has essays and photos from her family and friends to further tell her story, and an introduction from John. And from what has been shown of the book, on Tumblr and in videos, it’s amazing. Really, really amazing.

This video says it all, I think:

I just ordered my copy of the book, and I can’t wait for it to get here. It really looks insanely awesome, like Esther herself.

You can find out more at the TWSGO website, their Tumblr, and the Tumblr for the book, where there’s information on a release party taking place at Wellesley Books in Massachusetts on February 1st. And if you can’t go, they’re livestreaming the event at the Vlogbrothers YouTube channel, too!

Esther Earl was a really, really amazing person, and I’m so excited and happy that she’s going to be a published author. I hope a lot (and I mean a lot) of people get to read her book, and get to know her better through the experience. Time for me to check the mailbox.

Bookish Quote of the Day: “Saying you love someone is a good thing.” –Esther Earl

P.S. Totally wearing this on pub day:

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P.P.S. I strongly suggest you take a look at Esther’s videos, too. And here’s a wonderful article about the book from Parade, with excerpts from John Green’s introduction and one of Esther’s journal entries. Rest in awesome, Esther! DFTBA!

The Fault in Our Stars

Okay, so I know I mentioned this in my last post, but I just loved it SO MUCH that I feel it deserves a review of its own. Plus, I just finished another book by the author, the incredibly awesome John Green, and then was reminded of this book, and one thing led to another, and POOF! New post.

This book is titled The Fault in Our Stars, and tells the story of Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen-year-old cancer patient who spends most of her time inside rereading (and rereading and rereading and rereading) the same book over and over. That, and watching episodes of America’s Next Top Model. Until her mother convinces (or forces) her to start attending a cancer kids support group. It is at one of these meetings that Hazel makes the acquaintance of Augustus Waters, a  former osteosarcoma patient who immediately starts hanging out with her. And–

Okay, here’s the thing I’ve realized about this book: It’s an amazing book. It really is. And it is also a ginormous pain to describe. Like, I could write “And Hazel and Augustus embarked on a long journey of self discovery” or something equally formal, but that wouldn’t really fit in with the rest of the post, now would it? Basically, this story of Hazel and Augustus has a lot of stuff in it, like big ideas and champagne and romance and epicness and all that jazz that makes it so awesome and sad and thought-provoking. It’s a really good book. I love the writing, the story, and the characters (particularly the character’s names–John Green is a genius with names), and I think that other people would, too. It is totally worth a read. So go. Get it. Now.

Really Good Books to Get Your Teenager

Okay, this has been languishing in my Drafts since the beginning of December, and now it’s finally posted! Yay! Let us all cheer and eat virtual cookies.

As I’m sure a lot of you have noticed, the holiday season is taking the country by storm. Which means, of course, it’s time to head to the mall. Because of this, I thought I’d do a post about certain books that I think really deserve to be on your shopping list. And so, I present to you: Really Good Books to Get Your Teenager! Ta-DA!

First up is The Diviners, the newest book by Libba Bray, set in the glamorous 1920s. Evie (or Miss Evangeline O’Neill, if you prefer) is thrilled to be sent to New York City to live with her uncle for awhile, even though it is technically a punishment for some hot water she got into at home. From here on out, it’s nothing but parties and chatting up nice fellas for Evie and her best friend, Mabel. But the carefree frivolity doesn’t last very long. It soon becomes apparent that a serial killer is on the loose. And with Evie’s unusual, supernatural powers, she may be able to catch him. Here’s the rub: How’s she supposed to do that? This book is pretty thick, but it’s totally worth your time. Now, give me the sequel!

Second: The Fault in Our Stars! Ahhh, John Green made me so sad with this book, but it was really good! The main character of this novel is Hazel Grace Lancaster, a 16-year-old with thyroid cancer, and who has had her future determined ever since her diagnosis. She spends most of her time either watching the newest episode of America’s Next Top Model or rereading her most favorite book in the entire world, An Imperial Affliction. Oh, and she sometimes attends this support group for other kids with cancer. And this is where she meet Augustus Waters, a one-legged 17-year-old who becomes Hazel’s friend and more. This won TIME’s #1 fiction book of the year for a reason, people.

Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly. And yeah, I’ve already reviewed this, but I don’t care, because it deserves to be on your shopping list! It follows the adventures of Andi Alpers, (who’s still recovering from her brother Truman’s death) as she goes to Paris with her father (against her will!) to work on her senior thesis. But things get more exciting when she discovers the diary of Alexandrine Paradis, an aspiring player from the time of the French Revolution. Andi is soon so caught up her find that it’s almost an obsession, and she’s desperate for it to have a happy ending. But things start to get rather strange one night in the catacombs. . . I’d just like to say that this book does not disappoint. It’s very thick, though, and kind of complicated, so I’m just warning you. Actually, I’m not. I take that back. Get it anyway!

Divergent. This also already has a review, but we’ll ignore that. This is not your run-of-the-mill dystopian novel. It’s a dystopian novel that is awesome. It tells the story of Beatrice Prior, who must make a choice: Her society, which is located in what was once known as Chicago, Illinois, is divided into five factions, each focusing on a certain character trait or value. They are Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. Now that Beatrice is 16 years old, she must decide which of these factions will become her home, after taking the aptitude test that determines which faction she is most suited to. However, there’s just one little problem: Beatrice is Divergent, meaning she had more than one result. Which is just plain dangerous. This book has had a lot of popularity going for it, and it is well-deserving. Veronica Roth is awesome. Now if she would just finish the last book already. . .

Agh, what next? Um. . .oh! How about Poetry Speaks Who I Am? (Okay, let’s just accept that almost every book on this list probably already has a review, or will have one at some point.) This is actually a really good Christmas gift. It’s properly fancy (comes with a CD) and is filled with awesome poetry for teens (I should know), from a myriad of writers. Some of my personal favorites are How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson, Abuelito Who by Sandra Cisneros, Used Book Shop by X. J. Kennedy, The Writer by Richard Wilbur. . .you do realize I could go on forever, right? So, seriously, get this. For pretty much any teenage poetry-lover (and older ones, too!) it’s a must.

There are tons of other books I demand you get, but this post would be never be finished if I wrote about them all. So let me just say that I love anything by Gary D. Schmidt, The Future of Us, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, anything by Carolyn Meyer or Ann Rinaldi is great, and. . .okay, okay, I’ll stop.

So, anyway, I hope you consider putting some of these incredibly awesome books under your Christmas tree this year, or giving them as a Hanukkah present, etc. Or just giving them to someone randomly, hopefully in the near future, or for a birthday, or New Year’s, or even Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, because any day is a good enough occasion to give someone a book. (Well, that sounded kind of corny, but let’s face it: It’s true.) Happy holidays everybody!

P.S. There is only one more week of school before break. Did you hear that? One more week!