My Favorite Books of 2014

Well, it’s that time of year again (and has been for quite some time, but I’m late as always). Cookies have been baked, trees have been decorated, menorahs have been lit, and that means that the end of the year is nigh. However, as of right now it is still December 30th, 2014, and that means I still have time to post my favorite books of the year. And oh gosh, they were so good. So before I get distracted. . .

This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl by Esther Earl, with Lori and Wayne Earl

There are some books that I feel like everyone should read at some point, and This Star Won’t Go Out is one of them. Esther Grace Earl may be best known for helping to inspire John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, but she was also a remarkable young lady all on her own. TSWGO is a collection of her artwork, diary entries, and writing, allowing the reader to get an up-close look at Esther and her life. Esther’s voice is so distinctive that I could still hear it in my head even when I wasn’t reading, and the amount of love she had for her family and friends is apparent throughout. TSWGO isn’t just about Esther the Harry Potter Fan, or Esther the Cancer Patient, or Esther the Catitude Member. It’s about Esther in all her entirety, and it’s without a doubt one of my favorite books of the year, and one of the ones I loved the most. (Review here.)

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

If I were to compile a list of the books that blew my mind in 2014, We Were Liars would be at the top of it. It tells the story of Cadence, the oldest grandchild of the elegant and wealthy Sinclair family. Every summer the family gathers on Beechwood, their private island not too far from Martha’s Vineyard. But when an accident on Beechwood changes almost everything about Cady’s life, she’s left with no memory of what happened, and no one seems to want to enlighten her. Even the Liars, a group comprised of two of her cousins and their friend Gat, are being secretive. E. Lockhart paints the picture of her story in a way that’s hard to forget, slipping between prose, poetry, and clever retellings of fairy tales in a way I’ve never seen before. Even the writing itself is shocking, and as for what actually happened. . .well. You’ll have to find that out for yourself. (Review here.)

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

The fact that I immediately thought of rereading this as soon as I typed the title should give you an idea of how much I absolutely loved this book. It tells the story of a teenage girl living as part of Hitler’s inner circle in Munich in the 1930s, and how drastically her life changes in the time leading up to Hitler’s election as chancellor of Germany. Blankman’s plot and characters are incredibly well done, and she handles the heavy subject matter in a way that is both mind-blowing and so, so good to read. Definitely one of my favorite historical fictions ever, let alone from just this year. (Review here.)

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Set in 1959 Virginia, Lies We Tell Ourselves is about what happens when two very different girls (with two very different worldviews) are forced to interact. Sarah Dunbar is one of the African American students integrating all-white Jefferson High School, while Linda Hairston is the white daughter of the one of the town’s most vocal segregationists. When the girls have to work on a school project together, they find themselves each developing feelings for the other, in ways they never wanted to. Robin Talley writes her characters in a way that sucks the reader in, and I kept wanting to know what happened next, even after the pages were closed. Part of me sincerely hopes for a sequel, but in the meantime, definitely give Lies We Tell Ourselves a look. I’m looking forward to whatever Talley has coming out next.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

>mind blown all over again<

If Prisoner of Night and Fog was one of the best historical novels of the year, I’ll Give You the Sun is one of the best contemporaries. Jandy Nelson portrays the messy, complicated, art-infused relationship between twins Noah and Jude with considerable talent, hopping between two different time periods of their lives and pulling it off very well. The characters are one of the shining stars of the novel, and the writing is fantastic. I couldn’t put it down, and when I finally did, I kept reeling over how good it is. (Review here.)

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

All the books listed before this have been fiction, but Brown Girl Dreaming (by the talented Jacqueline Woodson) is far from it. This is Woodson’s memoir in verse, taking the reader through her childhood, from Ohio to South Carolina to New York. She makes even the most everyday activities become lyrical and beautiful, and she touches on everything from her love of writing to the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panthers. Brown Girl Dreaming is the story of how Jackie Woodson became Jackie Woodson, yes, but it’s also a story with many important points to make, and a beautiful book of poetry to boot. It’s definitely one of the best books of the year, as well as a National Book Award winner! (Review here.)

Well, that’s about it (although I could very well think of more after I post this). I didn’t get as much reading done this year as I would have liked to, but 2014 brought some seriously amazing reads to the shelves, and introduced me to several authors I can’t wait to read more of. I hope you all have had a wonderful holiday season so far, and an absolutely marvelous 2015. 🙂 Happy New Year!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” –Dr. Seuss

P.S. And thank you so much for visiting the blog this year. For liking, commenting, subscribing, putting up with my crazy rants and my lack of caps lock self-control. Thank you just for taking the time to read. It means a lot and I’m grateful for it all 🙂 Have a great holiday, and read some good books! (And eat candy!)

Advertisements

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:

IMG_3409[1]

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!