11:15 am EST, January 30, 2014

Loved ‘The Fault in Our Stars’? Try these books

It’s finally here! After a great collection of behind-the-scenes looks, set pictures, and a resounding approval by John Green, the Fault In Our Stars trailer arrived on Wednesday.

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As much as I enjoyed all of the excitement (the name of the book/film was a top trending topic on Twitter), I was also reminded of the book itself: not as something to recommend or promote, as I’ve been happy to do, but as a story.

When I first got my hands on The Fault In Our Stars (TFiOS), I knew it was special. It made me laugh, it made think, it made me question, wonder, and re-define my views on death. A book like that doesn’t come along every day. I soaked it in as long as I could, discussing and suggesting and rereading. But there’s nothing quite like that first experience of reading a book, as all book lovers know. That experience, that wonderful, thoughtful, perspective-changing experience, is guaranteed only once per book.

Luckily for us, cultural phenomenons like The Fault in Our Stars don’t have a monopoly on the book business. The New York Times bestseller list (and many others!) hold many wonderful books. I’ve done my fair share of reading, and I found a few that helped me fill the TFiOS void with thoughtful commentary on the heavy topics of life and death.

1. ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’

This one’s been on the “must-read” shelf in nearly every bookstore I’ve been in for years. For a while, I refused to pick it up, mistaking it for a breakup story. My eventual insight into the book’s true content (i.e. reading the display at the library) pushed me to give it a try, and I’m so very glad I did.

The book is narrated by Clay, a teenage boy, but its true main character is his friend and classmate, Hannah Baker. When the story begins, Hannah is dead; she committed suicide weeks before. But she left something behind: Thirteen audio tapes that Clay one day finds at his door. Thirteen reasons why she died.

The reader sees the night Clay listens to the tapes. It alternates between Clay’s voice and that of a disembodied Hannah’s. This mode of storytelling is both clever and incredibly interesting. It allows for multiple perspectives on Hannah’s experience, but also gives the reader the strange experience of listening to a story along with an in-canon character. Often, I found myself reacting one way while Clay, holding previous knowledge, reacted another.

As I read, I felt like I was benefiting from two different sides of the book: the engaging and clever storytelling, and the thoughts and questions it had to offer. Hannah tells the story having already given up, and Clay listens to it carrying the burden of knowing that he can do nothing about it. He finds out more and more about the people he thought he knew, and discovers just the impact you can have on another person. Hannah describes her own example of the domino effect of others actions, giving a new perspective to both Clay and the reader. It brings up a lot of important questions. How do we know people? Do we really know them at all? Many of Clays reactions were insightful. As is the book on the whole: insightful, poignant, shocking, and sad.

(Purchase on Amazon)

2. ‘Before I Fall’

This book is another combination of unique storytelling and an underlying theme of death. Written by Lauren Oliver, author of the Delirium series, the novel adheres to a Groundhog Day style of storyline. After the death of the narrator, Sam, she wakes up again, shocked not only to find herself alive, but in the previous morning. As time passes, she realizes that she is stuck in a loop, and the resulting decisions make for a thrill of a story. Each time her day is relived, she changes in successive subtle ways, until I could look back at a few days of story and find an incredible character arc.

That’s the true power of this novel: the characters. The way Sam reacts to each of them and the ways in which those reactions develop are incredibly powerful. As she finds out more and more about what people were thinking and doing on that day, she begins to get the full story, and uses that knowledge to her advantage. This frustrating cycle makes for a very complex internal struggle. How she wants to act changes, but the events of the day (and her death) don’t.

Though not an original plot device, Oliver utilizes it in the best of ways. The day stays the same, but the girl changes. Her experience with, and desire to avoid death pervade her thoughts in the novel, and it’s that fact, rather than the fact of the repetition, that lead her to act the way she does. It’s an infuriating loop, trying to change things when they will inevitably repeat. As the story went on, I kept wanting to chime in with my own ideas of how the story should go. By the time it got to the end, I too, had learned a thing or two.

(Purchase on Amazon)

3. John Green’s other books

If you find yourself more attracted to John Green’s style than the themes of TFiOS, this will be a pretty obvious choice. If you can separate your associations from TFiOS, I suggest Looking for Alaska (Amazon). It’s somewhat similar in the depth of the questions it tackles, but the story itself is wildly different.

Paper Towns (Amazon) is less similar, and brings up insightful questions while challenging storytelling tropes and ideas about teenagers in a very self-aware way. He also wrote An Abundance of Katherines (Amazon), one of my favorites, and co-wrote Will Grayson, Will Grayson (Amazon). I can whole-heartedly recommend them all.

So there you have it, folks! Read away. By no means can you ever replicate that first TFiOS experience, but the power of all books still remains. Check them out while you wait to see the story on the big screen.

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