THERE IS NO DOG
By Meg Rossoff
Putnam Juvenile, 272 pp., $17.99
By Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral
Razorbill, 304 pp., paperback, $19.99
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS
By John Green
Dutton Juvenile, 336 pp., $17.99
In this most brutal month of the year, when winter malaise digs in its claws, a novel about love is a welcome reprieve. Three very different new young-adult books challenge the perception that romance means a predictable fairytale plot, delivering humor, madness, and tragedy.
Already controversial in her native England, Meg Rossoff’s “There Is No Dog’’ is a delightfully irreverent, sharp novel that asks readers to envision God as a moody, sloppy, sex-crazed teenage boy named Bob. Stay with me here. It gets even better. After his hard-drinking, self-obsessed goddess mother, Mona, won the position of God for him in a poker game, Bob created the world in just six days not because of ambition, but because he didn’t have the attention span to keep with the project.
Now imagine that this teenage boy, whose fickle emotions are reflected in the earth’s weather, happens to fall in love with a human girl, a beautiful, kind, 21-year-old junior zoo keeper named Lucy, who is herself searching for someone special. Though Mona reminds him, “honey bunch, every time you fall in love, it ends in a firestorm. You lose interest, you ruin some girl’s life, earth erupts in natural disasters, millions die,’’ he pursues Lucy, resulting in a debacle of biblical scale.
The fantastic characters keep the laughs coming and readers thinking. Mr. B, Bob’s harried assistant who handles the banal day-to-day running of the world, is a scene-stealer. Mona is a fantastic parody of the inept parent so prevalent in teen lit, and even Bob’s pet Eck, “an odd penguiny sort of creature with the long elegant nose of an anteater, beady eyes and soft gray fur,’’ is full of charm.
But if love can be funny and capricious, it can also be strong enough to seem like a sign of insanity. Readers are able to experience “Chopsticks’’ by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral as a website, an app, or by opening a hefty print book. Using photos, bits of text, YouTube videos, and original art, among other elements, Anthony and Corral employ a scrapbook-like format to test the narrative possibilities of multimedia storytelling.
Gloria “Glory’’ Fleming is a piano prodigy who lost her mother when she was young and is consumed by her loneliness and isolated by her talent. When Francisco Mendoza moves next door to her in the Bronx fresh from Argentina she is able to experience what it feels like to be a normal teen. But even as Glory gains love she is losing her sanity. She begins uncontrollably interrupting her performances at famous concert halls around the world by breaking into the “Chopsticks’’ waltz. Her downward spiral happens quickly, and readers are left to decide how much of what they have witnessed is true and which is more real: the world inside Glory’s mind or the one outside that offers her no comfort? With its matte photos, angst-laden postcards and dialogue, and discombobulating videos, “Chopsticks’’ is lovely, creative, and quietly provocative.
Finally, we come to the long-anticipated new novel from Printz Award winner John Green. “The Fault in Our Stars’’ is a love story about two teenagers with cancer who decide not just to survive, but to live. With allusions to Thoreau, Frost, Dickinson, and even his first book, “Looking for Alaska,’’ Green’s latest displays his incredible talent and his faith in the mental and emotional intelligence of his devoted fans.
If brave, sweet Beth March of “Little Women’’ is the archetype for the sick character in children’s literature, then Green’s protagonist, 16-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster, is, in many ways, the anti-Beth. She may be shy, but she uses colloquialisms, to put it politely, that are usually heard only in high school locker rooms. She can recite poetry from memory, but loves “America’s Next Top Model’’ marathons. She has terminal thyroid cancer and has to haul around an oxygen tank because she has “lungs that suck at being lungs,’’ but her story is as much a celebration of life and love as it is about endings.
Hazel meets Augustus Waters in a local Indianapolis cancer support group. He “had a little touch of osteosarcoma’’ that required a leg amputation but is now in remission. Hazel falls for his crooked smile and goofy personality. Their love story takes place in Augustus’s basement where they play video games, Amsterdam where they go to ask questions of the reclusive author of a favorite book, and in hospitals and living rooms where they deal with the reality of dying. Augustus observes, “there is no glory in illness. There is no meaning to it. There is no honor in dying of.’’
Green’s writing is raw and feels so very real. Illness can be undignified. Suffering does not have a purpose, and relationships are complicated. In the most painful way a person can, Hazel comes to realize, that love does not, cannot, conquer death. What it can do, however, is transcend it.
Chelsey Philpot is a book reviews editor at School Library Journal and can be reached at email@example.com.