What’s more annoying than teenagers exchanging “whatevers,” “likes,” and “ya knows”? Teenagers who have a literary allusion ready for every situation, that’s what. Author John Green’s main characters in his fifth novel, which was published in 2012, suffer from this malady. The story is told from the point of view of Hazel Lancaster, whose thyroid cancer has metastasized to her lungs. After she meets fellow cancer patient Augustus Waters in her support group, they fall in love almost immediately. Hazel relies on an oxygen tank to breathe and Augustus’ osteosarcoma has left him with a prosthetic leg. The two share a goofy vision of the world. They can also easily see through the maudlin, insincere ways many people misunderstand kids with cancer. Their love affair is neither condescending nor saccharine. At times, however, their conversations are too witty. As a result, many parts of the novel irritated me. I felt like I was stuck in an episode of the TV show Gilmore Girls. Being peppered by staccato, conversational one-uppers is not my idea of a good read. The novel successfully illuminates the inner life of the terminally ill patient who is living longer—albeit with a lower quality of life—thanks to biomedical advances. Although the witty banter is tiring, their relationship remains uplifting. It’s also refreshing to read a work of fiction that is not about werewolves, vampires, or zombies. The book has already been made into a movie, scheduled for release in June 2014.
Sexism alert! I thought that the author of Poe was a man, mainly because the main protagonist is male. I also don’t associate the comedy-horror genre with female authors. To be fair, the name J. Lincoln Fenn, like S. E. Hinton before her, is androgynous. Twenty-something Dmitri Petrov is a recently orphaned obituary writer. After his parents die in a car crash, his existence is plagued by a series of mysterious events. He attends a bizarre séance at a local haunted mansion known as Aspinwall, where he encounters an ethereal, feminine specter he dubs “Poe,” in the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe’s spooky stories. Using his crack reporter skills, Dmitri tracks a series of gruesome murders happening in his small town. An eccentric cast of characters from the past and present seem to be connected with Aspinwall in some way, but how, exactly? As murder victims pile up around him, Dmitri must find out before anyone close to him is harmed.
To me, one of the best things about Diana Rodriguez Wallach’s books is that her sense of comic timing is perfect. Another is her gift of storytelling. In her latest work, she introduces us to Emmy, who comes from a long line of Greek gods and goddesses. She may hail from a family of immortals, but as a young adult Emmy has to endure the same slings and arrows the rest of us do when faced with a gaggle of judgmental peers. It’s the family business to cleanse the world’s population of ultra-narcissistic individuals. Her great-grandmother GiGi sends her on assignments to track down the overly self-involved on “the List.” If one of Emmy’s targets gazes into the mirror of her silver compact, the unlucky girl’s (or boy’s) soul gets sucked into it forever. In other ways, Emmy is a typical teenager. She finds herself attracted to a cute boy who is only peripherally involved in her mission and is mocked by mean-spirited, jealous girls. Just when you think Emmy has another soul in the bag, Rodriguez Wallach throws a delightful curve ball at the reader. The trilogy is tinged with sadness, as well, for the reader feels Emmy’s pain at not being able to lead a normal life.