Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Book: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

“And I know now that all the time I was trying to get
out of the dust,
the fact is,
what I am,
I am because of the dust.
And what I am is good enough.
Even for me.”

In Out of the Dust, readers get to experience the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression through the eyes of fourteen year old Billie Jo. The novel is entirely in free verse poetry, which I believe helps capture the tone of the story. The words move like dust in the wind and have a powerfully smothering impact. Hesse buries you in images, and it feels incredible.

She starts the story with the background info that they are in Oklahoma, they’re in the midst of the Depression, and that dust storms are constantly plaguing the city. We learn that Ma is expecting a baby, and Billie Jo will be a big sister. Billie Jo explains how her Daddy wanted a boy but all he got was “a redheaded, heckle-faced, narrow-hipped girl with a fondness for apples and a hunger for playing fierce piano.” She loves her parents, and is excited for her new brother, Franklin, to be born.

However, tragedy strikes one day while Ma is cooking and a pail of kerosene near the stove catches fire. Ma runs for Daddy and Billie Jo, thinking to save the kitchen from burning down, flings the pail from the kitchen only to strike Ma and catch her on fire. While Ma survives the initial burn, she suffers a slow and agonizing death while Daddy hides in his alcohol. Ma and the baby both die, leaving Billie Jo and her father to fend for themselves and mend their broken hearts. Billie Jo suffers extreme burns on her hands from trying to stop Ma from burning, and as a result struggles to continue to play piano. She is no longer the fierce and incredible player she once was.

The book progresses through the events and stages of grief for Billie Jo and her father. She talks deeply about how the dust continues to smother whatever droplets of hope manage to appear before hope can fully take hold. She talks about how difficult it can be to let go of the past and force yourself to move forward for both her and her father. In the however, after trying to escape the dust she realizes it is a part of her that she can’t outrun and that she must learn to grown within it. She and her father reconcile, she begins to play piano again, and together they move forward into a new life.

This book has been a longstanding favorite of mine. I read it while I was living at Edwards AFB, CA where I was surrounded by nothing but dust and cactus. I found it was something I could easily connect to because I was also searching for a way to find a better life. I had big dreams and I was stuck in a small town. Looking back on it though, the desert had a unique beauty to it and it has become an integral part of me. This book also says a lot about hope and perseverance. It’s an excellent read of younger readers, because it is a short read but also quickly emphasizes what it means to keep going.

Beverage: Ma’s Apples

I know, I know. I’m slacking on the puns.

Tonight, I’m enjoying a Magner’s Apple Ale. Nothing like Ireland to scream “Dust Bowl” and “Great Depression.” I’m tying this directly to Billie Jo’s extreme love of apples and the significance of her mother’s apple trees. Billie Jo talks about how much Ma loved the apple trees and how those apples brought a little more life into their home.

The Apple Ale is sweet, like cold cider with a little bite to it to remind you that you’re an adult now. It’s a little like clinging to your childhood while knowing that things have changed and you too must move forward. It’s smooth and makes your lips tingle like apples that are just a hair tart.

Also, it’s got a 4.5% ABV, so the buzz is nice too.

 

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It’s All in the Code

Book: Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang

Secret Coders is a fun graphic novel fresh off the press this year. Geared towards middle school kids, Gene Luen Yang designed this graphic novel as a way to get kids interested in computer programming which is typically seen a nerdy, boring thing to do.

The story begins with seventh-grade transfer student, Hopper, who finds herself at Stately Academy, an old school with a creepy vibe. She struggles to make friends and in fact, starts off the day with an altercation with a couple of punk-ish boys. However, she stands her ground (and spits on one to top it off). She continues with her miserable first by upsetting her Mandarin teacher, then having to sit alone at lunch with nothing but a weird four-eyed bird for company.

Soon, though, she draws the attention of the boy she had spit on named Eni. Eni is a schoolyard cool kid, a basketball star, and a kid who is super good at programming. He teaches Hopper how binary works and soon the two of them realize that the four-eyed birds all around the school are actually robots that respond to binary commands. This leads them down an exciting road to unlock all the secrets of the school, through the power of programming.

It’s a quick read, easily finished in half an hour. I thought it was very cute and a lot of fun. If Yang’s goal was to get kids interested in programming, I think he certainly achieves that. If I was a middle schooler reading this, I would totally start looking into it more.

Beverage: Beernary Coding

Today I decided to go outside of my usual cocktail and try out some beers. I’m generally not a major beer person. (I know, ironic because I live in microbrew city.) However, I found that Smithwicks is quite delicious. It’s an Irish red ale with a smooth feel. Unlike a lot of beers I’ve had, it doesn’t leave a weird after taste in your mouth. It’s not very hoppy.

Blind Alley

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Book: Blind Alley by Iris Johansen

In this mystery thriller readers meet Jane MacGuire, a seventeen year old who has never had an easy past. After years of living with a drug-abusing mother, living on the street, and being bounced from foster home to foster, Jane finally settles into the life she should have lived with forensic anthropologist Eve Duncan, and her detective husband, Joe. The family is used to having death in their home, as Eve’s primary job is to bring home the skulls of victims the police find and reconstruct their faces to find their identity. A strange thing happens, when the latest face Eve reconstructs looks just like Jane. We find out that a serial killer named Aldo is on the loose and tracking down women with Jane’s face. Enter Mark Trevor, a suspicious man who claims to be from Scotland Yard. He tries to join Joe on the case with information about Aldo’s activity in Europe. However, Trevor doesn’t act like a typical cop and Joe is instantly suspicious. As he should be, because Trevor turns out to be a con man trying to make his way onto the case for personal reasons. It turns out that he and Aldo know each other from working on an excavation site stealing artifacts back in Italy. In a tunnel in the ancient city of Herculaneum are said to be the remains, and the treasure, of a famous actress named Cira. Aldo’s father and Trevor were both obsessed with finding the remains, the treasure, and anything else related to Cira. This obsession in his father leads to the severe neglect of Aldo which ultimately drives him insane. After an accident in the tunnel leads to his father’s death, Aldo blames Cira and devotes his life to finding her and destroying her in every possible way. He thinks he finally has found her, reincarnated in the body of Jane. Young Jane, being the independent free-spirit that she is, refuses to allow anyone to threaten her or her family, and makes the decision to work with the con artist to take down this murderer once and for all. She is her own person, and refuses to be killed for a crime that neither she or Cira committed.

Throughout the story, Jane also has dreams (nightmares, really) of being trapped in the tunnel where Cira allegedly died. Together with these dreams, the information from Trevor, and Jane’s tenacity, they concoct a plan to use Jane as bait to catch Aldo once and for all. They travel back to Italy and lure Aldo into a tunnel where they will have the chance to have a final stand off.

There’s also a little romance segment. There’s high sexual tension between Trevor and Jane, because Jane thinks she’s an adult and can handle an older (28 year old) man. It’s awkward.

I picked up this book after reading one of the other novels in the Eve Duncan Forensic thriller books, where Jane was first introduced. I’ve been a long time fan of Iris Johansen’s writing, and I’ve been reading her books since I was in the sixth grade which is why I thought I’d read something of hers for this class. Blind Alley was a good read as it concerned a non-typical teenager and how her past shaped her reaction to this terrifying situation. It shows a lot of what it means to be independent. I would use discretion when recommending the book, though, as there are a lot of thematic elements, violence, and exploration with sexuality. Know your kids and students. But if they’re interested in flying by the seat of their pants and clinging onto every word, then I’d definitely recommend it. I had a great time with this novel for sure.

Beverage: Hot, long, and dark (Yeah, my men too.)

The tunnel Jane dreams about is hot, long, and dark, so I thought hey, let’s see what we can make. So where I would usually research a cocktail and try it out, this time I thought I’d mix my own. This one is just coke and Fireball in a champagne flute. (Long glass, dark coke, hot “fire.” Get it? Haha. Sorry, I know it’s a stretch.)

Honestly, not a lot to say about this drink. My proportions are 3 parts coke, 1 part Fireball. It was pretty strong, but I think the cinnamon flavor mixes really well with the Coke. It almost makes me think of Dr. Pepper.

It was alright.

The Food of the Gods (and Lessons in Amnesia)

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Book: The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

“You must forge your own path for it to mean anything.”

I absolutely loved the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, and I was super excited to check out Heroes of Olympus since it’s a sequel series. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. (Read: I devoured this 553 page novel in 2 hours. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s only for kids.)

This story takes off with teenager Jason Grace, who wakes up one day on a bus to the Grand Canyon having no recollection of who he is or who his Piper and Leo are, though they certainly seem to remember him. Upon arriving at the Grand Canyon they are attacked by evil storm spirits and are only saved by a satyr that they believed was their human coach. They are soon picked up by a girl named Annabeth and it is soon revealed that none of them are mere mortals. They are demigods, children of the ancient Greek (and Roman) gods, and have special abilities due to their godly parents. Jason, a son of Jupiter, has powers over the wind and sky. Piper, a daughter of Aphrodite, has the persuasive speech power called “charmspeak.” Leo, a son of Hephaestus, has power over fire and incredible mechanically-inclined brain. A prophecy is revealed to them, and they are assigned a quest to save the goddess Hera who has been kidnapped by a giant. In their quest they fight monsters, learn new information about an even larger scheme beyond just Hera’s kidnappers, and create an unshakable bond of friendship.

This book is great for adolescents (and adults too)! It is full of the awkwardness that comes with growing up and making friends. It deals with challenges of how to work as a team, accepting your own faults, and appreciating the strength in others. It is also filled with captivating adventure that teens are sure to enjoy. It is the first book in the sequel series, The Heroes of Olympus, that follows Riordan’s early series Percy Jackson and the Olympians. While PJO is written in first person from Percy’s eyes and coming from the perspective of a middle schooler, HoO is written from a third person viewpoint and each chapter follows a different character. It is written with language geared towards a slightly older audience and has a darker tone as the team is faced with more dangerous and hopeless situations than before. While in PJO there is suspense and danger, there is also always a sense of hope and the knowledge. In HoO, Riordan instills a very real fear into readers about the outcome of the plot and leaves many wondering what could possibly go wrong next. It’s a fantastic adventure.

Beverage: Ambrosia (and a Long Island Ice Tea. Kinda)

I’ll start by saying this: I tried to drink a Long Island Ice Tea. Relevance? Camp Half-Blood, where Greek demigods train, is located in Long Island. So I thought, why not! It was a mistake. A grave and terrible mistake. (*Disclaimer: It could have just been this bar specifically. Don’t go to the Barcade on W. Elizabeth St. for a Long Island ice tea.) It was one of the strongest “mixed” drinks I’ve ever had. I took two sips and gave up, and that’s saying something coming from me.

So I moved onto a drink called Ambrosia! It goes like this:

  • 1/4 c. coconut rum
  • 2 Tbsp fresh orange juice
  • 2 Tbsp fresh pineapple juice
  • Splash of grenadine
  • garnish with marshmallows and/or cherries

This one was a lot friendlier to the palette with a sweet, fruit cocktail taste to it. I generally don’t care much for orange juice or pineapple juice, but having that splash of grenadine really balances it out. It’s not very alcoholic, so it makes for a good drink to have if you’re out and about and just drinking for the social aspect and not to get schnockered.

So why ambrosia? In Greek mythology, ambrosia was considered to be the food of the gods. In PJO and HoO, we see ambrosia used as a healing food to revive wounded demigods. However, if too much is consumed the demigod could burn up entirely. The past few weeks have been pretty rough on me, so it made sense that a little ambrosia might be a good pick me up.

Harry Shotters

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Book: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

“Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike.”

Every summer since 1998, I have gone through and reread the entirety of the Harry Potter series in preparation for the next book. When there were no books left, I continue to reread them in preparation for the movies. Now that there are no more movies, I continue the tradition of rereading it every summer because, well, why the fuck not? This year’s reread was pushed back slightly, owing to the death of my childhood in the form of a full-time job and two part time jobs. But, alas, here I am having reread Order of the Phoenix (hence abbreviated OotP) and having my childhood rekindled.

In the fifth installment of the Harry Potter sage, we join the fifteen-year-old wizard as he is faced with expulsion from his favorite place in the entire world: Hogwarts. After last summer, where he saw the return of You-Know-Who and the death of a fellow classmate, Harry has spent months isolated from the wizarding world with nothing more than vague letters from his friends Ron and Hermione. While avoiding his family one night, Harry and his non-magic cousin Dudley find themselves face to face with literally soul-sucking creatures called dementors, which Harry fights off with a defensive spell. This results in the Ministry of Magic calling for his expulsion. During his trial Harry meets Dolores Umbridge, a ministry worker that goes on to become the most terrible defense against the dark arts teacher Hogwarts has ever seen. Harry evades expulsion. He returns to school goes and must face Professor Umbridge and her quest to reform Hogwarts exactly to ministry standards and beliefs, including the belief that Harry is a liar about Lord Voldemort’s return. Through public shaming and scrutiny, distrust and loyalty, Harry continues his journey towards sharing his truth and stopping Lord Voldemort in his tracks.

This book teaches a lot about what it means to stand up for what you believe is true, which I think is an immensely important lesson for people to learn. In this day and age, we are faced with the biased media reports, rumors about each other, and giving in to what the majority is into instead of sticking to what we know to be right at their core. Harry knows exactly what he saw the previous summer. He is publicly shamed and even people he thought were his friends have turned against him. However, he sets an example by never giving up in his mission to get people to understand what happened. It also shows that not all people in authority can be trusted and that we need to begin to think critically about what we are being taught. Rowling’s portrayal of Umbridge gives a prime example of an everyday evil character. It shows that not all bad guys are murderers and thieves. Bad guys can take the form of racism, biased teachers, and an unfair justice system. The quality and style of writing are ideal for adolescents. It is written in a speaking voice that a typical student would relate to, with just dark enough of an element to make them think of how the world at large effects them.

I absolutely love rereading this book. I have found that every year I discover something different to appreciate. As a kid, I had no friends and nobody ever listened to me. (I thought myself to be quite “tragically misunderstood.”) When I read this in 2003, I related to Harry being an outcast because people believed he was lying. I sympathized more with that than I do now. During this reread, I found myself paying more attention to the specifics of how Umbridge operated as a government endorsed educator. It struck me much more significantly now that there are really teachers like her out there. There are teachers who will only teach you what you need to know to pass an exam without offering any real world application. It baffles me. It always has, but after having taken education classes at CSU and being close to current teachers and soon-to-be student teachers, it is more evident than ever that there are teachers that really aim to hit a numerical goal on a piece of paper.

Beverage: Rum Weasley and the Demintor

It’s about to get delicious up in here. A couple weeks ago I ran across a Post that gave same great Harry Potter themed shot ideas. On that link, there are six listed in total, but I’m broke so I only made two of them. This week we tried out the Rum Weasley and the Demintor. I made some slight changes to the recipes based on liquor availability.

Rum Weasley
2 oz. spiced rum
1 oz. mandarin vodka

Demintor
1/2 oz. vodka
1/2 oz. Kahlua
1 oz. peppermint schnapps

The Rum Weasley was nice. I’m not a huge lover of citrus based things, but the mix with the spiced rum made the citrus taste more of a kick than a flavor. The Demintor, though, was DELICIOUS. Five stars right there. I literally had three of them. It tastes like Christmas in a cup and makes you feel as warm as sitting next to the fireplace. It goes down smooth and doesn’t leave an after taste.

Total shots taken: 1 Rum Weasley, 3 Demintors, an 2 shots of Firebolt (Fireball, hahaha get it?).

It’s currently Banned Book Week, so tune in next week to find out what sorts of challenged novels I got into!

~Meg

Fourteen Reasons Why

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Book: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Trigger Warning: This novel centers around suicide and sexual assault. I will try to be tasteful about how I approach the subject matter today, as a someone who has been in both of those situations before, but I do not know what will trigger you personally. So please be advised, and I will not be offended if you choose not to proceed with reading this post.

“I’m listening to someone give up. Someone I knew. Someone I liked. I’m listening but I’m still too late.”

What an absolutely fascinating novel. As mentioned in the trigger warning, this novel features suicide at its core. Specifically, it features a behind the scenes look on what seemingly insignificant events can snowball into a tragedy. Thirteen Reasons Why has two concurrent storylines. One takes place through cassette tapes recorded by a teenage girl named Hannah Baker who ultimately takes her life. One takes place through a teenage boy named Clay Jensen who listens to these tapes. There are seven tapes, each with an A side and a B side. Each side of the tape (except for tape 7 side B) tells the story of a person and event that contributed to Hannah’s final decision

One day Clay comes home from school, weeks after has Hannah has died, to find a package addressed to him with no return label. Inside are the tapes. He is shocked to hear the voice of Hannah Baker come through, and even more shocked to hear that the tapes contain thirteen reasons/people/stories as to why Hannah decided to kill herself. The tapes will only ever go to the people on the list of reasons, and the thirteenth person can “take these tapes straight to hell.” However, if someone bails and decides not to listen or not to pass them on, a second set of the tapes will be publicly released and everyone’s dirty little secrets will be spilled out for the world to know.

And dirty secrets they are. We follow Hannah as she is made the subject of sexual objectification, groped, has terrible and completely untrue rumors spread about her, is betrayed, raped, and eventually gives up on herself. Each event she shares seems insignificant at the time it occurred. Just some minor thing she could have moved past. However, as the story unfolds she shows the listener (and reader) how every insignificant piece connects and breaks her down bit by bit.

This book is riveting and I absolutely could not put it down. It’s written from the angle of being a suspense novel, versus a play-by-play on how to die. It focuses more on the events leading up to suicide, instead of the suicide itself, which I think is a good way for teens to start talking about mental health and bullying from a safe distance. It becomes much more difficult to talk about when a student tries to put themselves directly in the conversation. There were times where I related to Hannah, as she struggled with acceptance and the pressures of high school. There were other times where I related to Clay as he asked himself how he didn’t see the signs, and asking why Hannah didn’t try harder to reach out. This book cuts deep, and causes people to stop and think on their own actions. What things have I done that seems trivial, that really may have been the final straw on someone’s load? Have you ever listened to a rumor, then spread it to one more person? Have you ever watched a person walk away from you, visibly upset, and not stopped to ask if they were okay? Have you ever jokingly talked about someone’s body, or taken something personal to them and made it public? There are so many insignificant things that people don’t realize may have an even bigger consequence on someone else.

At this point, I would like to stop and offer up a few real world resources that I wish that Hannah and Clay had known about. Below are listed some resources for victims of assault, secondary victims of assault (friends, family, confidants of victims), a hotline and an online chat resource for people in crisis situations, and some information on the signs you should watch for in yourself and others.

There’s a stigma about mental health. It says that we are weak when we feel like things are hopeless. It says that we are even weaker when we seek help. I want you, dear readers, to know that I do not follow that stigma. I firmly believe that everyone deserves a chance to fight for their life with all the resources that exist. I believe that you should not be afraid to ask for help. I believe that empathy, that really understanding someone, is the first step in helping them. I am not a trained professional for crisis situations, but I am a person who is willing to listen and to tell you it will be okay.

When I was at my lowest point, I did what Hannah did except with pen and paper. I made a list of the people and the events that made me want to die. I wrote out the stories and I put each one in an envelope and sealed them and stamped them and set them on my nightstand for the next day. I, like Hannah, thought my signs were obvious and that if anyone wanted to help, they would have already. I had resigned myself to the idea that no one was coming to save me.

But I, unlike Hannah, had more reasons to keep going than to give up. Somewhere in the night, those reasons came to mind. They were simple, but they were enough. To all the Hannah Bakers out there, fictional or not, I’m sorry that you weren’t able to find your reasons. I won’t blame you. I won’t judge you. I’m just sorry that the word failed you. Here are the reasons I wish I could have shared with you for you to keep going.

Fourteen Reasons Why
  1. Sunrises, which tell you that eventually the darkness ends and light comes through again.
  2. Stars, which shine even on the darkest nights. Even when the clouds cover them up, you know they are there.
  3. The smell of autumn, when the leaves change colors and start to fall. The sound they make when they crunch under your feet.
  4. Music, which moves your spirit. When words fail, music speaks.
  5. Adrenaline, when you’re scared and terrified and that hormone is flowing through your veins forcing you to keep moving.
  6. The people you leave behind, because whether or not you think you did, you left some sort of a mark on them.
  7. Smiles, the ones that people flash at you from across the room or the street. There’s not rhyme or reason behind the smile. It’s just there to be happy and exist.
  8. Food, your favorite kind. Be it cake, or eggs, or mac n’ cheese. The taste of happiness dancing across your tastebuds.
  9. Books, because some times when life gets too hard it’s best to climb into someone else’s shoes and see the world a little differently.
  10. Opportunity, which comes in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. You may find yourself against a wall, but maybe that wall just leads to Platform 9 3/4.
  11. The world, because there is so much of the world to still see. All of its beautiful natural landmarks, manmade landmarks, the people that inhabit it.
  12. The good, because you must know that not everyone is bad.
  13. The bad, because it makes you appreciate the good.
  14. You. You are the most important reason to keep going. You are worth the air in your lungs, the blood in your veins. You are worth space you inhabit, and the space you cross to reach out and touch someone else.

You are worth Living for.

Beverage: Nyquil

I’m sorry. There’s nothing clever or witty here. My immune system is currently compromised, and after a terrible time sophomore year with drinking while having the flu, I’ve decided to forgo the opportunity for alcohol. So tonight’s drawl brought to you by Cough Syrups! Huzzah!

Tune in next week for another installment of Adventures in Books and Booze on Tequila Mockingbird!

Drinking Stars

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Book: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

“My thoughts are stars I can’t fathom into constellations.” –Augustus Waters, The Fault in Our Stars

Good God.

I have read TFiOS three times now, and no number of times can prepare me for the knife of emotion that I know will inevitably sink into my soul and cut through my heart, pouring my feelings out like blood spilled on the floor. (I, obviously, have strong opinions on this one.) I begin my books and booze journey with this novel because it 1) aligns with my timeline and 2) is something I thought I could let the words flow for. I did not expect to find myself at a complete loss of words for an interpretation of this novel.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For those of you who have not read TFiOS yet, let me give you the run down (or skip several paragraphs to the tl;dr). We begin with our protagonist, a 17 year-old girl with terminal thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs. After being given a terminal diagnosis (even before the story begins) Hazel begins taking a (fictional) drug that has extended and improved the quality of her life. However, as a classic cancer girl, she can no longer attend regular school and has instead received a GED and takes classes at a community college. More or less against her will, Hazel is also made to attend a cancer support group in the basement of a church in the “literal heart of Jesus.” It is here that she meets the love interest, Augustus Waters, another cancer teen. He was once a basketball star but later lost his leg to osteosarcoma.

Augustus is charming. He has a smooth way with words that creates this air about him that says, “Oh yes, I am intelligent and attractive, and I am well aware of it.” Hazel was aware of it, too. From the first moment they see each other, there is obvious chemistry between Hazel and Augustus, by John Green does a wonderful job of never making it seem forced. Hazel and Augustus begin to hang out following the their support group meeting, and become quick friends. In conversation, they begin talking about books in which Hazel discloses (somewhat begrudgingly) that her all time favorite novel is An Imperial Affliction.

An Imperial Affliction becomes an extremely important part of TFiOS and the main thing that pushes many actions forward. It’s a book about a girl with cancer but not “a cancer book,” as Hazel is quick to note. In cancer books, you follow the hero that has cancer but through it all is brave and humorous and never gives up and everyone loves them. Cancer, however, is rarely like this. Cancer is grueling and miserable and can destroy the spirits of even the most charismatic humans. An Imperial Affliction, much like TFiOS, does an excellent job of portraying cancer patients as they really are. It is this raw and honest depiction that draws Hazel into the novel. However, the novel doesn’t end. Well, it does end. Right in the middle of a sent

Yeah, just like that. How annoyingly clever of the author to show that the narrator of An Imperial Affliction had died. This ending has always bothered Hazel, not necessarily because of the implications of her own terminal diagnosis, but because of her desperate need to know what happens to the other characters in the novel.

Since it is Hazel’s favorite book, Augustus takes it upon himself to read it as well and finds himself with the same frustration and the need for closure. He writes to the author of the novel, Peter van Houten, to get some answers and is instead invited to visit him at his home… In Amsterdam. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and through the magic of “cancer perks” (Hazel’s words, not mine), Augustus and Hazel (and Hazel’s mom) are able to travel to Amsterdam to meet van Houten. When they arrive there, they are sorely disappointed as the once brilliant author was now nothing more than a washed out drunk with a biting tongue. He refuses to give any sort of answer as to what happened at the end of the novel, and sends them on their way.

The trip, however, does have it’s romantic moments of innocent love and a sense of companionship that seems to only strike when you have nothing left to lose. Then we hit the plot twist. And bad things happen, that I will not state here as I want you all to read the book. There is an event that occurs, and everything from there on is nothing but an honest depiction of what happens at the end of your days. I have nothing but the utmost respect for that.

So there you have it, TFiOS summed up until the twist.

tl;dr: Girl with cancer meets perfect boy with cancer. They bond over a book that has no closure at the end. They adventure to Amsterdam to find the answers and fall in love along the way. Tragedy hits, and everything goes downhill from there. It’s raw. It’s poetic. It’s beautiful.

My Thoughts (somewhat fathomed into constellations)

A couple of questions that this novel brought to mind:

  1. Should knowledge of an artists/author/musician change your opinion of their work?
  2. Is it unfair to let someone fall in love with you, or love you at all, if you know that you are dying?

These are hard questions. Looking at the novel, we see the example of van Houten as an absolutely conceited toe-rag. He’s drunk and rude and blunt, but managed to pen one of the most incredible books of Hazel’s life. As she realizes that the author she once adored, she begins to lose respect for him but never for the novel itself. It is still a work that speaks deeply to her and she can connect with it on a level that she can’t connect to anyone or thing else (except perhaps Augustus). Sometimes, it is not so easy to separate the artist from their work. In the real world, one example is Martin Freeman. He portrays several of my favorite on screen characters (Watson, Bilbo, etc), but from the media I absorb I’ve found that he’s a truly insufferable human. Because I have no deeply formed connections to the characters he plays, I have often found myself thinking about him as a person while watching him on screen. It’s hard to watch Sherlock without thinking, “Martin Freeman, you kind of suck.” So to this question, I have decided to take each scenario on a case by case basis. Should I be able to separate artist and work? Sure. You might create something beautiful, even when you’re an ass. That doesn’t the diminish the quality of your work.

I feel a lot more strongly about this second question. Is it unfair to let someone fall in love with you, or love you at all, if you know you’re dying? It doesn’t matter if it’s unfair or not. The people who love you will love you whether or not it’s right. If you are truly dying, let them love you. Let them cherish you. These last days will be what they hold onto, and God forbid their last memories are you pushing them away. The fight is so much easier when you have people to love you too, and when you can just accept that love. Stop fighting it. Let them remember your smile and your laugh. Let them worry about you when you hurt. Let them hurt when you die. These emotions make us human, and if you are so blessed to have people that feel that strongly for you, how can you deny them that humanity? Yes, when you die, it will hurt them. But as someone once said, “It is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.”

Beverage: The Stars (champagne vs. sparkling wine)

In TFiOS, there is a scene in Amsterdam where Hazel and Augustus find themselves at a beautiful restaurant courtesy of van Houten’s assistant. The scene goes like this: Augustus and Hazel are at the table, and each given a flute of champagne as a gift from the restaurant.

 A sturdy young waiter with wavy blond hair appeared. […] “Do you know,” he asked in a delicious accent, “what Dom Pérignon said after inventing champagne?”

“No?” I said.

“He called out to his fellow monks, ‘Come quickly: I am tasting the stars.’ Welcome to Amsterdam.”

So in honor of that, here I sit with a glass of Wilbur’s cheapest bottle of sparkling wine. Sparkling wine and champagne are often used interchangeably and there’s really only one subtle difference between the two: location. That’s right folks! The $20 difference is due to where it was made. Champagne can only be called champagne if it was made in the Champagne region of France. Otherwise, it’s sparkling wine. So, to steal a quote from The Wine Company: In other words, all Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne.

I’m a fan of sparkling wine. The one I’m drinking is a tiny bottle perfect for me and Manfriend to have two full flutes each, for the glorious price of $4.99. It has almost a cider taste to it, and leaves just the lightest tingle on your lips. I weigh a grand total of 105 pounds, so these two glasses have me feeling pleasant. Maybe it’s the wine. Maybe it’s the atmosphere, but I’m feeling warm and tingly down to my toes. It’s the kind of beverage that calls for slow dancing to a laid back swing beat, and stolen kisses by candlelight.

So there you have it. The Fault in Our Stars, and stars to accompany it. Maybe in another post, I’ll come back to this and give more backstory as to why this book touches me so deeply.

Tune in next time for Thirteen Reasons Why!