Funny, Sad, and Really Good

Josie Leavitt - January 31, 2012

A few weeks ago I promised to talk about some of the books I read during the week that we were closed. I was happy to find these galleys and while they are decidedly different from each other, they share one thing in common: humor. All to often the humor is missing from young adult novels as we spend more and more time in dystopias.
The first book I read was Pete Hautman’s What Boys Really Want.  I was immediately taken in by this book because it’s really funny. Funny from the first chapter when one of our narrators, Adam, gets caught in a no-win discussion with his friend about how skanky she is. By the end he freely admits that he doesn’t really know what skanky means. Adam’s honesty rings true and his best friend, Lita, understands and accepts him for all his foibles.
The book alternates short chapters from Adam’s point of view and Lita’s. Hautman does an admirable job of making each voice unique and equally compelling. Lita has been a secret and very popular advice blogger at her school and has aspirations to write, so she’s angry and sad that Adam suddenly begins working on a book about What Boys Want. Being an enterprising teen, Adam sells the book before it’s written. Feeling pressure to now actually write a book, Adam starts stealing material from the web, including content from Lita’s Ask Ms. Fitz blog. The book sails along until the slightly unbelievable ending which I won’t give away. Suffice to say it was a tad farfetched, but it didn’t spoil my ultimate enjoyment of the book. I laughed out loud so often it didn’t matter.
John Green’s long awaited, The Fault in Our Stars was another realistic young adult fiction I read. This book’s humor is definitely of the dark variety as the book focuses on kids with cancer. Hazel is a depressed 16-year-old with terminal stage IV thyroid cancer. She is forced to go to a cancer support for kids with cancer. Everything she says is funny, biting and a little tragic. As a reader, when I know books are about terminal kids, I try to put up a wall so I’m not crushed if they die. I couldn’t do this with this book.
I was right there with Hazel the whole book. She meets another cancer survivor at the group, Augustus, who sweeps her off her feet. Augustus had a leg amputated because of bone cancer that’s now in remission. Hazel and Gus share books (I love this idea), introducing each to their favorites. Hazel’s book is The Imperial Affliction about cancer and Gus’s book is about a video game. They couldn’t be more different, but their attraction towards each other has them reading and rereading the books. Gus, while at first comes off as a knight in shining armor, is a richly portrayed character who is trying to live life fully.
This book is also devastatingly sad even while it’s being funny. Sometimes, there’s no humor as funny as black humor. It’s also touching and reminds one of the good in the human spirit. I don’t want to give anything away, so all I will say is don’t read the last 40 pages in public and make sure to have to plenty tissues on hand. I read this at home and was down right sobbing on the couch. Elizabeth kept asking if I was okay and the poor dog had no idea what to do. Even through the tears I told Elizabeth she should read it, too. It’s not shocker that a book about kids with cancer might end on a sad note, but it’s totally worth the journey.

5 thoughts on “Funny, Sad, and Really Good

  1. Jennifer Schultz

    Josie, I read The Fault in Our Stars this weekend, and I completely agree with you. I’ve read my share of books (fiction and non) about children with life-threatening diseases, and I actually had to put this book down at one point and walk away from it for a bit. It’s not maudlin or sentimental; it’s just devastatingly honest (and hilarious at times!). What a memorable, amazing, unique read. I’ll never forget it.

  2. Sarah

    I really liked your review of What Boys Really Want and agree with you about the value of humor! I’ve also enjoyed Don Calame’s Swim the Fly and Beat the Band – hilarious! Laughed all the way on a flight to Jackson Hole and my fellow passengers had to ask what I was reading.

  3. Carol B. Chittenden

    I find I really don’t care how sad a book is as long as it’s funny too. Both of your reviews are for titles that have found favor among our staff too. And I’d like to recommend Meg Rosoff’s There Is No Dog, just out, which has me laughing, chortling, smiling, reading passages aloud to anybody nearby with just about every page. It relates very closely to What Boys Really Want: in There Is No Dog, God is a 17-year-old boy. He wants sex, he wants food, he wants not to be hassled — and ultimately he wants … well, three guesses.

  4. Francine Lucidon

    Late for work yesterday finishing TFIOS and cleaning up the Kleenex. What a rich lovey book filled with humor and bits of John Green wisdom. Especially sweet is her relationship with her parents which I see more and more in this generation of teens. Lovely, heart wrenching, life affirming. Meg Rosoff’s book is next on my list!


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