BOOK REVIEW: THE PERFECT STRANGER, BY WENDY CORSI STAUB

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The women connected on their blogs, recounting their battles with cancer, and finding support in the community.

But when one of them, Meredith Heywood, one of the few who used her real name on her blog, was murdered, fear cuts through the online community and turns them into frightened people, not sure who they can trust. Or even if they can trust each other.

Could someone evil be hiding behind an innocent screen name? Like Jaycee, the only one who doesn’t even post a profile photo? How do they even know who each person is, when their identity can be so anonymous?

When a small group of the women go to Meredith’s funeral and meet each other for the first time in person, they will feel a connection and start to trust. But then more things happen that make them doubt everyone again. Even each other.

Landry, Kay, and Elena all meet again in Alabama, at Landry’s home, but none of them feel safe, and the suspense ratchets up until, in the final pages, we discover the truth. The Perfect Stranger reminds us that just when we believe we are safe, we can be very wrong.

Alternating narrators drive the story and keep the reader hooked. We know all of the narrators…except the anonymous murderer. And in the end, could that anonymous person be someone we know, someone unexpected?

I loved turning the pages and trying to guess who was killing the seemingly random victims. 4.5 stars.

REVIEW: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, BY JOHN GREEN

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They met in a cancer support group: Hazel Lancaster, a sixteen-year-old victim of thyroid cancer that has migrated to her lungs; and Augustus Waters, seventeen, in remission after bone cancer cost him one leg.

Their eyes connected across the room, and an instant spark ignites between them.

As love stories go, this one might seem unlikely, and as romantic characters, some might question these two. But from the very first page, it was impossible not to sense something special between them.

Narrated in Hazel’s first-person voice, we are privy to their intelligent and witty dialogue, with its hint of sarcasm. We learn more about them from these moments than any other back story could offer. The story is set in their home town of Indianapolis, Indiana.

Hazel’s favorite novel, which she has reread several times, is called An Imperial Affliction, by Peter Von Houten, and is narrated by a dying woman. Because the story ends mid-sentence, Hazel is obsessed with finding out the ending for the other characters. After Augustus also reads the book, the two of them develop a plan. To visit the author in Amsterdam, compliments of the Wish foundation.

What happens to the two of them in Amsterdam? Are they able to find the answers they seek? What do they do when Van Houten shows them a disappointing flaw in his character? And what unexpected truths does Van Houten later share?

In the final moments of The Fault in Our Stars, we are gripped with the reality of what will surely transpire for these individuals…and for us, since we are now invested in their destiny. From Van Houten’s book, Hazel and Augustus have gleaned this philosophy of sick kids as “side effects,” a way of accepting their situation:

“Cancer kids are essentially side effects of the relentless mutation that made the diversity of life on earth possible.”

 

These characters are like real people, and as such, have their good days and bad days. Sometimes their frustrations come out like an explosion, while at other times, the characters glean the necessary support from their group and their families to live each day to the fullest. I liked the characters because they are not like the superficial teenagers that are often spotlighted in YA books. For this reason, I enjoyed them and wanted to root for them. The fact that they are unusual does not make them less believable, as some have noted, but makes them likeable.

It is impossible not to feel connected to these two characters and to empathize with how their lives have taken them on a journey they would not have chosen for themselves. But without this journey, they might not have met. Was this destiny the fault of their stars? An unforgettable story that will live on past the final page. 5.0 stars.