Review: TEASE by Amanda Maciel

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

I can’t really put my finger on why I was so eager to read Amanda Maciel’s debut Tease. I read Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why last year, and remember feeling like it was a book that was important for high schoolers — and people of all ages, really — to read. Despite the difficult subject matter (teen suicide), I thought that book did an amazing job of showing how words and actions have consequences, and how many times people aren’t as strong as you think.

When I heard about Tease, written from the perspective of a bully following her 16-year-old classmate’s suicide, it seemed like it would be another challenging but eye-opening book that wouldn’t be easy to read, but would be important. So when I got the chance to read and review it, I snapped it up.

The Plot (from Goodreads):

Emma Putnam is dead, and it’s all Sara Wharton’s fault. At least, that’s what everyone seems to think. Sara, along with her best friend and three other classmates, has been criminally charged for the bullying and harassment that led to Emma’s shocking suicide. Now Sara is the one who’s ostracized, already guilty according to her peers, the community, and the media. In the summer before her senior year, in between meetings with lawyers and a court-recommended therapist, Sara is forced to reflect on the events that brought her to this moment—and ultimately consider her own role in an undeniable tragedy. And she’ll have to find a way to move forward, even when it feels like her own life is over.

With its powerful narrative, unconventional point of view, and strong anti-bullying theme, this coming-of-age story offers smart, insightful, and nuanced views on high school society, toxic friendships, and family relationships.

My Thoughts:

From the opening pages of TEASE, I knew I wasn’t going to like Sara — and that it was okay. It’s a rare YA book that has such a purposely unlikable narrator (the only other one I can think of off the top of my head is Lauren Oliver’s BEFORE I FALL) but when you’re reading about a girl that bullied her classmate to the point of suicide, you don’t really expect her to be all sweetness and light.

If you are looking for sweetness and light, a warning: there is none of that in these pages.

Sara is self-centered, whiny, and seems to lack even a trace of empathy for everyone around her. Her rolling eyes and her “like, whatever” attitude immediately set the tone for the rest of the book. This wasn’t a girl I wanted to root for. This was a girl I wanted to take by the shoulders and shake every time she repeated her “But I didn’t do anything” mantra — which she does for almost the entire novel, which alternates chapters between the months leading up to Emma’s suicide and the months following.

In the flashbacks, we get to watch Sara and her BFF Brielle (think Regina George from ”Mean Girls,” except worse) be utterly, inexcusably horrible Emma. They’re vicious and cruel and infuriating. But what’s interesting is that we also get to see that Emma was no saint herself. She made mistakes. She did some underhanded stuff. In Sara and Brielle’s eyes, she earned every bit of vitriol they spit at her. From Sara’s perspective, she was the victim of Emma’s cruelty, since Emma “stole” her boyfriend. Sara and Brielle were certain that Emma’s tears were a stunt to grab attention, and that everything she did was intended to irritate them.

Now, does that excuse what they did to Emma? No. Not in the slightest. I thought Brielle was an absolutely horrible person (and totally undeserving of Sara’s devotion to her) and that despite Emma’s missteps, the punishments that Sara and Brielle doled out were far, far worse. They were toxic in every way. Watching them revel in their constant abuse of Emma was sickening and horrifying, especially since we kept flashing forward to the period after Emma had died and Sara still couldn’t see that she did anything wrong.

That was the most disturbing part for me. How even after Emma was dead, Sara still couldn’t understand the role she played. She still thought that Emma deserved what they’d done, and that the main problem was her lack of ability to take a joke.

It may sound like I’m trying to discourage you from reading this book, but here’s the thing — I thought TEASE was brilliant. I spent the majority of it furious with Sara and Brielle, but I thought it did an amazing job of showing how bullying happens without romanticizing either the perpetrators or the victims in the slightest. Sara is a terrible bully, but then we get to see her be a wonderful big sister to her two brothers (although let’s be clear – I never really liked her). Emma is absolutely a victim, but she also purposely provokes them on a few occasions. Brielle is…well, Brielle is awful. But her awfulness is still somehow raw and real. Every character in TEASE was fully-formed and utterly believable, which is one of the things that made it so challenging. It wasn’t like reading a story. It was like watching these events unfold in real life, and watching these kids self-destruct, and being unable to do anything about it.

But that’s the beauty of a book. Because despite the fact that Emma, Sara, and Brielle don’t exist, there are kids just like them who do, and maybe after reading TEASE, they will think twice about pulling a prank or starting a rumor. I think it’s good that TEASE is infuriating, because maybe if a reader is furious with Sara, she will try harder to avoid being like Sara.

The prose is far from poetic, peppered with frequent, “like”s, “I don’t know”s, “whatever”s, and ”or something”s from Sara, who narrates exactly like the bored, insecure, self-centered teen she is. Her voice gives the whole book an authenticity that I don’t think could have been achieved with a more lyrical style. It’s a book where I thought the writing was perfection, even though it kind of made me want to rip my hair out.

Which is kind of the theme with every part of TEASE. Infuriating brilliance. Flawless abhorrence. Frustrating authenticity.

TEASE is not an easy book to read, but I found it impossible to put down. It’s beautiful and ugly and terrifying and real, and I think there should be a copy in every high school library. It’s not a book that made me cry, but it’s a book that made me think. I never really came to root for the characters, but I’m not sure that was the point of this book. I hope that in a strange way, this book about these kids who totally lacked empathy will be able to inspire empathy in the Saras and Brielles who are reading. Not toward these fictional characters, but to the real people they encounter every day. I hope they’ll be able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and choose the higher road. The one that Sara and Brielle never took.

And to any Emmas out there, hang on. There is always hope.

Review: PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG by Anne Blankman

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

So a few months ago, I joined Young Adult Books Central (have you been there? You should visit. Fantastic site) as kind of a behind-the-scenes gear-greaser. I poke around in the parts of the site that you don’t see and help it all run smoothly. My role is mostly helping the site function, not reviewing, BUT when I signed on, the incomparable MG Buehrlen (site admin) also told me I could review books for the site if and when I felt like it.

For the most part, I haven’t requested any review books from YABC. Reviewers have to jump right on reading and getting reviews posted in a timely manner, and I knew I couldn’t commit to that if I didn’t feel SUPER excited about a book. Most of my time lately has been devoted to my own writing, critiquing works-in-progress for my friends, and OH YES, SUMMER VACATION. (Parents who homeschool, HOW DO YOU DO THIS? I am in awe. These children are going to be the death of me.) I haven’t done much pleasure reading, much less pleasure reading on a deadline.

But the last batch of review books that came in contained PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG, and I knew I had to request it. Not only was the concept intriguing (Hitler as a main character? A member of his inner circle as the protagonist? Veeeeery eeeenteresting. *strokes metaphorical beard*), but one of my critique partners is working on a WWII manuscript, and I wanted to brush up on the genre. So I requested. And I have no regrets.

The Plot (from Goodreads):

In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her “uncle” Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf’s, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.

Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler. And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can’t stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can’t help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she’s been taught to believe about Jews.

As Gretchen investigates the very people she’s always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?

From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she’s ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.

My Thoughts:

I’m no historian by any means, but I have a deep appreciation for a well researched piece of historical fiction. Even when I know very little about a time period, I think that when an author does her homework, it shows. This is especially essential when the subject matter is one about which many readers already have formed opinions — in this case, the Nazi (National Socialist) Party and Adolf Hitler. I was excited, but a little wary, to see how Anne Blankman would approach such a delicate topic. I knew the protagonist starts the book very close to Hitler, but surely she couldn’t actually like Hitler? Surely the author wouldn’t dare paint Hitler as a nice guy who’s been horribly misunderstood?

I needn’t have worried. While, yes, protagonist Gretchen Müller is very fond of Hitler when we meet her, referring to him as Uncle Dolf, I found PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG very thoughtful in its approach to her beliefs and her interactions with the infamous Führer. I could see how this young, intelligent girl would have been won over by Hitler’s charisma and propaganda. It was clear a lot of care had been put into Hitler’s portrayal, and Gretchen’s perception of him, and I found it extremely believable.

It was chilling to see characters that truly seemed like good people embrace Hitler’s horrifying ideals. Some of the Nazi characters in this book were, indeed, monsters, but many were otherwise decent folk who didn’t seem to see how wrong their beliefs and actions truly were. One by one, they all turn against Gretchen when they realize she’s pulling away from the Party, in a series of events that becomes more and more terrifying as Gretchen sees how deep Hitler’s poison has sunk into the hearts of her German friends and neighbors. Watching as Gretchen slowly has the wool pulled from her eyes was both compelling and heartbreaking, especially when I considered that this story takes place before World War II, which meant opposing Hitler would only become more difficult for Gretchen.

The murder plot is exciting, but I have to admit, it wasn’t much of a mystery. The reveals that shocked Gretchen I found somewhat predictable, but I didn’t mind, because I wasn’t really reading to learn who killed Gretchen’s father. The answer was interesting — and tied brilliantly into a real historical event — but the aspect of the story that gripped me the most wasn’t the ten-year-old crime, but how Gretchen would survive once she knew the truth.

Likewise, I loved watching Gretchen’s interaction with Jewish reporter Daniel. It was fascinating to watch Gretchen grow from someone who mindlessly accepted that Jews were subhuman into someone who understood the value and humanity in all people. The love story was sweet, but much like the murder mystery, it was secondary for me. I was mostly invested for Gretchen’s internal change and growth. It’s rare to read a book where the protagonist wholeheartedly buys into the rightness of society’s harmful ideals, and then is forced to change her mind and heart completely when she is faced with the truth. I thought PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG handled that transformation wonderfully.

As I mentioned before, the attention to historical detail in this story is commendable. While Gretchen, Daniel, and several other important characters are fictitious, many of the characters in this book were real people, in addition to Hitler himself. Similarly, many of the events and locations referenced also were based on true historical accounts. I thought Anne Blankman’s thorough research and her thoughtful portrayal of history helped the fictional events leap off the page, and gave her story a real air of believably. I don’t think anyone should pick up a historical fiction novel expecting a 100% educational experience, but I do think PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG helped shed a light on a period of history that isn’t often taught in schools, and did so with a lot of care and respect to the time period. The plot of the story may be fictitious, but the backdrop was real, and I thought the balance between the two was lovely.

Overall, I found PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG a fascinating read, full of compelling characters and challenging questions, set in one of the most intriguing and terrifying periods of history. If you enjoy well-written, thoughtfully researched historical fiction, or simply great characters making hard choices against overwhelming odds, I highly recommend you give it a try.

Film Review: The Fault in Our Stars

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to attend an advance screening of the film The Fault in Our Starsbased on the novel of the same name by John Green. I had thoroughly enjoyed the book (as much as one can enjoy a book about kids dying from cancer), and although I had a few reservations about the film’s cast (having recently watched Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, TFIOS’ star-crossed lovers, play siblings in Divergent), they were mostly dispelled when I attended the Demand Our Stars event in Nashville last month.

Naturally, I went into the movie pretty excited. I knew the film had the resounding support of author John Green, the cast was made up of enthusiastic fans of the book, and the few people I’d talked to who had already seen it unanimously agreed that it was an excellent adaptation.  So armed with a TFIOS-themed packet of tissues, I settled into my seat for what I guessed would be a solid two hours of sobbing.

Nutshell reaction:

The early reviews were right. This movie is well cast, beautifully acted, expertly scored, and faithfully adapted. Book fans should be extremely pleased, and those who haven’t read the book will walk away with tear-streaked faces and a solid understanding of what all the fuss is about.

Longer reaction:

From the opening scenes of the film, it’s evident that everyone involved in this production was trying to be true to the spirit of the book. Everything from the script to the costumes to the set design seemed lifted straight from the pages. That dedication carries through the entire film, and nearly all of the tentpole lines and scenes are present and accounted for (one notable exception being the lack of the Shakespearean reference from which the story draws its title, but considering the indifference to the source material that often happens when translating a book into a film, such small omissions are forgivable).  The tone also carried through, which was no small task. This is a story about kids with cancer, and in some cases kids dying of cancer, but never becomes maudlin. It’s interspersed with levity and humor and the kind of irreverent joking — from both the teens and the adults — that make it more a story about family and friendship and first love and growing up than a story about cancer.

Although I had my doubts about the chemistry between the two leads, Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort won me over with genuine performances. The dialogue in the book was often flowery and a bit pretentious, and I’ve often heard critics bash it with the claim that “no one talks like that, especially not teens.” (The fact that I knew teens who talked and thought very much like this just proves how much of a story’s believably relies on the consumer’s personal experience, which is an element totally outside of the writer’s control — but that’s a topic for another time.)

My point is that the two young actors, and Ansel Elgort in particular, did an excellent job of portraying exactly the sort of person who would talk like this. He would probably think of himself as loquacious, not necessarily pretentious; at one point, he asks Shailene Woodley’s character, Hazel, not to interrupt him in the midst of his “grand soliloquy,” which is a perfect example of just how much his character, Gus, likes to hear himself talk. He played it in such a way that I could feel the character’s need to matter, to say something worthwhile, in an effort to thwart “oblivion,” which is Gus’ worst fear. It made me wonder if Gus would be prone to such epic monologues if cancer never found him. Maybe. But it was questions like this, along with little touches like his insecurity about his amputated leg, or his initial fear and then subsequent childlike wonder at his first time on a plane, that kept him from becoming a caricature.

Shailene Woodley is a bit of an anomaly for me. I can never picture her as the characters she gets cast as, but then when I see her performance, she wins me over. She’s one of those actors that never seems like she’s acting, which may be why I always have a hard time imagining her outside her most recent role. Hazel was no exception. Her portrayal of a teen living with cancer is compelling and authentic, and she’s able to infuse lightness and humor into the role while never downplaying the gravity of the situation (the oxygen tank she has to cart around for the entire movie is a constant visual reminder of her struggle, but even if the tank wasn’t there, the tightrope Hazel has to walk between “normal teen” and “cancer kid” is always present).

Then Nat Wolff fills out the teen cast as Isaac, who starts the film with one working eye and ends it with zero. His role is reduced from what it is in the book, but he is able to make the most of the screen time he’s given, stealing every scene he’s in. While also a kid suffering from cancer, Isaac’s biggest struggle in the movie isn’t the loss of his sight, but the loss of his girlfriend, which adds both levity (as Isaac works through his frustration by smashing Gus’ basketball trophies — with Gus’ blessing, of course — and by egging his ex’s car, in full view of her mother), and perspective: These are kids living with cancer, emphasis on living. They have cares and hopes and struggles and heartbreaks that have nothing to do with their illness, even when it takes their eyesight, or their leg, or their ability to breathe.

As in the book, the parts that got to me the most weren’t the parts with the teens — though several scenes, particularly the fake-funeral, predictably tugged on the tear ducts — but the ones with the parents. This is probably because I’m an adult, and a parent, myself, but even teens or adults with no kids should be able to empathize with the powerful adult performances in the movie. The  one with the most screen time is Laura Dern, playing Hazel’s mother, but pretty much every scene where we get a glimpse into Hazel’s and Gus’ parents struggle as they watch their children fight their diseases was heart-wrenching. There were very few parent scenes that I made it through with dry eyes, and the fact that Laura Dern and Sam Trammell (playing Hazel’s father) could convey so much with a quiver of their chin or a sideways glance made their strength and their grief beautifully palpable.

Much like the book, The Fault in Our Stars is sad, but not melancholy; romantic, but not sappy; heartwarming, but not saccharine. It sensitively addresses hard questions, like is it possible to live fully while you’re dying, or can a parent still be a parent once their child is gone, without providing easy answers. The performances are sincere, the film making is straightforward, and the lessons are layered. It’s a film about kids with cancer without being a cancer film, where even the sickest characters are defined by so much more than their disease.

Augustus has a line early on in the film when he asks Hazel, “What’s your story?”

She starts in, “Well, I was diagnosed when I was thirteen…”

And he interrupts her, “Not your cancer story. Your real story.”

I think that line is one of the main themes of the movie, and the book. There’s the cancer story, and then there’s the real story. I thought the film did an excellent job of focusing on the real story.

Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

I knew literally nothing about E. Lockhart’s WE WERE LIARS when I settled down to read. It’s better when you know nothing, is the phrase that was repeated to me by friend after friend. But they all insisted that I simply must read it, and that when I had, we would DISCUSS, but no, they would not tell me what it was about.

I was intrigued, so I read.

They were not wrong. It’s better when you know nothing.

That said, I need to write a review. This may be tricky.

The Plot (from Goodreads):

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.

Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

My Thoughts:

Obviously, the summary gives you very little to go on to decide if you want to read this book. For me, it worked for friends to shove it into my hands saying, you will like this. But that’s because they know my taste. You probably need a little more to go on, because I actually don’t believe this book is for everyone.

So here’s the most non-spoilery summary I can give:

WE WERE LIARS is about a group of four teens (three cousins, one friend) who grow up spending their summers with their families on a private island. When they are fifteen, the narrator, Cady, has an accident. She hits her head and loses her memory, suffers a traumatic brain injury, and spends two years convalescing under the watchful eyes of her parents. She never can recall what happened to her, but she misses the island and begs to return. So when she is seventeen, she does.

Only this time, everything is different. And no one will tell her why.

This is a hard book to peg down. It’s not the suspenseful page-turner I thought it would be, given the back cover copy (although it is a speedy read). Nor is it the quiet literary fiction that it feels like in parts. It’s a mystery that doesn’t read like a mystery. It’s a modern story that feels vaguely historical because of the isolated setting (Internet, phones, cable all don’t seem to work on the island). It’s psychologically manipulative, but then again, maybe it’s not.

It’s an enigma. It defies categorization.

The prose is gorgeous, but detached. It took me a while to become completely engrossed in this book because I couldn’t emotionally connect with the narrator. I was always interested in the plot and wanted to see what happened; I just wasn’t invested until about the halfway point. (Take this with a grain of salt – I have many friends who were utterly riveted by page 1.)

That said, once I was in, I was all in. This book solidly staked its claim on the “There Were Tears” shelf in my brain, and let me tell you, that is a small shelf.

There are twists and red herrings galore in WE WERE LIARS, and whether or not you see them coming or find them satisfying is part of the draw of this book. I found it smart and well-executed and original, but I also was able to call some of the surprises early on. However, that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book.

This is a book you can only really discuss with others who have read it, and it’s one of very few books that I’ve heard people recommend even if they didn’t like it, just because they wanted to be able to talk about it. It’s well crafted, beautifully written, and unlike anything else I’ve read. It’ll leave you thinking for days (and, if you’re like me, you’ll flip back to the beginning and start reading again immediately after you finish, looking for the things you missed), and talking about it over dinner with your friends.

You know, the friends who read it because you made them read it because you just had to talk about it.

I will give you the disclaimer that this book isn’t one for people who need clear answers. There is a lot open for interpretation, and there is a very valid way of reading the book that could leave the reader in a pretty dark place. There’s also a more uplifting way to read, but if you prefer your endings unambiguously positive, this may not be the book for you.

That said, if you’re up for a ride into the twisting dark unknown, I hope you’ll give it a try.

The Fault In Our Stars: Demand Our Stars Nashville Event Recap

Last night, I had the pleasure and privilege of watching hundreds of teenage (and adult) fans go absolutely bonkers over the stars and author of the the latest upcoming teen movie. Except that this time, the movie isn’t about sparkling vampires or teen wizards or futuristic freedom-fighters. It’s about a girl dying of cancer, a boy with one leg, and how they fall in love as they make a trek to meet the author of their favorite book.

The movie is The Fault In Our Stars, the author is the ubiquitous John Green (who was recently named to TIME Magazine’s list of the Top 100 Influential People), and the story is one that, quite possibly, some of the young fans in attendance last night could relate to. (Read my review of the book here.)

Nashville was fortunate enough to win a stop on the Demand Our Stars tour, where John Green would meet fans, answer questions, and show exclusive clips from the movie, accompanied by young stars Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, and (the almost equally ubiquitous) Shailene Woodley.

Due to some serendipitous string-pulling by some well-placed friends, I was able to snag a Media pass to the event, which meant:

1) I didn’t have to stand in line all day. (Tickets to the event were free, but entry was on a first-come-first-serve basis, which meant some fans lined up before dawn that morning to ensure their spot.)

2) I was this close to the stars as they walked the red carpet. (How close? Well, you’ll see in a minute.)

By the time I arrived at War Memorial Plaza around 5:45 (the stars were set to arrive at 6:30), the crowds were INSANE. The general admission line stretched the entire length of the courtyard and looped back around itself. The fans were mostly teenage girls, many in groups, many with a parent or two in tow. Lots of them clutched copies of The Fault In Our Stars, and some held other copies of John Green’s other books as well, hoping for signatures. Mix 92.9 had a tent set up where they’d been doing giveaways of wristbands and other YA books all afternoon. Despite the fact that some fans had been standing all day (and possibly awake all of the previous night), it was an overwhelmingly festive atmosphere.

 
After I checked in, I was put in the media pen by the red carpet. Teenage girls pressed all around the edges. Some in the pen had seen the movie that morning and said it was fantastic. The girls on the perimeter couldn’t wait to see it, telling stories of how much they loved the book. One girl relayed enthusiastically how she finished it during social studies class and cried so hard she had to be sent to the guidance counselor.

The stars were supposed to come down the red carpet at 6:30, but unbeknownst to us outside, Nat Wolff (who will also be playing the lead in the upcoming movie adaptation of John Green’s PAPER TOWNS) and his brother Alex surprised the crowd waiting inside with an impromptu live musical performance. Sadly, I didn’t get to see this, but I hear they were amazing.

At around 7:00, a roar went up from the crowd closest to the street. The stars had arrived. In a way, it was good I wore my tall and highly uncomfortable shoes, because there was no way I would have been able to see through the field of waving hands as fans strained for signatures. I just had to hold my camera over my head and hope for the best.

John Green came down the line first, and the crowd reaction was spectacular — which would be expected if he were, say, Chris Hemsworth or Jennifer Lawrence or a member of One Direction. But this was an author. A 30-something guy in glasses and a checkered shirt who types words into a computer and makes videos on YouTube. Yet when he arrived, many of the young fans burst into tears, and I heard several gasp excitedly, “It’s him, it’s really him!” It was kind of a magical thing to watch these kids get just as excited about the author of a book as they would a movie or rock star.

John was very gracious and tried to sign as many things as possible, but he couldn’t get to everything because there were just so many. He joked with a fan about how crazy it was to have events like this since he suffers from anxiety, and talked to reporters about how much he loves this movie and the cast.

Ansel Elgort followed next, far more dapper and charming than I would’ve ever expected him to be after seeing him as Caleb in DIVERGENT. Watching him in person, I suddenly understood exactly why he was cast as Augustus Waters. He radiated charisma, speaking kindly to the fans while smiling and signing and waving. When he spoke, he was charming and intelligent. I didn’t get to ask him a question, but I heard him mention to a reporter that he loves being in movies that have been adapted from books, because he understands so much more about the character. With a script, all he has is what’s in the movie, but with a book adaptation, he has so much more to draw from. It was clear that he had a great fondness for Gus, and I’m excited to see what he’s done with the character.

Shailene Woodley came next, soft-spoken and beautiful as she sincerely thanked the multitudes of fans who were excited to see her as Hazel and praised her performance as Tris. She too talked about how much she loved working on this movie and with this cast, and it was very evident that the three leads of the film and John Green had all grown very fond of one another.


Nat Wolff (who reminded me a bit of a seventh-year Neville Longbottom) came last, full of smiles and laughs. He mentioned later that the show he’d performed inside with his brother was his favorite show he’d ever done. He echoed Shailene and Ansel’s sentiments about loving his experience on TFIOS, and talked about how excited he was to be starring in PAPER TOWNS.

After the stars finished working the red carpet, they were ushered inside. I went up to the balcony and collapsed into my seat, my feet throbbing. The floor was the general admission area, and it was PACKED. The chairs had been taken out in order to accommodate more people, but the screaming audience didn’t seem to mind, even though they’d already been standing all day. Ten minutes of the film and behind-the-scenes footage was shown, highlighting text from the book interspersed with scenes from the movie. The sound was cranked up to ear-splitting levels, which was the only way the dialogue could be heard since crowd went crazy every time they saw one of their favorite scenes brought to life.

Without giving away much in the way of spoilers for those who haven’t read the book, the scenes we were shown included:

  • Isaac egging a car
  • “It’s a metaphor.”
  • “I’m in love with you, Hazel Grace.”
  • Hazel’s wasted Wish
  • “Okay?” “Okay.”
I’ll let you guess which one got the biggest reaction from the crowd.

 
After the preview finished playing, John and the stars came onto the stage for a Q&A, and the crowd went wild again. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the audience is functioning without a voice today. I haven’t heard a crowd scream like that since the New Kids on the Block concert I attended last summer.
 

The questioners in the crowd brimmed with enthusiasm (some with tears), and the topics ranged all over the place, from the movie to the book to interesting tidbits about the folks on stage. Probably most people’s favorite response was when Ansel was asked if he had any hidden talents, and he did this:

(Video by YouTube user Carrie Germain)

One person asked what their favorite part of filming was. Ansel answered that his was the days they spent in Amsterdam. He and Shailene would walk around the city together, getting to know each other as friends. Shailene’s was the egging scene, which was also Nat’s first day on set. John loved them all, but he skipped the day they filmed the love scene. Because there is getting-your-book-made-into-a-movie weird, and then there is…that. (That was the only day he skipped — he was fortunate to have the opportunity to be invited to the set for the entirety of filming.)

The cast was asked their feelings on John, and they promptly had A Moment on stage. “John is probably my favorite person in the world to talk to,” Ansel said. Shailene agreed. “You really are unprecedented,” she said in obvious awe. “There’s no one in the world like you.”

None of the cast were Nerdfighters, or knew about vlogbrothers, before they started working on the movie. However, now they all would consider themselves part of Nerdfighteria. Ansel even threw up a Nerdfighter gang sign, which promptly endeared him to everyone who hadn’t already been wooed by his killer dance moves.

John was asked who his “John Green” was as a teen. The one author who spoke to and inspired him more than anyone else. He answered Kurt Vonnegut. “He reminded me I was real.”
 
They answered questions until 8:00, then left after giving the audience their heartfelt thanks.

It was an amazing night, and not just because that’s the closest I’ve ever stood to a movie star. It was inspiring to see the impact that books — and not just TFIOS, but all books — had on these young people. While we waited outside for the event to start, the girls near us chattered about the other books they’d read and loved. At one point, a girl behind me yelled to someone across the courtyard, “Talk nerdy to me!” in reference to the sticker she was wearing promoting The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare. It was moving to hear the crowd go bananas over their favorite scenes from a book. It was lovely to watch the young stars on stage express their wonder and admiration for an author.

I’ve heard from a few who have already seen the movie that it’s wonderful, and I’m excited to see it. But I’m more excited about the spirit that prevailed in War Memorial Plaza last night, and the unquenchable excitement of a generation of readers.

All photos used in this post were taken by me.