I originally thought that since both books feature teenaged narrators who both have fatal diseases, the books might have similar or totally different endings. Well, that's like comparing Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings because they're both third person and fantasy. Kind of a silly thought on my part.
Both of these books are amazingly well written. Bray and Green both excel at humor and at being serious. I mean, the books are about death. Or, being confronted with one's own mortality and learning to live.
Yes, both main characters Hazel, from Stars, and Cameron, from Bovine, are teenagers who don't make the most of life. Hazel lets herself get stuck in a rut or limited existence partially because she's dying of lung caner (and thus requires being hooked up to oxygen tanks) and partially because she's depressed and has been away from her peers for three years. The only social interactions she gets are at the community college she attends three times a week, and a support group where all the kids have cancer. It's easy to see how it would be hard to really embrace life to the fullest in that kind of situation.
Cameron on the other hand doesn't really have a good reason for being a moody loner teenager. For Cameron, it is the disease that gives him life.
Also, I really admire the fact that both narratives are written through the voice of a teenager that is the opposite gender of the writer. I mean, John Green has never been a female teenager (and I have therefore I can be a good judge on the matter), but he pretty much nails the voice in my mind. Now, I've never been a male teenager, and neither has Libba Bray as far as I know, but she as well does an extremely convincing job.
And that's where the similarities end. Well, they also both have characters who love video games, but I'm not going to linger on that.
So brief reviews on both books...
Going Bovine by Libba Bray
genre: magical realism
overview: Cameron contracts mad cow disease and teams up with a dwarf, a garden gnome, and an angel to travel cross-country and find a cure while trying to defeat an evil wizard.
I loved loved loved this book. It has been awhile since I read it, but the strengths of it still stick out in my mind. Bray does an amazing job with details. She takes these minor details from before Cameron gets sick and then weaves them into the amazing adventure he has. Like (and I don't consider this a spoiler alert) watch out for snow globes.
Also, mad cow is not something that you get better from. It's not something you can live with. No. The disease kills you. So you would think the ending of the book would be horribly sad and make you cry for days. And while there are sad parts to it, the book ends on a hopeful note.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
genre: realistic fiction (but also fantasy in the way that only falling in love for the first time can be)
overview: Hazel has lung cancer and is terminal. She is sleep walking through life, but meeting Augustus Waters gives her a new reason to get out of bed in the morning.
I adore John Green. He writes characters that I could've been friends with in high school. They just feel like real people. And not just the kids - the parents too. I feel like I'm most like Hazel's mom in this book (she celebrates every holiday. Such as arbor day. It's not goofy. Her child is dying of cancer and the mom wants to make the best of it - who can blame her?) Also, I'm kind-a in love with the fact that the two main characters (Hazel and Gus') first real conversation revolves around the correct use of the word "literally." You know how that can be a pet peeve of mine.
Does this book end sadly? Yes. The main characters have cancer. To be fair (to them and the world) there is only one way for this book to end. But, is it a book about kids who have cancer? I'd say no. The characters are not defined by their disease. It is a book about kids who are living, not dying.
Here's a video from John Green talking about the novel.
So... where did I think the book was lacking? I feel like the character of Gus (Augustus) at some points is a bit too awesome and a little unrealistic. A super hot guy who is concerned about the metaphor of having an unlit cigarette... and he's 17. So maybe not totally unrealistic but very rare.
But it is totally worth reading. So read it!