Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle

Let it SnowReading level: 5th (ish)
Genre: Romance
ELL-Friendly: Yes
Library recommendation: High school

Goodreads summary:

Sparkling white snowdrifts, beautiful presents wrapped in ribbons, and multicolored lights glittering in the night through the falling snow. A Christmas Eve snowstorm transforms one small town into a romantic haven, the kind you see only in movies. Well, kinda. After all, a cold and wet hike from a stranded train through the middle of nowhere would not normally end with a delicious kiss from a charming stranger. And no one would think that a trip to the Waffle House through four feet of snow would lead to love with an old friend. Or that the way back to true love begins with a painfully early morning shift at Starbucks. 

Honestly, I’m not a fan of Christmas stories or romance stories, and I only read Let It Snow because it was the last published John Green story that I hadn’t read. However, I did enjoy the stories (except for maybe the final one), but I won’t go out of my way to get a copy for myself or my classroom library. As a trio, I loved how the stories interwove with each other. That is, the three stories contain some of the same characters that adds some depth and surprises I wasn’t expecting.

Each of the stories contain mild swearing, and one story in particular contains several mild references to sex, which would get a pg-13 sticker from me if I owned a copy. That said, because of some of the “mature” content, the nature of romance stories, and the ages of the characters (high school), Let It Snow would appeal more to the high school age group but wouldn’t be unfit for upper middle school, either. In general, it is ELL-friendly with some exceptions of words here and there that just seemed out of place in otherwise simply-written stories.

“The Jubilee Express” by Maureen Johnson

Jubilee takes a trip by train, but the train is delayed by a snow storm, so she winds up staying with a boy and his family. Jubilee was a likable character but reminded me a little of helpless, pathetic Bella Swan in that she is clumsy and tends to ramble, which makes her look uncontrollably weird. Because it’s a romance story, Jubilee and The Boy (Stewart) get together. Overall, it was a sweet story if just a little weird with the mom encouraging Stewart to hook up with this random girl (Jubilee) and the romance moving very quickly.

“A Cheertastic Miracle” by John Green

Three friends risk their lives to get to The Waffle House in the midst of a snow storm in order to bring Twister to a group of cheerleaders who are displaced on the same broken-down train as Jubilee. This short story is similar to An Abundance of Katherines where the story is hormone-driven and features an obnoxious minority friend of the main character. The boys’ obsession with cheerleaders gets SUPER annoying. There is a beautiful moment (the kind that John Green is famous for) among the incredibly shallow plot line of MUST GET TO CHEERLEADERS. The main character is remarking on the changes that happen between boys and girls that cause friendship to become something more and how that change can be dangerous by ruining innocent and special relationships.

“The Patron Saint of Pigs” by Lauren Myracle

Okay, this is the story that I particularly disliked. We are reconnected with Jeb, whom we meet in the first story. Addie and he had dated before Addie made a big mistake and ruined the relationship, and the entirety of the story is Addie pining for him. Addie is pretty deplorable. She’s annoying and selfish. Yes, she realizes she is too self-centered, but saying a few nice things and doing an errand from a friend hardly changed my perception of her.

As I was reflecting on how I disliked Addie and why, I realized that all of these stories are so white-washed and upper class. Sure, Jeb is Native and Annoying Kid from John Green’s story is Asian, but, man, so much privilege and so many winy, spoiled teenagers. This book has gotten pretty great reviews, so don’t be discouraged because of me. Like I said, I was never a fan of romances or Christmas stories in the first place.

An Abundance of Katherines – John Green

katherinesReading level: 8.1

Genre: Realistic fiction

ELL-Friendly: Mostly

Library recommendation: High school

Alright, folks. I’ve read Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns, The Fault in Our Stars, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson (co-written with David Levithan) by John Green. I was not impressed by An Abundance of Katherines.

To be fair, the book wasn’t terrible. It was witty, funny, and generally engaging in that wonderful John Green way. But it lacked a lot that kept it from being great, in my opinion.

First of all, Colin, the main character, is clingy and needy. And he doesn’t really have any particularly redeeming qualities that allowed me to see him outside of being clingy, nerdy, and needy. The main conflict in this story, I suppose, is Colin struggling to create a theorem to predict and understand relationships. Quite frankly, I just didn’t care about the theorem. Maybe it was my aversion to math.

Aside from Colin struggling with the theorem and chasing after Katherine the 19th, interjected with a few specific problems throughout, there was no driving plot or issue. There was no urgency as there was in Green’s other stories. This book didn’t tug at my heartstrings like the others, either. John Green’s books have all had a profound impact on me to make me cry, almost cry, or laugh until I cried. At the very least, I was able to finish each book and look back very fondly upon the characters. Not so with An Abundance of Katherines. It’s all very typical – boy gets dumped, boy tries to get girl back, boy falls for another girl, boy discovers himself.

Something else I had a problem with was the perfection of Colin’s family. They were a well-off, supportive family living in Chicago (sound familiar, John Green fans?). The only parent/family member that posed a problem was Lindsey’s mom, which was more realistic but not a focal point. I’ve said this before, but perfect families in fiction annoy me.

This book would be okay for ELLs for the most part, but there are several words and phrases in different languages (Arabic and French for example). However, anything in a different language is explained. Words in a different language (in addition to English) might throw off some ELLs and other struggling readers, though.

There is also some swearing/slang. As far as swearing, there are the basic curse words and only one legitimate F-bomb. However, there is lots of “fug” and “fugging” said instead. While I don’t find “fug” to be offensive, some students/parents might. Plus there’s the plethora of other curse words throughout but not to the point that it was excessive by my standards. Teenagers swear, after all.

And of course the sex. It’s not too explicit but there is one brief, not-too-graphic scene. It’s nothing compared to what’s in Looking for Alaska, but it’s enough to definitely keep it off of middle school shelves. The sex scene in Alaska had a clear meaning, but the scene in Katherines didn’t have as obvious a purpose.  Perhaps the point is that the physical relationship between two people can mean little to them (as they claimed) but it cannot be taken lightly, and engaging in such activity connotates a sense of love/closeness that should never be written off as meaningless, even if it’s just for fun.

I also feel like I should mention Hassan, Colin’s friend who is Muslim. I learned a bit about his religion along the way, and I appreciated this glimpse into a new culture that isn’t often included in YA lit, especially books written by White people. I’m curious about Green’s purpose in making Colin’s best friend a Muslim. I appreciated this diversity but still found Hassan’s character to be annoying because he is lazy and rather selfish. Again with the lack of redeeming qualities. But hey, maybe it’s realistic.

To end on a positive note, I enjoyed that this story highlighted boys (and Lindsey) finding their paths and what is important to them. It’s sort of a coming-of-age novel to help teenagers know that their lives don’t have to be planned out or meaningful in the scope of the universe but that each life needs direction.