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Paper Cranes Don’t Fly

By Peter Vu

(4 customer reviews)


For Adam Auttenberg, hospital is like a second home. With Tess, AJ and Rachael by his side, it’s even bearable. Facing the toughest challenge of his life, all Adam has to help him are his friends. But will they be enough?

This story describes the life of a cancer patient in a way that few other young adult books do, focusing not just on living with cancer, but going through it, with the help of patience, love and friendship.

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4 reviews for Paper Cranes Don’t Fly

  1. Laura Pettenuzzo

    Paper Cranes Don’t Fly defied all expectations by being nominated for the Inky Awards, as a relatively unknown title from Ford Street, an independent press based in Abbotsford, Victoria. The fact that it went on to win the Gold Inky Award, beating such titles as Take Three Girls (by three well-known YA authors) is a testament to Peter Vu’s extraordinary storytelling ability. It has been described as an Australian version of The Fault in Our Stars, and while this is a grand comparison, it is by no means an undeserved one.
    The content of the novel is drawn from Vu’s lived experience of cancer, and its grounding in a deeply personal story gives the novel a depth and raw emotional hook that an author without Vu’s experience likely wouldn’t have been able to capture. The use of first person narration creates a sense of immediacy and allows readers to fully immerse themselves in Adam’s experience.
    The tone is gentle, and it renders Adam’s observations of his world, and his gratitude for the tiniest elements of his existence, all the more poignant. For example, I was struck by the following comment: “You know you’re in the presence of a good friend when you can sit in peace and still have the best time.”
    Unlike The Fault in Our Stars, Vu’s novel has friendship – not romance – at its core, and the dynamic between the main characters is both beautiful and engaging. It is his friendship with best friends Tess and AJ that allows Adam to experience moments of joy and light, even as he knows his life is nearing its end.
    The novel is predominantly set in the present, but while he is in the hospital, Adam recounts several important events in his friendship with Tess and AJ. These flashbacks serve to reinforce the strength of their friendship and increase the emotional impact of their impending loss.
    While it was written with a young adult audience in mind, its appeal is much broader. For example, I could see it resonating with health professionals seeking to understand their young patients, and with anyone who has an interest in the experience of adolescence, or terminal illness.
    The novel seems even more impressive when you consider that it is Vu’s debut. With such a stellar first novel under his belt, we can be sure that his next work will be one to watch out for.

  2. Ruby Carmody

    Heartfelt and heartbreaking, Peter Vu’s Paper Cranes Don’t Fly had me blinking back tears more than once. It follows the story of Adam Auttenberg, a 17-year-old boy diagnosed with a benign brain tumour, which becomes more aggressive over time. Throughout his time in hospital, he makes friends with another patient, Rachael, and develops bonds with his nurses. His best friends, Tess and Ambrose, visit regularly, and over the course of the novel, we learn just how integral his friendships are to his identity and his happiness.

    Adam is a good kid in an unfortunate situation, however he makes it clear that he doesn’t want pity. He doesn’t want his story to be defined by his illness. And by highlighting the intricacies of his friendships, both past and present, Vu is able to tell Adam’s story in such a way that the reader gets to know him on a level that makes him so much more than his diagnosis. Flashbacks to primary school days illustrate the beginnings of a love between three friends that’s only strengthened over the years. It gives a touching insight into a bond that’s stood tests of time, distance and illness, and highlights why Adam’s friends have been essential to his happiness throughout his life.

    Vu was diagnosed with a brainstem glioma when he was six years old, which gives Adam’s voice an even more honest and realistic sentiment. For this reason, among many, it’s impossible not to tear up when his situation begins to worsen. The friendships portrayed in the book are built on an unbreakable foundation of love, and witnessing cancer’s best efforts to undermine it is heart-wrenching.

    One of the most heartbreaking moments of the novel is when Adam, Tess and Ambrose take revenge on Tess’ ex-boyfriend. The carefree rebellion the trio indulges in is reminiscent of that in John Green’s Paper Towns. Damaging the ex-boyfriend’s car and driving off into the night, Adam tastes a hint of the reckless, carefree youth his cancer is denying him.

    Young adult novels often emphasise romantic love as the be-all-and-end-all form of the feeling, however Paper Cranes Don’t Fly deviates from this narrative. It touches upon ideas of romantic relationships, even hinting at the possibility of Adam and Rachael getting together if he wasn’t sick.

    However, Vu’s novel is more greatly focused upon showcasing the love between friends, and how it is of equal, or even more importance, than that of romantic love. Adam’s friendships are essentially what he lives for. He distinguishes his, Tess’ and Ambrose’s bond from others’ through the realisation that “they can make [him] happy without really doing anything at all”. While he’s aware he may not have long left to enjoy these friendships, he knows that the love he and his friends have for each other is what’s made his life meaningful. And for that, he’s eternally grateful.

    Suitable for ages 14 and above, this remarkably written, moving tale of love and friendship strays from the typical “cancer kid” narrative in stellar style.

  3. Abigail Cini

    Adam Auttenberg is seventeen years old and facing the toughest challenge of his life. Diagnosed with a brain tumour that has become aggressive over the years, Adam has spent most of his life in and out of hospital. He longs to feel normal; to go to school, attend parties and not be the subject of bad news. But Adam is determined that the illness will not define him.

    For Adam, the most important things in his life are his family and friends. Standing by his side are AJ and Tess, the best friends he has known since primary school. They are inseparable and their friendship was resilient to Adam attending a different high school, a situation that can test friendships. But their biggest challenge is yet to come when Adam is readmitted to hospital for another operation. It is at the hospital that he meets Rachael, a fellow patient, and the two become fast friends.

    Peter Vu’s powerful debut novel offers a sensitive insight into the life of patients with a terminal illness. Paper Cranes Don’t Fly is a story about the power of unconditional love, friendship and compassion. It tells of the bonds we make that carry us through the darkest of times. An exquisite blend of humour and heart-wrenching moments will captivate any reader.

  4. Robyn English – Principal, Rolling Hills Primary, Victoria

    This is a story of uncommon friendship between Adam, Tess and Ambrose. The bond began in their first year of school and many chapters of the book recount Adam’s memories of the events that brought them together and cemented their relationships. The story is told in the first person by Adam as he experiences one of his many trips to the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne. The descriptive detail of the setting and the procedures Adam has to endure are made real by the author’s own experiences. Although very sick and very bored, Adam drifts in and out of his memories and his experiences with his two close friends as well as making a new connection with a fellow long-term patient, Rachel. Adam’s love of books is shared with another primary school friend, Rosie, with whom a link is re-established after they part ways to go to different high schools.

    At only nineteen years of age, first time author, Peter Vu has managed to create a masterpiece that is very hard to put down. The pain of being with a very sick friend is palpable and the reader is taken on an emotional roller coaster as Adam’s condition worsens and his family and friends have to come to terms with the fact that he is dying. Using a wish granted by the charity ‘Shooting Star’, Adam has a big 18th birthday party, which is bittersweet as it is both his first party and likely to be his last ever birthday.

    Adam does not think of himself as particularly special or lovable yet his two close friends provide support, humour, music playlists and silent company that make it possible for him to reflect on how lucky he has been to have his family and friends.

    This book is very emotional and I admit that I was in tears several times. Peter Vu’s writing is smooth and his characters are likeable and realistic. The target audience is secondary students but mature, confident readers in the upper primary years would certainly enjoy this book a great deal.

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