Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.
Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.
It's been a long time since I stayed up all night reading a John Green novel, but that's what I've just done. I'm not quite sure if it's because of Turtles All the Way Down itself or just a sense of nostalgia for the days when John Green's novels were practically my Gospel.
It's been five years since there was a new John Green novel to read, and for me it was both pleasant and strange to be reading his writing for the first time again. I was afraid that I would have outgrown his books, or that this one wouldn't live up to the rest, and I had to try very hard to start Turtles All the Way Down without any expectations or presumptions.
This tactic might be the only way to approach Turtles All the Way Down in some ways, because the novel is both quintessentially John Green and completely different from his other writing. I won't explain exactly how simply because it would take a long time and a lot of words, and because I think respect for the author demands that each new work be allowed to live on its own.
Turtles All the Way Down is extremely existential - Aza, the main character, is plagued by thoughts of her "self" and what that means, whether or not a true "self" really exists, and often gets stuck in spirals of these and other intrusive thoughts. The spirals mean that she tends to repeat herself a lot, illustrating the invasive, cyclic nature of disordered thought unflinchingly and realistically, though sometimes frustratingly as well.
For people who live with these types of thought spirals, it's a familiar motif - living like you're walking through underbrush that might be hiding bear traps or spear-laden pits - and it's easy to empathize with Aza's character. For those whose thoughts are not disordered, it might be harder to empathize with Aza (even if they can sympathize), and without this implicit understanding the book and its style of narration might become frustrating and tiresome.
This is where I think Green's genius has struck, since these are precisely the emotions that people often feel when dealing with mentally ill people in real life. But even as it inspires these emotions, Turtles All the Way Down offers people unfamiliar with disordered thought a window into what it is like inside the mind of someone like Aza. And for people who can identify with Aza, it provides a different angle, a different point of view, that allows readers to potentially examine and understand themselves by proxy of her.
I will stop myself from writing a dissertation here, since that's what it would take to fully unpack Turtles All the Way Down and its relationship to non-fictional people and mental illness, but suffice it to say that Green's literary genius is alive and well. Good fiction reveals something to us about ourselves, and Turtles All the Way Down certainly accomplishes that. It may not be the most fun book you ever read, but it may well be one of the most important.
The Mission by Jason Meyers
Kaden Norris's life is shattered when his older brother -- his best friend and hero -- is killed in Iraq. All Kaden has left of Kenny is a letter, urging him to break away from his sheltered life and to go to San Francisco to visit his cousin, James.
Kaden is blown away as James introduces him to a life filled with drugs, sex, and apathy. He goes from extreme high to extreme low, having no idea what to expect. And when Kaden uncovers secrets about his family that have been kept from him for years, his entire world comes crashing down. This may not be the trip his brother had envisioned for him, but it's one Kaden will never forget.
DNF at page 270 out of 361
This book reminds me of The Catcher in the Rye, but somehow even less profound. After 270 pages, not much had happened besides Kaden wandering around San Francisco being stupid and reckless and thinking it made him "rad." I have honestly never heard the word " rad" used so often and so unironically before reading The Mission.
My biggest problem with this book was that I didn't like any of the characters at all. More than that, I just didn't care about them. James Morgan, who could have been a very complex character, only waltzed into the story occasionally to add a bit of drama before becoming irrelevant again. Caralie, the only character I liked even a little, was oversimplified and sexualized.
Kaden's characterization was lazy and conflicting rather than complex. He's described a being both a timid kid with self-esteem issues and as a confident tough guy unafraid to dress like a rapper in rural Iowa. All of Meyers' descriptions of Kaden are scattered and contradictory. He's described as poor enough to wear a coat he found in a parking lot on one page, and fifty pages later as "well-off." He's afraid to kiss his girlfriend but has no issue hooking up with unknown girls.
And every single woman in the book is described in terms of her body. Even Kaden's mother. It was honestly gross, and combined with a disturbing amount of slut-shaming, is a huge reason I'm not finishing this book.
Maybe the end of this book is great and does something to negate the crappiness of the first 300 pages, but I really don't feel like slogging through another 100 pages of drunk, high assholes arguing with each other and acting like that's the best way to live to find out.
Cracked by K M Walton
Victor hates his life. He has no friends, gets beaten up at school, and his parents are always criticizing him. Tired of feeling miserable, Victor takes a bottle of his mother's sleeping pills—only to wake up in the hospital.
Bull is angry, and takes all of his rage out on Victor. That makes him feel better, at least a little. But it doesn't stop Bull's grandfather from getting drunk and hitting him. So Bull tries to defend himself with a loaded gun.
When Victor and Bull end up as roommates in the same psych ward, there's no way to escape each other or their problems. Which means things are going to get worse—much worse—before they get better….
This book was an enormous disappointment. I was promised a book about the reality of bullying and abuse and depression, and Walton handed me a book so divorced from that reality that it was almost painful to read.
The book starts off as legitimately affecting and emotional and quickly peters out into a charicature of mental illness. This is a book for people who don't know and don't care about the reality of mental illness and abuse - the people who want to believe that there's always a happy ending and it's not that hard to find it.
Bullshit. Walton made the psych ward sound like a boring summer camp - few rules, plenty of positivity, and maybe you'll even fall in love! In a real psych ward, you can't start making out in the hallway. Kids don't stay for a few days and go home all better. And they don't always get happy endings. Recovering from depression and the psychological effects of abuse is a long, difficult process, and neither Victor nor Bull experience that. A few group therapy sessions, a pretty (and severely underdeveloped) love interest for both of them, and - bam! - they're good as new. Not to mention everything falling into place so that they don't have to go back to the same situations and are less likely to relapse. That's just not how the real world works. Walton only makes one tiny mention of an unhappy ending, but blink and you'll miss it.
I can forgive Walton for her lazy descriptions (ex: "That made me feel bad.") I can forgive her for the badly writted side characters and sloppy romance. But I can't forgive her for writing a book about depression and abuse that barely grazes the surface of that reality.
The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara
It is 1950 when Norton Perina, a young doctor, embarks on an expedition to a remote Micronesian island in search of a rumored lost tribe. There he encounters a strange group of forest dwellers who appear to have attained a form of immortality that preserves the body but not the mind. Perina uncovers their secret and returns with it to America, where he soon finds great success. But his discovery has come at a terrible cost, not only for the islanders, but for Perina himself. Disquieting yet thrilling, The People in the Trees is an anthropological adventure story with a profound and tragic vision of what happens when cultures collide.
The People in the Trees is the (fictional) memoir of A. Norton Perina, a renowned scientist and train wreck of a man who manages to be both extremely unlikable and compelling in telling his story. There is quite a lot I don't like about this book - which I'll get to later - but almost none of it is due to the way it's written. Perina's voice is clear and well-developed, but because it's also racist, sexist, and misanthropic, after a while it's more tiring than anything. Perina's attitude towards his colleagues, his research subjects, his brother, even his children, is obnoxiously derisive and dismissive. His constant disdain for the people and things around him - often unreasonable and always detailed explicitly - reminds me a little of Holden Caulfield, but not in any of the ways that make The Catcher in the Rye's narrator a good character.
Ostensibly, The People in the Trees is about the fallout caused by Perina's discovery of "immortality" among a remote Micronesian society. The time Perina spends on Ivu'ivu unraveling the mystery of the "dreamers" is interesting enough that I didn't mind the narrator's exasperating narcissism. The inevitable decline of the island and the fate of the dreamers is emotional, though only briefly detailed. This part of the book is probably eighty percent of the reason I'm giving it three stars.
After Perina's discoveries on the island force it into the Western world's spotlight, the book moves away from Ivu'ivu, the dreamers, and their "immortality." The themes of discovery and scientific ethics are abandoned, but the theme of moral ambiguity remains. Yanagihara explores the idea a little bit with the a'ina'ina ceremony on the island, and in that context it's thought-provoking and basically anthropological in nature.
In the interest of not giving away spoilers, I'm not going to do into much detail, but the moral ambiguity in questions concerns Perina allegedly raping at least one of his 43 children. Both Perina and his friend Kubodera, who narrates the introduction and epilogue, are extremely lax about the issue, even trying to pass it off as okay. Kubodera especially, remarking that whether or not Perina is guilty shouldn't matter because of his contributions to science, and even going so far as to propose that Perina raping his son was an act of pure, untainted love. Perina himself is unapologetic and even acts as if he's the one who's being victimized. Honestly, it just gets sickening towards the end. Exploring the idea of moral relativism with the Ivu'ivuan culture was provocative and poignant, but Yanagihara takes the idea much, much too far.
Most people, like me, would probably pick up The People in the Trees expecting an adventure story - complete with science, a mysterious disease, an unkown people, and terrible consqeuences - but instead they'll find the rather ugly and disquieting confessions of Perina. The People in the Trees is engaging mostly because of its portrayal of the lives Perina ruins or damages, whether they're his children's, the Ivu'ivuans', or the dreamers'. The only people I would feel comfortable recommending this book to would be budding anthropologists and psychologists, and I strongly urge anyone who reads this book to make sure they know what they're getting into.
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.
Oh, my heart! One minute this book had it bursting with happiness and the next it was broken to bits. The last book to send my emotions on such a roller coaster ride was The Fault in Our Stars (although I wasn't reduced to a blubbering puddle of tears with this one, thank God).
I'll Give You the Sun is narrated by both twins, in two different times of their lives. Both narrations are perfectly interwoven, and the whole story is revealed to readers only at the very end of the book. Along the way, each twin narrates their version of events in their own distinct voice.
All of the characters were fantastic, but especially the twins. They both develop tremendously throughout the book, and their changes are seen mainly through the eyes of the other. This, combined with their individual artistic creations, adds volumes to their characters. I am head-over-heels in love with both of them, their myriad eccentricities, and the way Nelson wrote them.
If I ever meet Jandy Nelson, I am going to hug her for writing not one but two gorgeous love stories into this book. Fairly realistic and definitely swoon-worthy (I was honestly so happy I was lightheaded at one point), both Noah's love story and Jude's deserve some serious praise.
Towards the end of the book, Nelson starts to wax poetic a but much; the last chapter is filled with its fair share of cheesy lines. The chapters themselves are rather monstrous in size (some of them are 100+ pages) and should probably have been broken down more. However, the guidance-counselor quotes and incredibly lengthy chapters weren't egregious enough errors to take anything away from this shining example of YA fiction.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to find a rooftop to yell about this book from.
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
A wunderkind young set designer, Emi has already started to find her way in the competitive Hollywood film world.
Emi is a film buff and a true romantic, but her real-life relationships are a mess. She has desperately gone back to the same girl too many times to mention. But then a mysterious letter from a silver screen legend leads Emi to Ava. Ava is unlike anyone Emi has ever met. She has a tumultuous, not-so-glamorous past, and lives an unconventional life. She’s enigmatic…. She’s beautiful. And she is about to expand Emi’s understanding of family, acceptance, and true romance.
Everything Leads to You is the perfect book to read on a lazy afternoon, or backstage. Emi's job as a set decorator - in Hollywood, not even just in a high school - made me like her instantly. As a theatre tech, I probably got a lot more into Emi's project than most readers. Even without a drama background, readers will find the backlot setting interesting and different from most YAs.
Lacour has a particular talent in bringing characters to life. Emi is both prodigious and down-to-earth, grown up and talented while still being a typical teenager. Even the characters in the movies Emi works on undergo character development.
The best element of this book is the romance. It's written like a million other romances, but that's what makes it awesome. Everything Leads to You is a completely unabashed lesbian romance, a shining example of LGBTQ representation in YA. Romantics everywhere will be smiling when they finish this book.
Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Emily Bird was raised not to ask questions. She has perfect hair, the perfect boyfriend, and a perfect Ivy-League future. But a chance meeting with Roosevelt David, a homeland security agent, at a party for Washington DC's elite leads to Bird waking up in a hospital, days later, with no memory of the end of the night.
Meanwhile, the world has fallen apart: A deadly flu virus is sweeping the nation, forcing quarantines, curfews, even martial law. And Roosevelt is certain that Bird knows something. Something about the virus--something about her parents' top secret scientific work--something she shouldn't know.
The only one Bird can trust is Coffee, a quiet, outsider genius who deals drugs to their classmates and is a firm believer in conspiracy theories. And he believes in Bird. But as Bird and Coffee dig deeper into what really happened that night, Bird finds that she might know more than she remembers. And what she knows could unleash the biggest government scandal in US history.
I am so disappointed! Government scandal, martial law, and epidemic disease are all great ingredients for a book, but they just didn't work this time. The general idea of Love is the Drug is fantastic, but the details are more flawed. Most of the plot of was made up of vague impressions, which got very confusing very fast. If you asked for a detailed synopsis of the book, I honestly wouldn't be able to give it to you. In a nutshell, the government did something very scandalous but not very surprising and a bad guy tried to keep it hidden but failed. Of course, the only reason he failed is because he scared Bird into uncovering the scandal, but that's a discussion for another time.
The bad guy is Roosevelt David, who is supposedly a very dangerous rogue homeland security officer. Only problem is, he's not that scary. Most of what he does is speak cryptically and act like a poorly-scripted character in a low-budget Bond knockoff. If you're going to cast a character as terrifying, you have to give readers some reason to fear them, and there wasn't really any reason to fear Roosevelt until the end of the book (you can argue that he should be feared in the beginning, too, but at that point there's no concrete evidence, so I hold my ground).
The other characters - especially Bird - are what saved this book. They represent a range of personalities, and they are almost all people of color, which is great to see with so many white characters in YA books. Bird herself was the best character, in my opinion. I admired her rebelliousness, and her bravery, especially during her final few confrontations with Roosevelt. However, I lost a bit of respect for her when she fell victim to typical YA-romance stupidity.
Speaking of the romance, not all of it was stupidity. Johnson did an excellent job of building Bird and Coffee's relationship, and I have to admit the two of them were pretty cute together. The only fault I can really find with Bird and Coffee's romance is that they treat it like it's true love. Not to say that you can't fall in love when you're seventeen, but the idea of finding the one and only person you could possibly be happy with is an overused cliche - and not just in YA. The otherwise sweet romance suffered a bit because of that.
Love is the Drug had so much potential, and I really wish it had lived up to it. Had Roosevelt been a better villian, or the plot been easier to follow, or the romance not so cliched, I might have given it one or two more stars. As it is, I wouldn't recommend it to readers looking for stories about government scandals or epidemics; I might recommend it to romance readers who want something a little more exciting than boy-meets-girl.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
After Huckleberry Finn's drunken father returns to town, demanding Huck's money, the young boy and an escaped slave named Jim set off on a raft down the Mississippi River. They run into storms, schemes, a king, a duke, and numerous other adventures as they make their way south.
My thoughts on this book are tangled in more knots than headphones that've been in your pocket. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would, but I can't say that I really enjoyed it, either.
For one thing, it was a struggle just to read the book, what with the improper grammar and spelling. After a while I got used to Huck's misspellings and could understand him a lot better, but some of the other characters were just hopeless. Twain notes that he studied the dialects of the characters extensively, and took great care to show the differences in their pronunciation. Although this added a lot of realism, it also made it impossible for me to understand what some of the characters were saying. I found myself skimming over most of Jim's dialogue without comprehending most of it.
Anybody who had read this book for English class or Banned Books Week knows about the controversy surrounding it. Twain (or rather, Twain's characters) uses racial slurs rather liberally, and his descriptions of black characters aren't exactly politically correct. Jim is portrayed as dim-witted but loyal, and even though Huck befriends him and comes to care about him he often talks about that friendship damning him to hell. I'm not going to discuss whether the novel is racist or not at length (I'm sure your English teacher would be more than happy to), so I'll let you make up your own mind about it.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was entertaining enough that it wasn't torture to read it, but there are certainly more compelling books out there. Even during the numerous scrapes Huck and Jim found themselves in, I didn't get particularly excited. Some of the scenes were funny - especially with the king and the duke - but not hilarious, and some of them were exasperating (I'm looking at you, Tom Sawyer).
I can't recommend this book based on plot or characters or overall message, but I am recommending it. You should read this book simply because it's become such an important part of American literature - but I suggest you get it from the library and keep your ten bucks.
Solitaire by Alice Oseman
My name is Tori Spring. I like to sleep and I like to blog. Last year – before all that stuff with Charlie and before I had to face the harsh realities of A-Levels and university applications and the fact that one day I really will have to start talking to people – I had friends. Things were very different, I guess, but that’s all over now.
Now there’s Solitaire. And Michael Holden.
I don’t know what Solitaire are trying to do, and I don’t care about Michael Holden.
I really don’t.
This book just got better and better the more I read. I started off vaguely intrigued but unsure if I was going to like it, and by the end it had totally blown my mind. The concept of Solitaire and its mission was engrossing (and there is definitely some influence from tumblr ideologies in there).
Tori isn't immediately the most likable character (she's sort of a downer, and she doesn't like books), but the more I read, the more I liked her. The more I related to her - and not just on a blogging-teenager level. She is deeply flawed, in the sort of way most human beings are, and that made her feel very real. I almost feel like I've been snooping in my friend's diary, to be honest.
Tori narrates the way teenagers think, which most YA authors get wrong. (This may be due to the fact that Oseman was eighteen when she wrote Solitaire, but that only makes me more impressed with her.) She also recognizes when she's being thickheaded or irrational, which makes her more likable. Plus, all of the main characters undergo a bit of character development - the most remarkable being Tori's, of course. Even Becky, who starts out a little flat, becomes a really interesting character.
Oseman deserves some serious congratulations for Solitaire. This book is 400 pages of distilled teenagedom - with some anarchy thrown in. Teenagers will be able to relate, and older readers will thank God they survived this craziness.
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems beside the point now.
Maybe that was always beside the point.
Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.
When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.
That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .
Is that what she’s supposed to do? Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?
I am convinced that Rainbow Rowell lives in a radioactive library, because she has writing superpowers.
Landline is just as fabulous as all her previous books (which I love with all my heart), and maybe even more so, because it's adult fiction. I don't read much adult fiction for the simple reason that I have nothing in common with forty-somethings worried about high school reunions and impending divorce. Not only that, but a lot of those forty-somethings are insufferably whiny.
In swoops Rowell to save the day!
Landline tells Georgie and Neal's story in what is essentially three parts: the time they met, 1998 (where Past-Neal is), and the present day. The writing is gorgeous, the love story sweet, and the conflicts realistic. Georgie and Nearl have a much more believable love story than three quarters of the fictional couples out there. And they deal with their problems like normal people instead of reality TV stars.
Every character in Landline is one-of-a-kind and gorgeously written. They are all lovably flawed, and some of them are hilarious, and the kids are adorable. Even the side characters are fantastic. There's even a touch of diversity!
With a magic telephone, Back to the Future refernces, and fantastic writing, Rowell has taken the cake in adult romance. I don't have enough adjectives to describe this book. Ingenious, brilliant, and witty come to mind, with about a hundred others.
Once Upon a Time...
As a longtime lover of stories and a believer in the power and magic of books, I've spent my life seeking out the best reads. This blog is dedicated to reviewing the books I read - good, bad, or magnificent - to help other readers find their next favorite books.