Turtles all the Way Down, John Green

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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.

 

2018 is starting to look like it might be a really good year for me and books, with yet another positive book review. Though with it being John Green, there was no other way this review could have gone.

This book is, as all Green books are, beautiful and thought provoking and emotional. Aza is not an easy character to follow – John went to no lengths to hide the ever crippling thoughts of anxiety and OCD, making it, at times, an extraordinarily hard book to read. There were times I had to put it down and take a break because I understood it so much. Anxiety is a hard thing to live with, but John captured it so well. Hey, and plus side: The Boy doesn’t magically fix her, or whatever, and it doesn’t go away just because she falls in like.

I love the relationship between Aza and Davis. It was beautiful and sad the whole way through the book, the way they both tried to help the other – but couldn’t. Because friends and partners can’t solve everything, and though it was sad, little threads of hope ran through the entire book, right up until the end.

And boy, that end. I simultaneously love and hate it – it was perfect for the book, but I just wanted them all to be happy.

five stars

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Noah Can’t Even, Simon James Green

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Poor Noah Grimes! His father disappeared years ago, his mother’s Beyonce tribute act is an unacceptable embarrassment, and his beloved gran is no longer herself. He only has one friend, Harry, and school is…Well, it’s pure HELL. Why can’t Noah be normal, like everyone else at school? Maybe if he struck up a romantic relationship with someone – maybe Sophie, who is perfect and lovely – he’d be seen in a different light? But Noah’s plans are derailed when Harry kisses him at a party. That’s when things go from bad to utter chaos

This book is hilarious.

And before I write a review, I want to convince you to read it in two pictures:

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and

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And if that didn’t make you cackle and cringe, there’s plenty more (of both) in this book that will make you.

It’s awkward. Oh my god, this book is full of awkward teenagers and even more awkward moments that honestly makes me feel like my own teenage years were almost normal.

I mean, the book is ridiculous. It jumps from one ridiculous thing to another, but the best thing is that the main character and his wonderful mess of a life makes it believable. From his panicking talking to anyone else to his attempts to be cool to the numerous plot twists that make everything worse, this book is a masterpiece of bumbling through the awkwardness of teenage years and sexuality and school and embarrassing mothers.

I was laughing (out loud) so much through sections of this book that my colleague ended up grabbing a copy off the shelf and reading it too – half an hour later she bought it.

This book is just a wonderful friesh of breath air. It’s funny and clever and over the top, but it’s also light hearted and good… and an lgbt book where all the lgbt characters survive (wow the fact that my bar is so low for gay characters says a lot). And its also a book with more than one gay character – I’m sure you all know what I mean. In 90% of  books there is just the one lgbt character… which is so not true to real life.

Basically, you should go out now and buy this book and you will not be disappointed. I would talk about this book for ages but I don’t want to spoil anything for people, so please, please, go and read it.

five stars

Letters to the Lost, Brigid Kemmerer

 

Juliet Young has always written letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope.
Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past.
When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither of them knows that they’re not actually strangers. When real life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart. This emotional, compulsively-readable romance will sweep everyone off their feet.

Taken at face value, this book might look like your average YA high school book. You know the ones; friends to enemies, Bad Boy with a Rep meets Gentle Loving Girl. With just a bit more angst than maybe normal. (I say maybe. High School/College Romance style YA/NA books seem to compete with each other for most amount of angst possible in one page)

But take that face value and… I dont know. Throw it out the window, or something just as fun. Because this book is more than that – and hell, while most people would count it as a romance (since the main characters are a boy and a girl talking to each other. That all it seems to take nowadays) I don’t.

This is a book about two people, who have both lost someone in their family, and that one thing has shaped each of them every day of their lives. Its a book about anger and friendship and love- not just romantic love – and mainly, grief.

Grief being the main thing the whole plot centres around.

I know grief. It and I have shaken hands on more than one occasion, and sometimes it likes to pop up again, just to remind me that now we are acquaintance, it will never truly leave. And reading this book – it was hard, at times. Because I understood how both characters felt. Their helplessness and anger and denial – not necessarily that the person is dead, but that you’ve lost them.

There was a part about a quarter through the book when Juliet’s dad pulls out all her mums stuff and starts talking about selling them, and Juliet screams at him and just starts crying. That bit, strangely, was one of the hardest parts for me to read, because it still happens.

People don’t understand grief. Not even those that have been through it. Because everyone copes (or doesnt cope) differently, and I think this book was amazing and putting that across. Not even six months after her mother dies and all her teachers and friends don’t understand why Juliet isn’t back to ‘normal’. They keep making comments about it, trying to stop her from going to the cemetery or hoarding her mothers things. Because people don’t get over things like that so quickly.  And this book – the grienf doesn’t just disappear to make way for a romance and oh mt god the fact that is so rare is wrong. It was wonderful to read and see how both characters struggled with emotions, both positive and negative, and watching their journey through the chapters to see how each changed the other.

The only thing I didn’t like was the formatting – in most double narratives, the chapters start by being headed by the character name. In this one, that doesnt happen, so the first few chapters can be hard to navigate through, especially as each chapter starts with a letter from the opposite character. But you do get used to it after a while so its not that bad.

five stars

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.
With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

This book is so cute? Like I rarely read YA books where romance/sexuality is the main theme, but after various awful fantasy books, I decided to finally pick this one up (It’s been on my shelves since it first came out.That’s almost two years.) and I am so glad that I did. It was exactly what I needed to read.

It was clearly written for teens- I know it’s YA but there are sometimes books that are written so well and beautifully you forget. But this one was full of references, some that were good and others that missed slightly (eg ‘the Tumblr’ Like I get they are talking about a specific blog on tumblr but there is no ‘the’ in front of it. And even if it was, teens are lazy. We are all lazy. its easier just to say tumblr on its own)

But the awkwardness of some of the wording didn’t make a difference of how warm and fuzzy it was- from the start all the way to the end. It was funny at times, sometimes heartbreaking- when Simon was talking to another character about his choice being taken away from him, it did break my heart- but it was happy. And in a world where most media draw you in with an LGBT+ character only to have them end up broken or ruined or in most cases, dead, happy is honestly the best thing ever.

Despite the happiness, there were parts of it that struck- sadly- true. Blackmail from someone that knows- even if the other person doesnt even get that its blackmail, there is nothing like the weight of a sword above your head, ready to let it drop and announce to the world something you are not ready to say. Being outed online in vicious ways and the gentle, strange terrified feeling when you try to- or do- tell people. And the bullying afterwards. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many people you have around you supporting you, that one person that makes fun is the memory that sticks in your head.

But each part of it was done so well in this. While Simon isn’t my favourite character I’ve ever read about, he was one I understood well.

Away from the romance of the book, there was a lot more I liked about it. Supportive parents! (Oh my god so many YA books have shitty parents like why) supportive friends! Amazing teachers who take no shit! (again, theme in YA seems to be that teachers never believe if someones being bullied?) The awkwardness of teenage years and school.

however….as always, there were a few things I didn’t like.

  1. There seems to be no female friendships in this book? Like the two main girls hate each other because they both like the same guy? Maybe my school was just weird but the very few crushes I did have at school, if anyone else liked them, we shrugged and ended up talking to each other and kinda becoming friends from it.
  2. Simon makes a comment early on that ‘lesbians and bi girls have it easier coming out because guys think they are hot’ which is frankly disgusting. Not only is that basically saying that its fine to be fetishized by men but it also invalidates what those girls go through.
  3. There was also like a ‘dress up as the opposite gender’ day at their school which just made me completely cringe because really really do I need to explain how horrendous that is?

So yeah, this book isn’t all perfect. But its cute and funny and fluffy and sometimes, that is the kind of book you need to read.

*It turns out the author has actually apologized on Twitter for the comment about lesbians, saying its not something she agrees with and that she should have made it be questioned in the book.

four stars

Under Rose-Tainted Skies, Louise Gornall

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At seventeen, Norah has accepted that the four walls of her house delineate her life. She knows that fearing everything from inland tsunamis to odd numbers is irrational, but her mind insists the world outside is too big, too dangerous. So she stays safe inside, watching others’ lives through her windows and social media feed.

But when Luke arrives on her doorstep, he doesn’t see a girl defined by medical terms and mental health. Instead, he sees a girl who is funny, smart, and brave. And Norah likes what he sees.

Their friendship turns deeper, but Norah knows Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can walk beneath the open sky. One who is unafraid of kissing. One who isn’t so screwed up. Can she let him go for his own good—or can Norah learn to see herself through Luke’s eyes?

After the awfulness of some other YA contemporary books I’ve read recently, I didn’t hold up much for this one. I’d seen a lot online about it, though, and the fact that it was realistic in the mental illnesses it portrayed and thought I would actually give it a chance.

I was so so wary going into this. I had a proof copy, so I don’t know what it says on the back of finished ones, but the blurb on mine made it sound like the whole girl meets boy girl falls in love *poof* mental illness cured! Which… yeah, I’m definitely not the only one that hates the whole idea of that thing. It really really isn’t like that at all. But I had the book and I knew enough about it to be interested, so I started it.

It was slow. There is no denying that, and for someone like me, who likes fast paced fantasy and on-the-edge-of-your-seat plots, it was hard to get into (pretty much why this is a 4 star and not a 5 star.) but how can it be anything but slow, when the main characters whole world is the four walls of her house?

But that slowness didn’t stop the story, or make it boring. With something like agoraphobia, it would have been easy to slump down the monotonous route-with how Main Character’s, Norah, life was, it would have been more than easy. But Gornall is a clever writer that it never seems that way. She has just proven that you dont need massive world building and endless sets to create a beautiful story.

Because it was beautiful. In its writing but also in the truth of the mental illnesses it tackled. It was unflinching in everything, from the anxiety to the panic attacks to the self harm- and also the treatment of them all. And you know what else was beautiful? The fact that Norah has a caring support system from her mother. In so many YA novels, the parents are the bad guys. The ones that don’t understand, or don’t care, or teach their kids as less. Or even, aren’t in the story at all. But Norah’s mum worries and cares- but when Luke appears on the scene, she doesn’t smother. She just tries to help, and its lovely to see.

And lets talk about Luke. He’s apparently your average teen- good looking, and wanted by the High School Queen (this is a running theme in YA books. Was it just me that never seemed to have one of Those Types while in school?). He’s caring and funny and desperately wants to know Norah. I loved the interaction between these two. Because it wasn’t all love will cure everything. It was awkward- not just when Luke didn’t know anything about her, but even after she explained it, and they were trying to ‘date’. Luke made mistakes- as everyone does, and it’s heartbreaking to see from both sides.

Luke wasn’t the ‘cure’. Norah was not ‘cured’ at the end of the book- she still struggled leaving the house- even when her life was at risk- she still struggled with her OCD and anxiety. But Luke was almost… motivation (not the right word but I can’t think of it at the moment) to get better. To try the treatments suggested to her.

Though some of the book was funny, a lot of it was gritty and hard to read. Because she does struggle with a lot, and the book is written in her POV, you see a lot of what goes on in her head, and sometimes some of the things she went through reminded me of things I’ve struggled with in the past. But not all books are meant to be light- and books that rotate around characters with mental illnesses shouldn’t be easy, because mental illness isn’t easy.

It was an honest view into Norah’s life, and I really enjoyed it and I recommend it to everyone, no matter your normal reading tastes.

four stars

Am I Normal Yet, Holly Bourne

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All Evie wants is to be normal. She’s almost off her meds and at a new college where no one knows her as the girl-who-went-crazy. She’s even going to parties and making friends. There’s only one thing left to tick off her list…
But relationships are messy – especially relationships with teenage guys. They can make any girl feel like they’re going mad. And if Evie can’t even tell her new friends Amber and Lottie the truth about herself, how will she cope when she falls in love?

This book is great…. But it also pissed me off to no end. (I actually started writing this review while on page 249, because so many thoughts, and then updated it all the way throughout the second half of the book)

Because here’s the thing- It is wonderful. It talks about mental illness, it is honest, and at times, brutal. It talks about a lot of things most other books ignore (more on that later) and it attempts to be highly feminist. But that feminism only accounts for… well, straight, white cis girls.

I want to be able to shove this book in the hands of teenage girls, because it could have taught them so much, but I really don’t think I can. I kinda want to make sure teenagers avoid this book, because there are other books that teach about mental illness now, and other books that are trying with feminism and being far, far more inclusive.

Main Character Evie has OCD and anxiety. Goes to see a therapist once a week, is cutting down on her meds and trying to survive in college, between making new friends and flirting with boys.

While I didn’t particularly like Evie, I could relate to her. I loved how honest it all was about her anxiety. It pulled no punches, from her constant questioning of everything that happened, to the fear of what would happen with every ‘what if’.
Only pages in, she talked about the way mental illnesses were seen as jokes, and as every day things (such like ‘oh yeah I’m so OCD’ when you’re not) And I loved that- especially when it mentioned panic attacks. Because its true- people speak so lightly about these things, because they don’t understand. Trust me, when you have panic attacks, you do not speak lightly of them.

I also liked that in the first 240 pages, Evie has a date with two people, and starts to like a first. Because everything goes wrong with each (though Oli… she handled that awfully and I wanted to scream at her), and it’s rare, in YA books, to see someone even date more than one person. But in real life, teenage dating is messy. (all dating is messy, who am I kidding)

Though I, like Evie’s friends, still doesn’t understand what she saw in Guy.

I did like that it was trying to raise awareness of feminism and stuff. But at the same time…

Okay, lets talk about negatives

I feel like the feminism was almost a checklist in this book? Like, it ticked all those ‘buzzword’ comments. Mentioned the Bechdel test. Had pages of rants from the main characters (strangely, most were based around Not Needing a Guy… which isnt feminist, people.) Had the side character who Changed For A Boy, who was then criticised the whole time about it.

Added to the above side character, the three main girls are very… 2D as well. Like, theres only one thing that really makes each of them different. Evie has OCD. Amber just spends the entire time complaining about her brother, and Lottie… I have no idea. The three mains mess together until they cannot be told apart, because all three seem to have just been made so they can have page long rants where you cannot tell who is actually talking.

Okay, so, people. Feminism… its about equality, right. Like not taxing women’s products because they are for women (that was mentioned too). But it’s also about girls looking out for girls. It’s about knowing that everyone is allowed to be themselves and be cool with that- yes, not having a boyfriend may make one woman feel happy and good but that doesnt make a woman who does one one any less.  

And the lessons this book teaches about that is terrible. 

I mean, yay, this book has a female friendship that doesnt revolve around boys. Great. We need more of them. But those same girls put each other down, and other girls down just because they can (‘isn’t film studies for stupid people’ they say, in front of the girl studying films)

Talking of the main three of the book- whenever they talk about anything other than

And then, then we get to the real problem of the ‘feminism’ in this book.

Here, have a quote from the book, talking about periods:

“Because all women have them? I guess that’s what makes us girls?”

She beamed at me. “Yes! Exactly right.”

“Do I get a sticker?”

“Shut up. No. As you said, periods are what make us girls.”

No, no, no. Let me correct that. Having a period makes you a person with a vagina. Not a girl.

This form of feminism is so wrong, and makes me more angry than anything else in this book. People, its 2017. I think we are well past this form of thought. And for this to be in a book for 14+… it makes my skin crawl to think that this is the kind of thing that is being taught.

It’s so transphobic- and it completely erases anyone who is trans from being seen as the gender they are.

And that’s not even the only thing- two or three times (and bare in mind I am only half way through) there are throw away jokes about being a lesbian. People, being a lesbian, being gay, being trans, ect, it’s not a fucking joke. Okay. It’s harmful, and frankly, I’m shocked that for an author who spent so much time making sure to show that mental illness wasn’t a joke would go and act like being LGBT+ is.

So…. after all this, I thought, maybe I should read the rest to see if it improves. Mistakes. I should really know by now, if I get this angry half way through a book, the second half is going to be just as bad.

Once again, I love the way mental illness is portrayed. Evie doesn’t magically meet a guy and get better. Suddenly find herself ‘cured’ (which  happens in many more books than I wish to say). Nope. Her recovery is up and down- and no boy ‘fixes’ her.

But…. Once again, the three friends have got together to once more, talk about feminism and crap. And from what I’m working out from their conversation, you can only be feminist if you never date, never like boys, never admit to liking girly things, or…. anything really.

It’s just… I’m honestly too tired to talk about anything else for this book, I really am. Bourne’s first book- Soulmates- I loved it, because the premise was so different and kinda entertaining (I mean, really, being near your soulmate causes the world to basically end, thats amazing) but this one… I’m just angry.

This book- I would have given it five stars, if she had taken out all the fake feminism stuff, and just talked about OCD, mental illness and trying to find out what ‘normal’ really is (hint, people, none of us are normal) Because that book would have been brilliant.

But because of how angry the rest of it made me, because this book essentially boils down to ‘The Straight White Cis Girls Guide to Bad Feminism’, this book is getting no where near that.

So if you do want to read a book about mental illness, I can recommend you a whole load of other good ones. But this one, the good just isn’t worth the bad.

two-stars

The Sun is also a Star, Nicola Yoon

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Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Honestly, this is really the month of contemporary love, isn’t it? Not just because every book I’ve actually read this month is a ‘love’ book, but because I have loved every one (*jaws drop all over the world because I NEVER like contemporary books*).

So I read everything everything over a year ago, so I can’t remember much, but I do remember that I really liked it (though, having a proof copy on my kindle meant I didn’t get to see half the ‘not words’ in the book!) but I knew this author would be on my To Watch Our For list.

And when I started this book, I knew, once again, I would not be disappointed. Yoon has this wonderful way of writing- its so different and refreshing to read. Even with this- a double narrative with a boy and a girl who meet and everything- I was expecting to be bored. What I wasn’t expecting was the history throughout of culture and people- and to learn about the side characters. And I loved that- I liked how, though the two main characters were the focal point, the other parts of the book made it clear that everything could have been different if their parents were different, or the person in the shop decided not to talk to them.

It was a wonderful, refreshing way to look at a contemporary ‘friendship’ (I dont really want to call it a romance story. It was more than that) novel.

four stars