Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

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Virginia Woolf wrote: ‘English, which can express the thoughts of Hamlet and the tragedy of Lear, has no words for the shiver and the headache… the merest schoolgirl, when she falls in love, has Shakespeare or Keats to speak her mind for her; but let a sufferer try to describe a pain in his head to a doctor and language at once runs dry.’ And we’re such language based creatures that to some extent we cannot know what we cannot name. And so we assume it isn’t real. We refer to it with catch-all terms, like crazy or chronic pain, terms that both ostracize and minimize. The term chronic pain captures nothing of the grinding, constant, ceaseless, inescapable hurt. And the term crazy arrives us with none of the terror and worry you live with. Nor do either of those terms connote the courage people in such pains exemplify, which is why I’d ask you to frame your mental health around a word other than crazy.

I know that this is a very long quote to start my review with and I apologize. But it hit me hard as one of the best descriptions of what people with a mental-illness go through that I have read/heard in a very long time. I want everyone to read that passage.

I am not a John Green fan. I know that these days that’s a very unpopular thing to say but I’m just not. I read The Fault in Our Stars about 4 years ago and it was okay. But honestly just okay. I can’t remember if I read Paper Towns before or after I read TFIOS but I really hated that one. I read Let It Snow and couldn’t even finish John Green’s section. I think I tried Will Grayson, Will Grayson too and DNFed about 30 pages in. So I have given him a reasonable try and had given up.

When Turtles All The Way Down came out I thought the title was interesting and the cover attractive. But I had given up on John Green already so I was mostly ignoring the very small hype. But the other day I went with my best friend Elri to the library and I was picking out some easy vacation reads. TATWD was there and I looked at her and I grabbed the book, resolving to give him one last try and if I hated this book then never give his work a second glance ever again.

I did not hate this book.

There, I said it.

But I didn’t love this book either. I actually gave it 3 stars.

I think one of my biggest difficulties with John Green was that he tried too hard. He so desperately wanted to be deep that instead it felt cheesy to me. I think he might finally be getting to the maturity of a writer who can actually be deep. I also like that there weren’t a million and one f-words and incessant swearing and sexual language from the characters. This book was actually pretty PG. I’m not against some of that stuff in YA, but it can be a bit over the top and that’s how I’ve felt about his works in the past. This was refreshing to me from Green.

I liked Aza, I sympathized with her. I liked her best friend Daisy and I felt for what she had to put up with. I liked Davis too and how much he accepted Aza’s boundaries. Aza’s mom was sweet and Noah was too. I found the characters likable and the plot decent.

I don’t know why I didn’t love it. It may honestly be that I am still biased, I’ll admit to that. But it might also be that I felt that John Green is getting there, but isn’t quite there yet. I think I will give his next book a go. I might even consider buying this one as it is good enough to own. That says something right?

One final note: the texting actually resembled teenagers how teenagers text. FINALLY!

Buy Turtles All the Way Down here (you should do it, you know you want to, look how pretty it is).

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

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Reese Witherspoon declared this her Reese’s Book Club X Hello Sunshine pick of October and so I decided to pick it up without any real knowledge of what the book was about. So I downloaded the audio and off I went on a journey with no expectations.

I loved it.

Honestly, every single second of this book was loved by me. It is a story of a family, a family in which the last born doesn’t want to be a “he” but rather a “she”, but really it is simply about a family.

I don’t tend to spend a lot of time reading LGBTQ+ books. I have read one or two, but I don’t personally seek them out like some of my friends do. Sometimes I feel like I really can’t relate to them at all because they seem to be pushing an agenda at times and then it can honestly come out seeming contrived to me. This book wasn’t contrived, this book was so real and so heart warming and yet heart breaking simultaneously.

Penn, the dad, was my favorite character. Maybe that I have ever come across in any book. The simple reason being he reminds me of Christian. Penn is a sweet man and all his moments are what will stick with me from this book. Staying in the ER so that he can talk to Rosie whenever she comes out, or maybe just so she will get a glimpse of him, because he wants to woo her. I loved that everyone did homework together under his supervision and only after he had made them “a really good snack”. I loved loved loved his stories that he told his wife and children (honest moment: Christian makes up stories for me regularly and this similarity may be the reason I most loved this book).

I think the biggest thing about this book is it simply felt so raw and real. You could have no relation to anyone LGBTQ+ or even really know anyone LGBTQ+, and you would still likely relate to this book in some way. Because reading (or listening to, like I did) this book feels like you have been invited to join the family. The characters were real and lovable and relatable and I felt like I knew them. In this book I laughed and I cried, I got anxious and fearful, and I had so much hope.

I don’t feel like I can adequately sum up this book. I don’t feel like I can give this book what it deserves in my review. I kept saying to Christian (and Elri, my best friend) “you have to listen to this book” and that’s my advice to you too. Whoever you are, whatever you are doing, stop and go listen to this book!

Buy This Is How It Always Is Here (I personally recommend the audio)

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

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Callum McGreggor is a nought, he is pale skinned. Persephone (Sephy) Hadley is a Cross, she is dark skinned. Crosses and noughts do not mix and they are never friends. There is a clear divide between the two and the Crosses are superior to the noughts simply because of their coveted dark skin. Crosses are there to rule the world and hold all the good jobs, noughts are there to serve them. But Callum and Sephy have been friends since they were kids. Can they stay strong in a world of noughts and Crosses?

The idea behind this story was good. I really enjoyed the plot, and since I enjoy dystopian that doesn’t follow the typical themes this suited suited my reading tastes. I felt the way it played out was realistic and the characters were believable. I liked how this idea was a twist on what we already know and I admire the author for undertaking this feat.

But there were a lot of problems with this book. In the beginning I felt patronised because the writing was childish: “He actually kissed me! Wowee! Zowee!” – I have never heard anyone say “zowee” and I felt like she was overemphasizing the immaturity of a fourteen-year-old.

For quite a way through the book “noughts” has a lower case “n” and “Crosses” an upper case “C”. I remember thinking this was an interesting way to show that Crosses are more important and noughts are lesser. But then towards the end of the book they became “Noughts” and “Crosses”, both with upper case starting letters and no reason for the switch. This annoyed me a little bit because it felt like the author had let something symbolic slip.

As someone who has read many articles on writing, I know that common writing advice is to keep the reader hooked by never finishing a chapter or even a scene with closure. Rather the reader should be baited into reading more by have something new and exciting happen. Blackman tried hard to do this, several times, but she didn’t execute it well enough. For example she would say something like “I was shocked to hear what she had to say” at the end of the chapter but then when I turned the page, it wouldn’t tell me what “she” had to say but other random events would occur and only several pages and scenes later would she get back to that point. This honestly just left me frustrated because it was too easy to forget things that had happened and it interrupted the flow.

The book was also just a little bit slow. It took me four days to read the 446 page book, and it had big print. I should have been done a lot faster than that (particularly since I was up until 1 or 2 in the morning reading when I couldn’t sleep). But because it felt set up to drag me into it, I was unable to get lost in the book.

So in conclusion, the story and plot were good. The basic idea behind the book was good too. The execution, not nearly up to standard. It simply wasn’t all it could have been.

Buy Noughts and Crosses Here