Turtles All the Way Down

I have a lot of respect for John Green and the books he writes. He doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, and his characters are real. I feel like so much YA lit today is so unrealistic and watered down. I get that a lot of it is escapist, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t also be honest, so I appreciate books where the characters deal with difficult stuff and frequently fail at it.

And this one hit home. Hard. The main character, Aza, has anxiety. She gets into thought spirals that she has trouble escaping. She is constantly worried about germs, C diff, infections, etc. And, my gosh, can I relate to this. This book was really difficult for me to read because it was so accurate. And while Aza seems to struggle more than I do, her thoughts are my thoughts a lot of the time. I related to her in such a basic way. I have had anxiety most of my adult life. I was okay as a teenager, but it has definitely ramped up in the past decade.

The story just follows Aza and her circle of friends trying to solve a mystery. The plot isn’t all that complicated, or even all that interesting, but being inside her head is the best (and worst) part of this book. As hard as this book was to read, I still enjoyed it because how easy it was to relate to Aza and her best friend, Daisy. Daisy doesn’t have anxiety and she struggles with how to help Aza. She is also frustrated with how Aza gets wrapped up in her own thoughts. But the thing about anxiety is that the person truly can’t help it. Anxiety isn’t being self centered or narcissistic. The anxious person doesn’t WANT to have these thoughts, doesn’t enjoy having these thoughts. So the struggle is keeping them at bay while preserving some kind of life outside of them. It is hard and John Green captured this struggle well.

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Dear Martin

Let me get right to the point. This is one of the best YA books I’ve read in ages. Most YA these days is just drivel. Maybe it’s because I’m not in that age range anymore, but I feel like so much of it is watered down with nonsense. Finding a well-written book with meaning and heart is hard to find. But, this book has it all. I was so moved by the book’s first chapter that I decided to live tweet as I was reading, which I haven’t done in I don’t know how long.

Justyce is a black teenager from a single mom household. He goes to a very expensive private prep school. He doesn’t have money, but has great grades, a good head on his shoulders, and aspirations to be something great. But he is struggling with who he is and his place in the world. In the first chapter, he has a run-in with a police officer who gives Jus zero opportunity to speak, explain, or justify his actions. Jus was simply trying to help someone he cares about, and the officer jumped to conclusions and slapped Jus in cuffs. Sound familiar? This story draws from what is happening today and is relevant in so many ways.

Justyce quickly gets the situation resolved, but doesn’t forget what those cuffs feel like. He begins writing to Dr. Martin Luthur King, Jr. (hence the Dear Martin title) and you get some first person insight into Justyce’s life. The rest of the story is told in third person. There are several white kids in the book that are perfect representatives of white privilege and ignorance. There are a few conversations between these teens in class that just made me cringe because I’ve heard these words time and time again, whether it be in my own classroom, the hallways, or on the Internet. There are white people in Justyce’s life who, thankfully, aren’t ignorant and are very aware of their privilege, namely his debate partner, Sarah Jane and her family.

There are many things I want to say about the book’s plot, but I hesitate to give anything away. Let me just say that the book takes a turn that I didn’t want it to and it broke my heart. But what happens is today and now and relevant and current and impactful and powerful and honest and I could go on and on. At just over 200 pages, this is a book that is accessible to students who might not like to read because books can be intimidating. What the author, Nic Stone, has done is create a story that is meaningful to teenagers (all people really, but especially teens) today. The situations Justyce and his friends (and enemies, even) find them in are recognizable and probably ones that readers have already faced. Kids need to read this book. Teachers need to teach this book. Libraries need to purchase this book in multitudes. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Parable of the Talents

This book freaked me out. Entirely. My jaw literally dropped as I was reading it. See my review of the first book in the series here: Parable of the Sower. And as much as I liked Sower, this one just absolutely blew me away. Because in 1998, Octavia Butler saw the future. She knew we would be making American great again. I shit you not.

Jarret is the hypothetical president of the United States in this future society. His followers are uneducated and zealous. They will follow him anywhere in the name of Christianity and “progress.”

Our story picks up a few years after Sower ends. The family Lauren haphazardly collects has started to thrive and Earthseed is spreading. I love that fighting the evils of Christianity, within this book, means creating a new religion of love and change. Because the Christians in the book are evil, plain and simple. Not all, of course, but enough that it is a major issue in the book. The story is Lauren’s, but some details are added by another narrator, who I won’t name here to avoid spoilers.

This is just a two book set, and it is worth every word. I don’t know how Butler did it, but she had the foresight almost 20 years ago to know where our country was headed. I look forward to reading much more from her.

Sleeping Beauties

It’s not new info that I love Stephen King. I’m working on owning his entire body of work in hardback and have read more than half of his novels. And anytime a new book of his comes out, I don’t even think twice. I grab my copy and dig in. The most recent books have been good, enjoyable, but nothing that I was just sucked into. Until now, that is.

Sleeping Beauties is written for Sandra Bland. That did it. I was hooked. Because Ms. Bland’s story is so heart wrenching and unforgettable. I immediately knew this book was going to be telling an important story. The basis is that one day when every woman, no matter the age, falls asleep, they immediately are wrapped in a cocoon that seems to come from their own bodies, and they go to sleep. They have normal breathing and heart rates, but are in a deep sleep, leaving all the men behind. And we all know men are just going to make a total mess of everything. Some of the good guys are desperate for their wives or daughters to wake up that they pry the cocoon off the sleeping woman. Nope. Bad idea. The woman attacks, usually killing, the man and then goes off to sleep. The only time they don’t is if a small child wakes them. They simply pick the child up, put the child outside, and lay back down.

The story revolves around a small town, Dooley, and the women’s prison there. A mysterious woman has been brought there for murder, but she can sleep and wake and she seems to know everything about everyone, all the deep, dark, and dirty secrets hiding in people’s minds. Because the men in town are crazy, they believe killing this woman will wake the women up. So they decide to attack the prison.

There are a variety of small plots involving the men and the few women who are trying their very hardest to stay awake as long as they can, but mostly the prison and the mystery woman are the heart. What happens to the sleeping women is fascinating, but I won’t say more than that.

Stephen and Owen King have written a female love letter. They realize how important women are to the world and have written the most amazing story for the women of the world, how valuable they are, how unique, how important, and how the world would go to shit without them, plain and simple. I absolutely loved this book.

The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass

I have previously professed my love for His Dark Materials here: The Golden Compass and the love affair continues through the trilogy. The series has such a great blend of fantasy and action, yet really makes you think about your own existence. Just a reminder about the series- it takes place in a world like ours, but not completely. The people have souls outside their bodies, called daemons, that change form during childhood. The forms are always some kind of animal and once puberty hits, give or take, the daemon takes on a permanent form.

In The Subtle Knife, we meet a new character, Will, who is from our world, and he doesn’t have a daemon, nor does he even recognize what one would be. He meets Lyra (really in the very beginning, so not much of a spoiler) and they realize they need to go to figure out just what in the world this Dust business is really all about. Along they way, they meet a scholar/scientist named Mary Malone who has been studying Dust, but in another form. Lyra, Will, and Mary all realize the existence of other worlds and must travel through them to find their answers. They also come into possession of the titular knife.

In The Amber Spyglass, Will and Lyra once again are faced with a seemingly impossible task. They much travel to the Land of the Dead (why is too long to go into here) as humans, which is something that has never been done before, and return as humans. Mary, on the other hand, has traveled to an entirely different world and has met some new friends, you could say. Our three friends realize the magnitude of possessing the golden compass (Lyra’s), the knife (Will’s) and the spyglass (Mary’s) and must use their instruments selflessly and for the good of mankind. Which is powerful and heartbreaking.

I cannot recommend this series strongly enough. Sure, it’s written for young adults, but it doesn’t read that way. There are some very mature, thought provoking concepts addressed, namely religion and its presence in the world, and the characters are so dynamic you can’t help but be drawn in to their world. Be looking for my review of La Belle Sauvage soon!! It’s the first book in the newest trilogy in this world and is set about 10 years before The Golden Compass.

Release

If you haven’t read a book by Patrick Ness, you are really missing out. He is one of my favorite authors, and everything I’ve read from him has been a hit, including Release. I’ve previously reviewed one of his books¬†More Than This review¬† but I cannot recommend his Chaos Walking trilogy enough. Published the same years as The Hunger Games, it was a pioneer in the modern young adult dystopia genre and is FINALLY getting a film adaptation. I plan to reread the series next year. He also wrote A Monster Calls, which is one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in a long time. You might have also seen the very well done movie. So, anytime a Ness book comes out, I clamber to get my copy.

I had no idea what Release was about, and honestly, I didn’t care. That’s how convinced I am to read his books. The story is simply one day in the life of a teenager named Adam. Adam is like most teenagers, struggling with his family, his love life, facing a senior year he isn’t prepared for. But one added element to his story is that he’s gay, in a relationship with another boy, and has seriously Christian parents who condemn gays. He has been hiding his relationship to his parents, but his best friend Angela and her family are there for him in ways no one else is. There are several uncomfortable scenes in the book that deal with adults, namely his boss and his parents, forcing their ideas onto Adam, And Adam doesn’t handle these ideas well, as you would expect, but he never betrays himself or agrees to change who he is.

This book should be required for any parent with a gay child as what NOT to do. I have two kids, both still very young and exploring who they are. They love Transformers and My Little Pony equally. I bought my oldest a Love is Love pride shirt yesterday. Because no matter who they end up loving, they will still be mine. Nothing could ever change that. I am so thankful for authors like Ness who give teenagers a character that is so familiar to them. There are thousands of kids like Adam out there, struggling with being gay, with parents who refuse to accept this, who deem their children broken, who turn their backs, but maybe slowly, through books like this, voices like Adam’s, and people with open minds, we can change how LGBTQ people are viewed and treated in this country. Happy Coming Out Day.

Carrion Comfort

When you read an 800 page book, sometimes it truly feels like an 800 page book. On and on and on, plodding and dull. I’m happy to report this was most definitely not one of those books. I couldn’t believe how quickly I was able to fly through this one. For the 2017 book challenge, I had to read an 800 pager, and this one had been on my list for awhile after Stephen King said this is one of the greatest horror novels of the 20th century. If that doesn’t convince you to read it, maybe I can just sway you a bit.

When I first read the blurb and saw the word vampire, I just sighed to myself and thought “ugh” because I am SO over vampires. And even though I just read The Historian (review The Historian) which is about tracking a vampire, it’s really not a vampire book. Same with The Passage series. Vampires play a role, but they don’t dominate the plot. Well, vampires are the entire plot of this one. Hear me out, though. These aren’t your traditional blood sucking creatures of the night. These vampires can control your mind. I know it sounds cheesy, but I promise it is terrifying.

The story follows a handful of these vampires and the people who are trying to track and kill them. The vampires can simply enter your mind and control your body. Your will is gone. You have no ability to resist. They use you as a toy. After some innocent people are killed in a suspicious way, a small group of everyday people uncover the truth of these vampires and vow to take them down. As the chase progresses, they gain a few more helpers and lose some along the way. But the vampires and their soulless acts are what really make this story horrifying. They have no problem using and destroying people for their fun and games.

I have read much more graphic books like The Troop (also recommended by SK), but this one was wholly terrifying. Yes, it could be descriptive in parts, but overall it was just so creepy what some people are capable of. Of course, these mind control people don’t exist, but their ability to kill with no conscience isn’t unique to fiction.