Turtles All The Way Down

turtles all the way down

Turtles All The Way Down

By John Green

Genre: Contemporary/Mental Illness

Publication Date: October 10, 2017

Overview

Aza fears she’s going to contract C Diff, a bacterial infection, so she is aware of all bacteria that enters her body.  She’s specifically focused on the sore on her hand.  Aza has a best friend named Daisy and a car named Harold that she loves.  When an old friend’s father goes missing, Daisy sees this as an opportunity to get rich.

The description seems like this is going to be a mystery but it’s not.  Although Aza and Daisy to look for a billionaire, it’s more about the relationship with Davis than the hunt for the billionaire.

Aza gets consumed in her fear of C Diff and it causes her to be self centered but not intentionally and I feel like this is the main point of Turtles.  As the story opens, we are instantly in Aza’s head and her fears of bacteria entering her body through food.  She also worries that she’s not in control of her life because of her OCD, the meds she has to take, and generally being told what to do and when to do it by everyone.

While she’s in her own head, Daisy and another friend are having a discussion about a missing billionaire and how they can find him and obtain the $100,000 reward. Aza coincidentally met the billionaire’s son at camp for kids with dead parents about five years ago and Daisy sees this as an opportunity to get clues.  When the duo arrive at the mansion, Aza reacquaints with a thoughtful sensitive boy that likes astronomy and quotes. Aza and Davis develop a sweet relationship that cause Aza to see the world differently.

The cover art includes a spiral which are referenced through out the novel and one of the more important references is the metaphorical use of the spiral in relation to how the OCD makes Aza feel. By the end of the book, Aza of course is not cured but she grows and I’m not going to say how because that’s for you to discover.  But her growth has to do with the self centeredness.

Speaking of self centered, teens and adults can be self absorbed and Green expounds on this annoying attribute.  Daisy has her own issues and the reader can confer on many of them and not through Aza but through Daisy’s comments and behavior.  Aza, however, does not seem to take much interest in Daisy because she’s consumed by her OCD.  The girls have a frank discussion about this and I thought it was written very well even though it’s unrealistic.  Sometimes I feel like Green writes typical teen situations as how they SHOULD go instead of how they DO go.  There’s nothing wrong with this; I think teens can gain new perspective but I do find it amusing.

Green uses a picture from Aza’s deceased father’s phone of a sky and Davis’ astronomy interests as a growth strategy for Aza and I thought it was very effective.

My biggest issue with the book is the over explaining of the OCD.  I’ve read a couple of books where the MC has this disorder and the author tries a little too hard to get the reader to understand what it’s like.  I think Green did one too many analogies.

What I think many teens like about John Green’s books are his quirky characters, their relationships/crushes/manic pixie dream girls, and heartbreak.  I fear Turtles has too much dialogue and not enough quirk to keep some teens’ interest.  A teen who is a thinker will like it and of course adults will like it.

Bang Bang Rating bombbombbombbomb 1/4

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Release

release

Release

By Patrick Ness

Genre: Contemporary/Magical Realism/LGBTQ

Publication Date:  September 19, 2017

Overview

Adam Thorn has a busy day-picking up flowers for his mom, going to work, helping his dad at the church, and saying goodbye to the boy he loves? Loved?  As we accompany Adam for the day, we also follow Katherine who was recently murdered by her meth head boyfriend.  Both teens are seeking a release; will they find it?

In true Ness fashion, we have a contemporary story sprinkled with paranormal.  Similar to The Rest of Us Just Live Here, there’s a main story featuring Adam and a secondary story featuring Katherine-a ghost.  Although the two stories are different, they are occurring at the same time and share the same themes-blame; alternative families; redemption; and letting go.

Adam Thorn is a seventeen-year old high school senior and the son of a preacher.  He’s constantly in the shadow of his very attractive and very holy older brother, Marty, and he’s in love with a boy who doesn’t love him back-Enzo.  Although he has a new boyfriend that he thinks he loves, he can’t get past the old flame.  Why doesn’t Enzo love him? Is he unlovable? Maybe he’s too young to know what love is and it was just “messing around.”  Maybe Marty was correct and his sexuality makes him incapable of true love.  Adam is dealing with all of this in addition to his parents who are in denial of their gay son and constantly reminds him that their love is conditional.  Since Adam cannot truly be himself with his family, he considers his best friend Angela to be his family and often seeks comfort from her.

Meanwhile, Katherine van Leuwen has not passed over into the after world and latches herself onto the Queen of the after world to find answers.  As she rises from the lake where she was drowned, she finds her old home, her best friend, and the boy who killed her.  Accompanying Katherine is a faun who wipes people’s memory and saves others from the Queen/Katherine’s deadly rage.  Much like Adam, Katherine spends the beginning of her day blaming herself then taking the power back from her killer and finally allowing herself to release her anger so she can pass over.

Adam and Katherine’s stories are told in the same chapters so they are experiencing the same things. I won’t expound because that’s part of the enjoyment of the book.  By the end of the story, both characters grow and are able move on.

Release contains several metaphors including the faun and the rose and once again, I’ll let you discover their meanings on your own.  Most readers will focus on Adam’s story which is unique and uplifting but please don’t ignore the B story because it’s written just as beautifully as Adam’s.

Bang Bang Rating: bombbombbombbomb 1/2

 

Little & Lion

little and lion

Little & Lion

By Brandy Colbert

Genre: Contemporary/Mental Health/LGBTQ/Pansexual

Publication Date: August 8, 2017

Overview

Suzette aka Little is returning home for the summer from her New England boarding school.  After a particular mental health breakdown from her brother Lion, we as the reader don’t know until midway, Little’s parents felt it was best for her to go to a new school on the other coast of the US.  Little hasn’t seen her friends or her brother for several months and it understandably apprehensive.

Suzette is a cool chick with dreads and that nose ring that you see on bulls-I don’t know what it’s called but you get the visual.  She’s also very shy and unsure of her sexuality.  Before she went to her new school, she liked boys however something changed when she met her roommate Iris. No one but her best friend knows this and Little plans to keep this private until she has some sort of grasp on the situation.

Lion is Little’s white step brother who has been recently diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.  He’s a loner and a reader and a red head.  Emil is Little’s half Asian neighbor who suddenly got hot over the past year and he has new hearing aids.  DeeDee, Little’s best friend, has a new girlfriend and Little is a bit jealous of not only their closeness but the fact the DeeDee seems to know exactly who she is and is comfortable with her sexuality.  Rafaela Castillo is the new cool looking girl in town and Little begins to crush on her leaving Little confused because she also likes Emil.  Little’s mother did not marry her new live in Jewish boyfriend and happens to be the most supportive mother in any YA book I’ve ever read.

Have you checked the boxes yet?

X Black Girl

X Jewish Family

X LGBTQ

X Asian Character

X Latina Character

X Mental Health

There is technically nothing wrong with this story.  Sure there are some small plot issues such as the rant about racial insensitivity when a white girl claimed that blacks aren’t supposed to be able to swim and Emil going on about blacks not being able to swim in white pools in the 60’s.  I found it interesting that Lion reads classic literature from troubled authors yet he doesn’t know the consequences when you stop taking meds.  Aside from that, Little and Lion had a complete character arc.  There was a clear beginning, a exciting climax, and an ending even if it was a bit happily ever after.  There were also clear themes of identity.

The problem with the book is that there was no authentic voice.  Little’s voice was the same voice that I’ve heard from several other similar characters.  She’s shy and closeted and she envies other people’s confidence and she accepts who she is and faces her fears.  Is she flirting with me? Do I like him? Does he like me?  Little’s voice is relatable but it’s not special and voice must be special to make a book critical.

There was one clear theme, identity, but critical reads should have several themes that weave seamlessly throughout the narrative.  The supporting characters were not essential to the plot and several of them were planted to cause tension.  What was the point of Cait? Was she just a catalyst for Lion’s inevitable breakdown? What was the point of Grace? Was her blacks don’t swim comment there for Emil to defend Little? That’s not strong character development.

Little & Lion is very relatable and I’d recommend it to lots of teens but if you would have put this book in the hands of a Nicola Yoon or an Adam Silvera, it would have been beautifully written with rich new voices and strong themes.

Bang Bang Rating: bombbombbomb

Bang

bang.jpg

Bang

By Barry Lyga

Genre: Contemporary/Grief/Death/Suicide

Publication Date: April 18, 2017

Overview

When Sebastian was four, he accidentally shot his 4-month-old baby sister in the head.  Everyone thinks if he could just remember, he would be able to get passed it but Sebastian doesn’t want to remember because it’s too hard to face.

So let me preface by saying that I LOVED the I Hunt Killer/Jasper Dent Series and the main reason was the incredible character development.  My major problem with Bang was….the character development. Sebastian was a pretty round character but the supporting cast was extremely lacking.

We have Aneesa, a bi-racial Muslim new girl and that’s literally all I know about her.  She is able to somewhat get passed the trolls and the slurs which I think is therapeutic for Sebastian but that’s the extent of her character  She sooooo obviously used as a distraction for Sebastian’s will to take his life-she gives him something to live for.  Although that’s great, I’ve seen this in all suicide books.  Lyga needs to find a different way to convey the storyline of the will to live.

Next we have his best friend Evan who is only there for one reason and I can’t say because it’s a spoiler but he’s used as a means to an end and he was terribly underdeveloped.

The story was just too predictable and lacked enough nuance to be special.

Bang Bang Rating bombbombbomb 1/2

We Are Okay

we are okay

We Are Okay

Nina LaCour

Genre: Contemporary

Publication:  February 14, 2017

Overview:

Marin is lonely. Her grandfather has passed leaving her with no family and after he dies, she runs away to college. She’s ignored texts and emails from her friends back home so when winter break arrives, she stays at school where she is the only one in the dorms-more loneliness.  This girl was so lonely, it made me lonely.

Marin’s best friend, Mabel, is arriving for the weekend and they haven’t spoken since her grandfather’s passing and Marin is anxious.  If my review seems lackluster, it’s because I felt nothing as I read this book; I didn’t connect with any of the characters.

My major problem with this book is the underdevelopment of the characters.  At one point, Marin says that she didn’t really know her grandfather and she listed what she knew.  UM…HELLO, I can say the same thing about Marin-her mother died  when she was three; she likes literature; she likes girls.  I can say the same thing about Mabel-she’s Mexican; her mother is a painter; she has an older brother; she goes to school in Cali.  That’s literally all you know about most of the characters.  I think I knew more about the grandfather than Marin and Mabel.

Although the relationship between Marin and Mabel was refreshing, I don’t think it did much to the plot.  Maybe that was intentional but if they had just been best friends, I don’t think it would have affected the story.

I felt like this book tried too hard.  At first I thought Marin had a mental illness but I don’t think she did because if so, it wasn’t handled well-that ending tho.  I won’t go into the ending because it’s a spoiler but it felt unrealistically too fast.

Bang Bang Rating: bombbombbomb1/2

 

Violet Grenade

violet grenade

Violet Grenade

By: Victoria Scott

Genre: Contemporary/Paranormal

Publication Date: May 2, 2017

Bang Bang Rating: bombbomb

Review

Domino is a homeless teen girl who squats in an abandoned house in Detroit with her friend, Dizzy.  BTW, Dizzy is Iranian immigrant who was sent with his brother to Philly (?) but something happened to the brother and now he’s also homeless in Detroit. Sound interesting? Well don’t get invested because that story line gets dropped.

Domino has a dark past that she doesn’t share with anyone and to hide from her shame, she wears colorful wigs and sky high heels (the author does explain this contradiction).  All she really wants is a home and you won’t forget that because the author reminds you ever so often. Domino doesn’t trust people yet she does trust people and this often gets her into trouble.  Dizzy gets arrested and she wants to bail him out but of course she has no money but a mysterious woman sees her awesome graffiti of the word HOME and wants to hire her to work in her home of girls so she can earn money.  Now any street savvy person would think this is prostitution but Domino doesn’t and gets in the car.  Oh, I forgot to men that she has a little voice named Wilson speaking to her and he kind of tells her it’s prostitution  and constantly desires to maim everyone who wrongs her.

So Domino is taken to a different state to a fictional town called Pox where she works with a bunch of girls-12 maybe.  They clean all day and entertain men and women but not in a sexual way-yet  There’s a caste system using flowers and girls have to work their way up to be a violet but as they advance, the parties become more sexual but at no time does the author say the word prostitution.  Not sure why when there’s violence, drugs, profanity, and a sexual assault attempt.  Of course the girls are competing so of course there’s some bullying and although the type of bullying varies it’s still repetitive and the message is quite on the nose.

Now there’s Wilson which is the addition that should set this book apart from the pack.  Wilson comes out when Domino or her friend is bullied but he’s weird.  He threatens with sinister poetry before he bashes heads.  Domino is switching personalities and her friends see this yet they are not worried or scared. It is a snap switch in personalities that would terrify the best psychologist in the world but not her friends.

I had high hopes for this book because it seemed to be going down the magical realism road.  Dizzy at one point was described as fast and I thought he was something and I thought maybe her parents were famous killers because the author referenced Charles Manson and Jonestown Murders (which teens won’t know about Jonestown) but no.  I’m not sure I’d place this in the mental illness category because Wilson wasn’t a metaphor for schizophrenia.  This book ended up being predictable with tropey characters. Her past was summed up in one page and wasn’t really explained. There were also diverse characters for the sake of having diverse characters because they contributed nothing to the plot- I hate when authors do this.

One thing that drove me nuts is that a couple of times Domino said the guns were glocks.  WTF? I’m a grown ass woman and I don’t know what a glock looks like.  Just say gun-GEEZ!

The Upside of the Unrequited

the upside

The Upside of the Unrequited

By: Becky Albertalli

Genre: Contemporary/Romance/Humor/LGBTQ

Publication Date: April 11, 2017

Bang Bang Review: bombbombbombbomb

Review

Molly is the chubby twin of Cassie and has only had crushes and no boyfriends.  Cassie always tells Molly to woman up and just go for it but what does Cassie know? She’s thin and doesn’t have to fear rejection. Cassie has finally found love with a Korean cool chick, Mina, and they decide to hook up Molly with Mina’s best guy friend.  Although Molly is suspicious of their motives she kind of goes along with it.  Meanwhile Molly has a new job with a super nerd named Ried but they’re just friends-or so Molly tells herself.

The Upside is full of teen angst and just like Simon, it’s full of honest conversations that teens rarely have in YA fiction.  The feeling of being the third wheel and the guilt of making someone the third wheel, the feeling of rejection regardless of what one looks like, and all types of love are explored in the Upside. Some may feel that Albertalli has taken a checklist to her book-a Korean girl; bi-racial lesbian couple who can finally get married; bi-racial teen lesbian couple; Jewish families; and chubby teens but Albertalli writes in a way that it feels authentic.  The Upside didn’t make a big deal out of the things listed; it just happened to be everyday life and I appreciate that.  I also liked that Molly was never on a diet-YAAAASSS!

The only downside of The Upside was that Molly was a bit too in her head.  I’m an adult and  I’ve read plenty of contemporary but I can honestly say that I am NOT the demographic for this book.  This book is STRAIGHT UP for teens because all of their issues I found myself getting really bored but my 16-year-old self would have totally LOVED this book.  Although I can admit this isn’t for me, I still lowered the rating because of it.  I LOVED Simon for the main character and it’s authentic voice but Molly was just too in her head and there was nothing special going on in there.