Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Never in a million years would I think one day I would sit down and write a review for a John Green novel. I have read three (not including TATWD) John Green novels and only until recently liked one out of the three. In fact I still passionately hate Looking for Alaska. I’m impartial to Paper Towns because I really liked the storyline but hated the ending and FIOS was the first John Green book I liked. I read Paper Towns as a freshman in high school and never felt the need to read another John Green novel. As a senior in high school I read Fault in Our Stars because it was super popular and I wanted to know what all the hype was about. I really liked it and I liked the movie and I am not ashamed to admit it. In college my book club decided to read Looking for Alaska and I can count the number of books I have consciously quit reading on one hand. I hate not finishing a book but I had no problem putting Looking for Alaska back on the shelf and then destroying it during book club. I swore off John Green after that. It just reaffirmed that he couldn’t write teenage female characters or characters at really (but honestly FIOS was really good). For the longest time I would hate on John Green whenever his name was mentioned and tell people he was a terrible author. Of course my friends disagreed but I held firm that I would never read another John Green novel. That is until now.

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In walked Aza Holmes and out walked my belief that John Green couldn’t write a believable female character. In a time when mental illness is just starting to finally be acknowledged and written about John Green blew me away with such a powerful novel about anxiety, OCD and what it is like to live in one’s own head. I can also count on my fingers the number of books I have read where I fully identify with the main character. Actually I only need two fingers because it was this book and FanGirl by Rainbow Rowell.

Anxiety isn’t something really talked about in YA, at least not in the YA I read growing up. In fact I don’t think I read many books as a teenager that dealt with any kind of mental illnesses. It just wasn’t talked about. Sometimes author’s nail it on the head though-what it means to live with anxiety. At one point in the story Daisy is ranting about Aza living in her head and Aza desperately tries to explain to her what it is like living in her own head. It’s not a choice. It’s not a conscious decision. It honestly sucks being stuck in this tiny little space with this tiny little annoying voice saying you aren’t good enough, don’t draw attention to yourself and make yourself as small as possible so they won’t notice you. Aza’s anxiety manifests itself in the form of OCD about germs. She is constantly reading Wikipedia pages about Human Micro Biome and freaking herself out but with any kind of obsessive compulsion you can’t just turn it off at will. It’s this tiny annoying voice in the back of your head telling you to constantly refresh your email because clearly if they don’t reply in the next 30 seconds then your email must have not gone through and the world is going to end. Or, for me at least, it can sometimes be the exact opposite. If you check your email and see you got an important email you will feel the need to reply or deal with it but, right now you cannot deal with because the very thought of dealing with it gives you so much dread and makes you want to throw up that it is easier to just not check your email and deal with the anxiety of not knowing then the anxiety of knowing.

It’s like trying to explain to someone that despite the fact I am deathly afraid of spiders and they bring out a side of me I don’t even personally know, I would rather grab one, with my bare hand, that had crawled into my hair and throw it on the floor then make a scene in a room full of classmates/peers (This actually happened and I still don’t know how to explain it). How do you explain to people that your anxiety of drawing attention to yourself is greater than your greatest fear? How does Aza Holmes explain to her mom that she drank hand sanitizer to clean out the germs from her boyfriend kissing her, and make it sound sane?

No one is normal but not everyone lives with a little voice inside their head telling them to do irrational things because we live in fear of something bigger then the irrational. How do you explain that to someone?

Aza learned the hard way how to explain to someone how it is living in your own head but she also learned how to ask for help. You shouldn’t have to struggle alone nor should you feel the need to change yourself to accommodate other people. As someone who dealt with a lot of social anxiety throughout junior high I always felt like an outsider. I always thought there was something wrong with me. It wasn’t until I started accepting the fact that maybe I was different and maybe I had a social limit that I started having better control over my anxiety. It wasn’t until Aza reached her breaking point that she realized despite her anxiety and OCD and intense fear of germs that she was the way she was. Mental illnesses aren’t about getting better because they are a part of who we are. They shouldn’t define us but we shouldn’t see it in terms of “getting better” instead we should see it in terms of “I have anxiety and some days I just want to hide in bed and ignore the way my heart pounds when I think about literally just checking my email, but I don’t let it define me or stop me from living.” It’s something I manage day by day and some days will be good and some days will be bad.

Aza kept reminding the people around her of that very fact. She wasn’t going to “get better” because her mental illness was a part of her but she also realized she wouldn’t let it stop her from living and trying to get out of her own head.

This really was a beautifully written story and as usual I tend to rant about myself but for me mental illness is deeply personal. Aza Holmes may not be a typical teenage girl but what is a “typical” teenage girl? She wants to fall in love, spend time with her best friend, and make out with a boy. She desperately wants to get out of her own head but life isn’t a happily ever after fairy tale where everything is right at the end. Life is messy full of unexpected events and consequences. Aza isn’t your stock female character destined to fall in love with the boy at the end. John Green out did himself by writing a teenage girl who is real, tangible, and most importantly like every other teenager out there-trying to find their place in the world while dealing with real issues. I loved every part of this book and I teared up a lot while reading it because it hit home in a very real way. It made me laugh, cry, sober up when I realized how true the words were but most importantly it made me realize I am not alone nor ever will be alone.

I think the most important thing books do is show us we are not alone. Thank you John Green for showing me I am not alone.

-A

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Student Teaching, Phoebe and Her Unicorn and Audrey Niffenegger

I survived my first week of student teaching and honestly my sixth graders are funny and hard workers. Of course there are some in the bunch who challenge me a little more than others but it is so rewarding when they are the ones who volunteer to read or ask for tasks to do. Also I started another puzzle this week. I think I missed my calling in life because I love putting together a puzzle.

Two years ago (2016) I bought a Thomas Kincaid Alice in Wonderland puzzle and put it together over Thanksgiving break last year (2017) and then bought another two over Christmas break and put them together with the help of my amazing siblings!

Currently I am working on the sleeping beauty one which involves a lot of sky which is unfortunately all blue…

This last week I managed to finish another Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson: Unicorn on a Roll. As ever it was full of sarcasm, humor, heartfelt lessons and so much more. I absolutely love Phoebe and Marigold Heavenly Nostrils and their adventures. This one featured Lord Splendid Humility the unicorn, roller skates, and frenemies. If you ever need a break from your day and would like some fun sarcastic humor then I would recommend picking up any Phoebe and Her Unicorn book or look the comic up online.

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The next book I read was a novel in words by Audrey Niffenegger. The first time I encountered Niffenegger was The Time Traveler’s Wife. Honestly I liked the book a lot more than the movie but I enjoyed Her Fearful Symmetry much more even if the ending wasn’t to my satisfaction. I prefer a closed ending and unfortunately that book left it hanging but honestly I wouldn’t expect anything less because the book was just a little strange (in a good way). I love books that stretch the imagination when it comes to the real and the imaginary and The Three Incestuous Sisters did just that. The first novel in pictures I read by Niffenegger was Raven Girl and it reinforced my beliefs in the power of pictures and illustrations. Art is my other passion and anytime words can be accompanied by powerful, beautiful pictures I am all for it. You really have to read this book to experience it but what I can tell you about it, it involves three sisters, a love affair, hate, forgiveness and beautiful beautiful beautiful illustrations done by the author herself. Sometimes it’s nice to let the pictures tell us the story instead of the words.

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-A

All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

Happy New Year! Honestly the new year came and went for me because before my brother left to go back home he left me with one more Christmas present: a cold. So I spent my new years falling asleep on my futon passing out before eleven. I did manage to read one more book before the end of the year but haven’t had time to blog about it until now.

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I got to meet and get a signed copy of All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson at NCTE and while I had borrowed and started a copy about a month earlier it wasn’t until I sat down one afternoon after being tired of socializing with my family (every introvert should know the holiday struggle) and read did I finish this book. I loved this middle grades novel because it reminded me of my struggle in middle school. I was homeschooled just like Imogene and also decided to start public school in seventh grade.

Jamieson has such a unique artistic style and I love the storyline and plot of her newest graphic novel. Imogene works at the Renaissance  Faire with her family and has always been homeschooled but this year she has decided she would like to try out public school and embark on a new adventure called middle school. Imogene must learn to balance working at the Renaissance Faire and navigating middle school, which is a whole new world, including fashion trends, who to become friends with, and who really are one’s friends.

I loved the backdrop of the Ren Faire and seeing Imogene’s struggles. This book really resonated with my memories of middle school and I think this would really appeal to any middle schooler especially those who really liked Roller Girl or graphic novels in general.

-A

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone! It is snowing outside and I am full of coffee and books as I sit on my futon and read. My Christmas break started about a week ago and I only have read two books but I also got a TV in my room and Netflix has a way of convincing me that I need to rewatch Friends.

So far this break I read Piper by Jay Asher and Jessica Freeburg and Very, very, very, Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 by Albert Marrin. Both books were extremely interesting and fun to read.

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This is not your typical fairy tale and the ending certainly was not what I was expecting. This a graphic novel and the form made the story so much more interesting because a lot of the time the pictures told the story not so much the words. I’ve been reading a lot of graphic novels lately but this particular one reminded me more of a comic book style then the other graphic novels I have been reading.

I really liked the take on the Pied Piper this story took. The story focuses on Maggie, a deaf girl, who lives in the village of Hameln, where she isn’t treated with any respect really, and must to learn to survive. Her parents died when she was young so she and her brother live with the local priest and his sister. Maggie thinks she will be alone forever until the Piper comes to town promising that he can take care of their rat problem. After several days however the villagers aren’t convinced he is doing anything and threaten to turn against him. The Piper agrees to leave if only Maggie will come with him but Maggie doesn’t know what to do. This is a twisted fairy tale because you aren’t sure what is going to happen and the illustrations are beautiful. It is a short very well written graphic novel that looks at a common children’s tale very differently.

 

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This book hasn’t officially come out yet, Jan 2018, so soon. I got an ARC copy at NCTE in November and it was one of the most interesting reads I have read this semester. I knew a little about the Influenza of 1918 because my great-great-aunt was a nurse and my great-great-uncle contracted the flu and couldn’t go to war because of it. Other than that I didn’t know anything about it and how deadly it was. The Spanish Influenza (as it was commonly known) killed more people than WWI did and WWI was the bloodiest war the world has ever seen.

If you are looking for an informational book on the Influenza of 1918 then this is your book. Not only does Marrin talk about the Flu but he also talks about the war, life during the war, the causes of Flu, the Holocaust, how the flu spread. Marrin left no stone unturned and I learned so much from reading this book. For those students who like nonfiction this is a great example and they got their history lesson for the day as well.

-A

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

I have and always will love Jane Austen. I love her even more as I get older because as I tweeted she is the queen of sass. As a kid she was all about the romance but the more I read and grow the more I realize how sassy and sarcastic she is.

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Northanger Abbey is no exception and several times while I was reading the novel I laughed out loud or silently giggled to myself because I was starting to see the parody and the humor.

Northanger Abbey is the story of Catherine, who being a sweet sensitive girl was often railroaded by friends and family but ultimately found love in the end (like any proper Jane Austen novel). There was several times throughout the novel especially near the beginning where I was like “Cat, stand up for yourself already”, but I think Austen was playing with that idea of manners. Catherine didn’t want to offend her potential future-sister-in-law but she didn’t want to offend her friends either and thus she was stuck.

Catherine also had some fun ideas about the gothic because she had read a lot of gothic novels so she was lost in this fantasy world a lot of the time but that endeared her to me even more. She wanted an adventure when she went to Northanger Abbey and even though she didn’t really get one she found love instead. I know this sounds super cheesy but I really liked the pace and flow of this Austen novel. It wasn’t short and stunted like I think Persuasion reads and it wasn’t long and just goes on forever like Mansfield Park. It was the right kind of length and it explored it’s ideas fully in my opinion. There were questions of class, gender, propriety but it didn’t drag nor did it feel rushed.

I really related to Catherine because not only was she young and excited about life but she didn’t know how to speak up for herself. She wanted to be a people pleaser but when she realized that it was ruining her chances of a happy ending she put her foot down. It was a relatively short novel but there was a lot of character growth and it was just a really pleasant read. It was a great book to end the semester on and overall one of the better examples of the novel, as I think of it, that I have seen this semester so far.

-A

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Creepy! That is the only word I would use to describe the five story graphic novel by Emily Carroll. Author and Illustrator Emily Carroll (who is also illustrating the graphic novel version of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson) has created one creepy book through black, white, blue and red illustrations that come to life on the page.

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I love graphic novels and when my friend Regan showed me her latest find I knew I had to read it. That was like a couple months ago but I finally found the time to sit down and look at the amazing illustrations and be completely freaked out as I cuddled beneath my blankets and anxiously turned page after page of amazing illustrations (I know I keep saying that but they are so beautiful). The only colors used throughout the book are red, blue, white, black and sometimes grey but it creates this atmosphere throughout the book that only enhances the creepiness and makes me love it all the more.

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Starting with a story about three sisters who slowly disappear and ending with little red riding hood, with stories in between about ghosts, dismembered bodies, and (insert yuck face) worms (shudder), Carroll has created a delightful collection of creepy stories that are sure to be a hit with anyone who loves to feel that chill creeping up their spine.

-A

Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

I didn’t quite know what to expect when I first started reading this book. In the intro it mentioned that André Breton, the father of surrealism, and the surrealist movement  claimed Horace Walpole as one of their own. Walpole himself said it came from a dream and was often dismissed it as a piece of whimsy. Now I didn’t really know what to expect because while I have never studied surrealist writing the surrealist movement in painting is my favorite artistic movement and I have done quite a bit research on it. The surrealists attempted to tap into the subconscious by almost falling asleep and writing from that space, writing from that thin space in-between sleeping and awake. I don’t necessarily know if I would classify Castle of Otranto as a piece of surrealist writing but it certainly didn’t feel entirely gothic or entirely allegory. If I hadn’t known that some people accredited Walpole with the surrealists I might still think of this piece as surrealist.

I really could picture the giant helmet coming down and crushing the son and the giant armor. I have studied enough surrealists to be able to picture it and it was creepy.

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I also think of it as Gothic but it had a dreamlike quality to it I can’t quite place. Considering some liken it to an allegory of Walpole’s own life I don’t know what to really make of it. I also was harkening back to when I read King Henry VIII in my Shakespeare course because Manfred wanted to divorce his wife for a younger woman in the hopes he would get a son so he could pass Otranto onto his son, except as we come to find out Otranto wasn’t his to give away in the first place.

Was the giant knight invading their home part of the curse? Was it an allegory as Walpole struggled with his own problems concerning his birth and inheritance? Was he tapping into his subconscious and writing from a place deep inside where only our dreams can tell us what we are really feeling and thinking?

Compared to the Brontë sisters I wanted something a little more dark and full of a little more fraughtness. I mean people died and there was a lot of fleeing, and terror but I think compared to the horror novels Stephen King writes or to the horror films that are being made it just doesn’t have that scare factor.

It’s definitely dark and dreamy like (not in a good way) but I guess I just wanted a little more supernatural. I know it is only like a 115 pages but still I wanted a little more of “what is going on” factor.

To me the story was more just about fears of inheritance put into a gothic setting.

-A