Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Read: 28 January, 2018

After a smash hit like The Fault In Our Stars, I can imagine how much pressure Green felt to follow it up without disappointing fans. Especially given how much more in the public eye he is than most authors. So it’s no wonder that, after publishing a book ever 1-2 years, we suddenly got a five year gap.

My favourite Green book is Looking for Alaska, because of the way he captured the effects of [redacted] on others – in particular, the mystery and the never knowing. But, at the same time, it was the beginning of the John Green Formula: awkward buy meets Manic Pixie Dream Girl, comes to amazed realisation that she is actually a full person, he is irrevocably changed. Which is exactly the sort of realisation that 99.5% of teenage boys need to have.

Then we had The Fault In Our Stars, which broke with tradition because, for the first time, Green wasn’t writing about himself. For that book, he put on the skin of Esther Earl – a teen fan who died of cancer. Not to psychoanalyse the author, but it was the first time he moved from realising that women are people, to actually taking on their thoughts and perspectives. It was an interesting transition, quite apart from all the other stuff that TFIOS was about.

Then there’s this book, which is still from the perspective of a woman, but is also much more personal. I don’t experience anxiety the way the main character does, but Green managed to capture something in her spiralling thought patterns. Enough so that, just reading the narrative, my own stomach (never the smartest part of my body) started reacting as if her thoughts were my thoughts. Which made this a bit of a difficult – not to mention physically painful – read.

I liked the way Green avoids easy resolutions – which is something he’s always done well. I also liked the centring of friendship, and the ultimate lesson of the story. I liked the authenticity of the way the man character felt.

If you don’t like YA or you don’t like Green, you probably won’t like this. But, personally, I might be changing my favourite Green novel.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Read: 6 June, 2016

The Sinclairs are tall, beautiful, and athletic. They are old money Democrats, and they spend their summers on Beechwood island. They are liars.

This was a particularly interesting read for me because, like Gat, I have spent several summers with a similar family in their “summer compound.” I’m the same age as the cousins, and we get along well, but I’m still conspicuously not a cousin (not that they’ve ever done anything to alienate me – it’s just that they have a history with each other that I don’t share). Lockhart did a fantastic job of capturing the sense of idyll, those summer friendships, the surreal bliss of spending all summer reading books in a hammock stretched over the water, as well as how those feelings change as we get older and begin to notice the cracks and politics.

The strength of the story is definitely in the characterization – and the island itself is absolutely a character. The downside is the plot. SPOILERS: The trauma induced amnesia, the characters who are perceived as real but who are actually just figments of the main character’s broken mind, etc. It was all fine, but it’s just been done so much that I’m not sure it can be saved by even the best execution. As it was, it felt like a cheap way to jerk a few tears for the ending. Ironically, I feel like I would have been far more moved if Cadence’s illness were physical, if there had been a real accident (perhaps one that Gat was involved with and felt guilty about), and we saw her being forced to choose between between her love for Gat and her love for her family. Or even if it just explored the grandfather’s death and the mix of grief and relief that would come from it.

Despite the novel’s downside, I did enjoy it. It’s a short and relatively easy read (in terms of the mechanics of reading – the plot is, of course, rather brutal), perfect to be consumed whole in an afternoon. Essentially, this is the perfect summer book. It’s a solidly written novel with strong characters and a strong sense of place.

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Huntress by Malinda Lo

Read: 9 May, 2015

Summer has failed to come, the land is starving, and strange monsters have begun to appear. When an invitation is received from the Fairy Queen, no one thinks it’s a coincidence.

There was so much about this book that I liked, and so much that made me like the idea of the book, but I found that it just fell flat.

For one thing, there’s the non-stock fantasy backdrop (in this case, Lo has created a classical Chinese-inspired culture). It was very refreshing to see, and would have been interesting if it had lasted for more than a few pages. As soon as the initial quest is established, the questing party heads off into the woods, leaving culture behind, and the remainder was indistinguishable from any other fantasy setting (particularly the fairy town, which had absolutely nothing of note to it at all).

The lesbian romance was a draw as well, but its development felt somewhat clunky. By the end, when Taisin had to finally make the choice between her career or her feelings for Kaede, I had trouble caring much. Perhaps because the characters never felt particularly developed.

I had some problems with the ending. (SPOILERS: The whole ending, for example. The “twist” that the Fairy Queen was actually Elowen’s real mother was not only predictable and overdone, it was also utterly uninteresting. I hadn’t been given any reason to care about either character, since they had occupied such a tiny fraction of what had been, essentially, a long walk through the woods punctuated by occasional attacks, that it felt completely unnecessary. To then send Kaede on yet another quest, apparently for no reason other than to add to the page length, felt rather silly.)

Much of the book felt rushed and unpolished. The easiest example would be the baby the travellers met in Ento. As they approach and then enter the home, the baby is first crying, then begins to cry, then is asleep and coos as it wakes. It’s hard to imagine that this sort of thing survived the first edit.

And, of course, there was the POV jumping. It was all over the place. I understand that Lo wasn’t going for a straight Third Person Limited, but the POV would sometimes jump several times a paragraph, and at least a few times I caught it jumping in a single sentence. It was too much, too abrupt, and it added little to the telling.

My final major grip was Lo’s use of the word “for.” Over and over again, we saw the following construction: “So and so did this, for they wanted to.” Two sentences in a row might have the exact same construction. And it was doubly strange because it’s something that I associated with purple prose formality, while much of the narrative tone was more informal. Which, I suppose, is a bonus complaint: the tone-hopping.

Overall, I enjoyed reading it, but I was disappointed by the overall sloppiness of the writing. I’d still recommend it, if only as short, fun read, but with too many shortcomings to really be taken for anything more.

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15 Young-Adult Books Every Adult Should Read

It’s no secret that I quite like the YA genre. I find that the books are often more imaginative than those marketed towards adults, and that they deal with more interesting issues. That’s by no means always the case, of course, but looking at the best examples of both, there are certainly far more YA books in my list of favourites than adult ones.

Mashable has come up with a list of YA books that they think every adult should read:

  1. Inexcusable by Chris Lynch
  2. Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
  3. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
  4. Feed by M.T. Anderson
  5. Going Bovine by Libba Bray
  6. Monster by Walter Dean Myers
  7. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  8. Luna by Julie Anne Peters
  9. The First Part Last by Angela Johnson
  10. Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block
  11. Hate List by Jennifer Brown
  12. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
  13. Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
  14. Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz
  15. If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

Of these, I can only say that I’ve heard of three, and I’ve only read one of those (The Book Thief). I’m a huge John Green fan, so I’m sure that An Abundance of Katherines is at least decent. Warm Bodies has come with mixed reviews.

How about you? Have you read of any of these? Should I prioritize reading any of them?