Review: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green [spoiler-free post, but I’d avoid the comments!]

It was John Green’s book The Fault in Our Stars that inspired me, back in January 2012, to put down the manuscript I was working on and try my hand at writing YA literature, the result of which was my debut novel Truest. (Please see: 3 Novels That Changed My Life.)

It’s been over five years since TFIOS came out, so of course, everyone has been excited for Green’s next book, me included. I was less excited to discover the coincidental similarities it had to one of my works-in-progress: Turtles is about a girl named Aza with OCD; Yes Novel is about a boy named Asa with OCD. Yes Novel, meet backburner.

But what a cool intersection of my passions– YA lit, John Green, OCD!

In Turtles All the Way Down, Aza Holmes is fighting against her intrusive thoughts, all while she and her best friend Daisy attempt to locate a runaway millionaire, the son of whom was Aza’s childhood friend Davis. I loved how Green showed the way that Aza’s OCD impacted not only her but all of her relationships.

Did the book get OCD right?

Yes. I was pretty pleased. Green did a really good job of showing both Aza’s obsessions and the resulting compulsions, and I think readers will be able to see the *faulty* logic that presses sufferers to perform compulsions. And although some readers might think things were a bit exaggerated for the sake of the story, in my opinion, Green actually toned down OCD for the book. (My own editor told me of Yes Novel that I had to find a way to lighten it up, make it less depressing, as readers could only handle so much.) There are definitely degrees of OCD (see: YBOCS), but for it to be considered OCD, it has to noticeably disrupt one’s life. I took the YBOCS as Aza Holmes and scored 26 out of a possible 40, which is the severe category. Just because I was curious. 🙂

The book was good, very well written, a much quieter book than The Fault in Our Stars, and I think it needed to be. Though others might argue that it didn’t pack the same emotional punch as TFIOS, I think it was exactly the book Green needed to write after the phenomenal, almost debilitating success of the former.

In September 2016, John Green made the following video. It’s wild to watch it now (especially if you’ve finished Turtles) and see that just 13 months later, that book would be published. It’s because of this video that I say that I think Turtles is exactly the one he needed to write. I’m curious to hear what you think of it. (Probably best to avoid the comments section BECAUSE SPOILERS.)

Jackie’s Favorite YA Books

Ahhh, YA lit!  So near and dear to my heart!  There are so many books I could recommend, but let’s start with these:

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
This book is seriously one of the best-written young adult books I have ever read.  In my life.  Period.  I love so many things about this book: the language, the characters, the structure, the humor.  It gets a 10 out of 10 from me.
Must-read: anyone who loves YA or a clever, quirky romance that is not at all cliche

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
Okay, I suppose I should just be upfront and say that everything Melina Marchetta writes is fantastic.  She’s definitely my favorite YA author right now.  Saving Francesca is about Frankie Spinelli the year she and a handful of other girls (none of them her friends) begin attending a previously all-boys school.  She’s trying to navigate a school of boys who don’t want the girls there, girls she doesn’t want to become friends with, and her mother’s mental breakdown.  The characters are incredible.
Must-read: anyone who loves character-driven stories, fans of nerdy-but-hot Italian boys (i.e. the Will Trombal Experience/Extravaganza)
Bonus: this book has a sequel– The Piper’s Son— set five years down the road!

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
TIME’s 2012 book of the year!  This YA book will make you laugh and cry and think.  It’s a cancer book– but not one of those cancer books.
Must-read: people who love YA, philosophy, and incredible characters

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Prior to the start of this book, Lennie’s sister Bailey has died unexpectedly.  Now Lennie is trying to navigate her grief all while falling in love for the first time.  This book is full of Lennie’s short poems, and they– along with the rest of the novel– are startling beautiful.
Must-read: people who are aching for a literary-quality YA novel, anyone with a beloved sister

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
A Printz honor book narrated by Death himself, this is “just a small story really, about, among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.”  I love books that are about the joy of words– and it’s even better when you mix in unforgettable characters and gorgeous writing full of incredible imagery.
Must-read: YA lovers, people who love words, anyone interested in Nazi Germany and the Holocaust

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
The story of Puck and Sean, both set to ride the bloodthirsty water horses in the Scorpio Races.  I’m not sure I’ve read anything quite like this before; it is laced with an incredible raw savagery, making it an instant favorite for me.
Must-read: anyone who loves horses, readers ready for wild, tribal-drum-pounding YA

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
This is the very first book that made me cry.  The classic book of a boy and his two hunting dogs.
Must-read: animal lovers, anyone who loves a tear-jerker

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
A delicious tale of first love between the two titular characters, the writing in this book has an outstanding and unique voice.  I love the characters of Eleanor and Park, and I love the way that Rowell can make your brain about explode when they hold each other’s hand.
Must-read: fans of the contemporary genre, readers who love great imagery, quirky characters, and a sweet romance

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Like so many others, the hype around this series intimidated me into not reading them for years.  I’m so glad that I finally did!  This is one of my favorite series– seven separate stories that really tell just one about a boy wizard fighting against evil.
Must-read: fans of epic fantasy, anyone who wants to have their mind blown by creativity

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
A story about a homeschooler joining public school for the first time, this book is full of quirkiness and whimsy.  A brilliant novel about being different.
Must-read: misfits, anyone who loves a misfit
Bonus: This book also has a sequel!

Also, here a couple middle grade (MG) suggestions!

Bridge to Terabithia by Kathleen Patterson
The story of two young friends who create their own make-believe world.  This book is a classic, and unless you have a heart made of cement and broken glass, you will cry.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
I can’t say too much about this story because I don’t want to give anything away, but it is brilliant, one of those books that ties up all loose ends so perfectly in such a satsifying way.  I highly recommend this book– I read it when I was 30 and loved it!  Great voice.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis|
These are classics!  I seriously cannot get enough of them– I read them over and over and over and love them every single time.  I am just finishing up the series for the first time this year, and– no joke– after book 7 is over, I will start again on book 1.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Classic tale of a pet pig and his spider friend who is trying to save him from slaughter.  Lovely.

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My Auto-Buy Authors

I will buy anything these writers put out, without having read a review, let alone the actual book.  In fact, I will probably pre-order it the moment I hear a rumor of something new:

pre-ordered with love  six months out

pre-ordered with love
six months out

Billy Collins (heck, I have his new book pre-ordered already and it’s not due out for another six months!)

Melina Marchetta

John Green

David Sedaris (his latest Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls just arrived in the mail today … another pre-order!)

Donald Miller

Jandy Nelson

Who are your auto-buy authors?

Favorite Book Lines

This was originally going to be a top ten list, but I should have known that that would about KILL me.  So, in the end, I simply present to you a list of some of my favorite lines of literature:

Jude stopped in front of her and, with both hands cupping her face, tried to make a smile. Narnie flinched.
‘Leave her alone,’ Tate said.
‘I need a revelation,’ Jude said. ‘And you’re the only one that can give me one, Narns.”
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

“The words were on their way, and when they arrived, she would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like the rain.”
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

“And Dimble, who had been sitting with his face drawn, and rather white, between the white faces of the two women, and his eyes on the table, raised his head, and great syllables of words that sounded like castles came out of his mouth.”
That Hiddeous Strength by C.S. Lewis

“The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”
The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

“He thought, or said, or sang, I did not know that I was so empty, to be so full.”
The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle

“I remember it as October days are always remembered, cloudless, maple-flavored, the air gold and so clean it quivers.”
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

“Do you remember all of your audiences?” Marco asks. 
“Not all of them,” Celia says. “But I remember the people who look at me the way you do.”
“What way might that be?”
“As though they cannot decide if they are afraid of me or they want to kiss me.”
“I am not afraid of you,” Marco says.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

lines3

“Remember how it was when we kissed? Armfuls and armfuls of light thrown right at us. A rope dropping down from the sky. How can the word love and the word life even fit in the mouth?”
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

“It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you.”
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

“It was such a romp as no one has ever had except in Narnia; and whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind.”
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

“It was a jumble, it was a mishmash, and somehow she pulled it together, somehow she threaded every different thing through the voice of a solitary mockingbird singing in the desert.”
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

“There’s more beauty in truth, even if it is dreadful beauty.”
East of Eden by John Steinbeck

“I saw a beached red dory.  I could take the dory, row out to the guy, and say: Sir.  You have found a place where the sky dips close.”
For the Time Being by Annie Dillard

What are your favorites?

Jackie’s Must-Read Books

1. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
These are classics!  I seriously cannot get enough of them– I read them over and over and over and love them every single time.  I am just finishing up the series for the first time this year, and– no joke– after book 7 is over, I will start again on book 1.
Must-read: everyone, all ages

2. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
This book is seriously one of the best-written young adult books I have ever read.  In my life.  Period.  I love so many things about this book: the language, the characters, the structure, the humor.  It gets a 10 out of 10 from me.
Must-read: anyone who loves YA or a clever, quirky romance

3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
A Printz honor book narrated by Death himself, this is “just a small story really, about, among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.”  I love books that are about the joy of words– and it’s even better when you mix in unforgettable characters and gorgeous writing full of incredible imagery.
Must-read: YA lovers, people who love words, anyone interested in Nazi Germany and the Holocaust

4. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
The brilliance of this story is in the masterful writing.  Every single page will leave you in awe, plus the story is so real and deep, and it makes you think about things like miracles and family and loyalty and guilt.
Must-read: lovers of literary fiction, adults who want a great story, parents

5. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
This book is richer than chocolate.  It has magic and competition and romance– and it avoids all cliches.  It is a sensory extravaganza.
Must-read: people who love Harry Potter and are ready for magic from a grown-up perspective, anyone who values great imagery

6. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
TIME’s 2012 book of the year!  This YA book will make you laugh and cry and think.  It’s a cancer book– but not one of those cancer books.
Must-read: people who love YA, philosophy, and incredible characters

I’ll leave you with those six for now.  As I think through this list, I feel full.  They are that good.

reading girl

I judge you based on the books you read. :-)

(This post is meant to be in fun, so no one is allowed to be offended, kapeesh?)

I think we all do something like this, to some extent.  I have a dear friend who judges people based off of their favorite Beatles songs!  My choice of “Here Comes the Sun” passed muster, but if you were to say, for example, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” her opinion of you would drop pretty fast.  For some people, it’s the music you listen to; for others, the movies you enjoy.

But for me, it’s books.

librarian

If you read C.S. Lewis, I like you automatically, but if you haven’t read his space trilogy, I start to doubt just how big a fan you are.  When I discover people who haven’t read Narnia, I jokingly ask them why they don’t love Jesus.  (JOKINGLY!  Calm down!)

If you read Melina Marchetta, I think you are brilliant and first-class.  If you’ve discovered Jandy Nelson’s one novel, I’m impressed and can’t wait to discuss it with you.  If you loved The Fault in Our Stars, I think you’re a deep-thinking intellectual.  Same thing if you like Yann Martel’s books.

If you read paranormal romance, I will probably automatically think you’re not serious about good books.  Probably.  Not for sure.  I rather liked The Mortal Instrumentsbut then again, I kind of judge MYSELF for liking them.  Ha!

If you’ve read Sophie’s World, I’d be blown away.  I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone else who has.

If you refuse to read Harry Potter, I will probably joke that, Yeah, the rest of the world must have been wrong.  But yet, I won’t let that argument work on me if you try to use it for another book.

If you’re a big fan of Christian romance, I’m going to raise an eyebrow.  (You can convince me of your sound judgment if you tell me they are a guilty pleasure.  I have one friend– you know who you are!– who avoids my judgment this way.)

I’m not impressed if you read Austen or the Brontes.  I’m not saying these are bad books at all, just that I don’t care for them much (excepting Wuthering Heights).

A friend of Billy Collins is a friend of mine.  Same goes for Anne Lamott.

I respect LOTR fans though I myself am not interested.

If “cancer books” are your thing (you know, those books where kids fall in love and one of them dies, and every story is almost identical), we should talk.  I can kindly redirect you.

Now, tell me yours!  Do you produce snap judgments, and if so, based on what?  Give me some details!

YA reading list

It was time for me to re-evaluate my top 10 young adult books.  So, without your seeing my raging internal debate*, I very cleanly present to you the following:

1) The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
2) Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
3) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
4) Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
5) The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
6) Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
7) Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
8) Fire by Kristin Cashore
9) Unwind by Neil Shusterman
10) Every Day by David Levithan

*Ugh, I hate making top 10 lists of books– it’s so hard for me.  Even now, I see that I’ve favored books I’ve read more recently over some of the “classics.”  Tuck Everlasting.  Bridge to Terabithia.  The Secret Garden.  It seems like a crime to leave these off the list.  The Pigman.  When You Reach Me.  A Monster Calls.  

Oh gosh.  Anne of Green Gables.  How could I leave Anne off this list– especially when I’ve included other books much more controversial?  Or The Sky is Everywhere, which is better written than several books on the list?

Next time I do this, I need to be more specific with the name of my list.  Top 10 YA Books I’d Never Want to Live Without … if that were the list title, it would be different than the list above.  Top 10 YA Books That Made Me Think.  There!  That more accurately fits the list above.

Okay, it is time to quit obsessing over this list, which only 100 people are even going to see anyway.

What I’d rather do is give you a must-read book list personalized to your reading tastes.  I LOVE doing this, so let me know if you’re interested.

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a slew of thoughts on sex and sickness in teen books

So, the Daily Mail in the UK published an article that made a lot of people mad, including me.  The article condemned young adult books that deal with hard topics like sickness and death, calling these books “sick-lit.”  It ripped on one of my favorite books, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, in such a way that made me question if the author of the article had actually read it.

How’s this for an infuriating sentence: “While the Twilight series and its imitators are clearly fantasy, these books don’t spare any detail of the harsh realities of terminal illness, depression and death.”

Time out.

Time the hell out.

It’s better for kids to read books like Twilight (a book considered poorly written by many creative thinkers … featuring an obsessive, co-dependent romance with a vampire) than to read books like The Fault in Our Stars, which makes readers of all ages think deeply?  I can hardly process that quote.  It’s better for kids to live in a fantasy land than to learn to think about real-life hard situations?

It boggles my mind.  Honestly.

I’m not a parent.  Maybe I’d feel differently if I was a parent.

I want kids and teenagers to read great books, great writing.  I want them to be forced to think critically and examine their beliefs.

But maybe that’s looking through rose-colored glasses?

I’ve read a lot of YA books in the last year.  A lot of them had sex scenes or sexually-charged scenes.  Would I censor these books from kids?  No.  From my kids?  … no.  I don’t think so.  But what do I know?  Everything could change if I were a parent, I know that.

I think Harry Potter is one of the most brilliant series for teens in existence.  I don’t think I’d stop my kids from reading it … but I do think I’d talk to them about magic and witchcraft and good vs. evil.  If my kids read The Fault in Our Stars, I’d talk to them about sex and terminal illness and death and the meaning of life.  If my kids read Jellicoe Road, I’d talk to them about drugs and abandonment and romance.

But would I?  It’s easy to say that when I’m 30 and childless.

I’d love to hear thoughts on both sides of this debate– please comment!

cuddle

 

 

audience, revisited

I know that I’ve blogged recently about whom I write for, but I was thinking about that more this past weekend, as I was reading Alan Jacobs’s book The Narnian, a biography of C.S. Lewis’s creative life, and I had additional thoughts … or maybe questions.

If they won’t write the kind of books we want to read, we shall have to write them ourselves; but it is very laborious.  C.S. Lewis to J.R.R. Tolkien

Now, I am certainly not saying that there are no books being written that I want to read (hello, I am practically panting for Marchetta’s new book to arrive in the mail!), but this does bring up the question for me of whether it is okay to write for oneself or if it is more noble to write for others.

What I am trying to do right now with Truest is to write the kind of story that I would like to read.  Is that a selfish way to write?  Is that even a smart way to write?  It’s not that I am not taking any criticism … I just keep my list of whom to please in my mind (#1 God, #2 me, #3 John Green).  (Man, it makes me laugh every time I post that list … John Green.  Oh gosh.  I wonder if he will ever know how influencial he has been on the writing of Truest.)

“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” —Cyril Connolly

Anyway, blog world, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.