Turtles All The Way Down - John Green

RATING: ★★★★★

I think every post can start now with an 'oops, sorry I've been gone for so long' excuse, but it is getting old.

I can say that I'm finally settled in America and that I'm enjoying one of the massive perks of living here; getting new books on their (usually early) American release date. One example is John Green's Turtles All the Way Down, a book I've been anticipating since its announcement and I finished in one-go yesterday.

John Green needs no introduction. He is the God of YA writing, our beacon of bright light in troubled times and the one author that we KNOW will break our hearts, yet we all rush to the bookstore to buy his books.

Turtles All the Way Down is the story of Aza, a sixteen-year old who just can't escape the thoughts in her head. As always with Green, there is an amazing cast of friends in this novel: Daisy, the best friend who is the complete opposite of Aza and Davis, a millionaire kid whose father mysteriously disappears (aka flees prosecution) at the start of the novel. And as always with Green's novels, the parents play a significant role. While a lot of YA authors shy away from parental interference, Aza's mother is an amazing character who plays a key role in this novel.

The most admirable thing about Turtles All the Way Down is that John Green doesn't avoid spending long chunks of text in Aza's head. This is always a risky move, making the story move slow and not giving the reader much context about the environment we are in. But it works in this novel. Aza's head is a fascinating, but dark place and I had to put my book down to take a little break at times. Her thoughts are so all-consuming and somehow Green manages to express that perfectly through his writing. Her all-consuming thoughts became my all-consuming thoughts and I became Aza. I knew how she'd respond. I knew and it made me feel for her so much more.

Turtles All the Way Down touches upon a lot of YA tropes, and then gives them the realistic twist I've been waiting for. Not every hot guy is the one. Not every relationship or friendship can fix you. You don't always need to be fixed. John Green explores all of this in a way that's both hopeful and dark at times. 

This is not an easy read, but an important one. I couldn't put this book down, because I felt like I was becoming Aza. I'm not in a position to determine who this novel is triggering for, but I can imagine it can be triggering for quite some people. While I love this novel and highly recommend it, I also recommend everyone who recognises themselves in Aza to do research whether this novel is right for you. 

The long-awaited John Green novel isn't for everyone, but it is amazing and I can't wait to see all the dialogue it will open up about anxiety, grieve and friendships.

The Names They Gave Us - Emery Lord

RATING: ★★★★★

I've read When World Collide before and I absolutely loved Emery Lord's way of writing and the complex characters she creates. The Names They Gave Us is no exception to that, with the main character Lucy stealing my heart from the very first page.

Lucy's summer before senior year of high school is unlike any she has had before - her mother has been diagnosed, for the second time, with cancer. However, unlike the first time when Lucy wouldn't leave her mother's side, this time her mother wants her to be a counsellor at Daybreak, a summer camp for troubled children. While Lucy initially doesn't want to do this, she does it for her mother, and discovers a lot about her own troubles through working with the kids.

A lot of reviewers bring up the faith aspect of The Names They Gave Us and yes, this is a book mostly about faith. I wouldn't even say religion, even though Lucy's father is a pastor and she helps her parents at church champ most summers of her life. While Lucy starts off very religious, her mother's reoccurring cancer makes her question everything she thought she knew. This book really cycles her person belief system and how to find the strength to overcome your worst nightmare. I actually thought this aspect was refreshing, since there aren't many YA novels that focus on religion, faith and inner spirituality. Emery Lord approached this topic in an open-minded way that I think can be really helpful for a lot of teenagers. 

The only thing I have to say negatively about this book is just a frustration at the ending. EMERY LORD, WHAT DID YOU DO? I won't say anymore, but be warned: the ending will leave you wanting more. In the best way possible, because it's hard to let Lucy go.

And even if you're not religious or too interested in faith, this book is a five star. Like I said, Lucy is so engaging, and as always with Emery Lord, there is a swoon-worthy boy in Henry who will make your heart skip a beat. It's filled with summer, friends, helping, swimming, music, dancing, basically anything a summer should be, contrasted with the harsh reality of the day-to-day life of Lucy and her family. I can't recommend this enough if you want to end your summer both laughing and crying. 

July Wrap-up!

July is finally over! I know I've been missing from the blog a little bit (a lot of bit), but I'm still gearing up for my move to Boston later this month!

However, I've been reading a ton in July and they've all been amazing books - ranging from YA to contemporary releases to classics! I wanted to share the love so here's a quick overview of what I've read this month!

The Names They Gave Us - Emery Lord

Emery Lord is officially an auto-buy author for me now! After When We Collided, one of my favourite novels from last year, she wrote another stunner with The Names You Gave Us. I won't give too much away - since I have a review finished and lined up for later this week - but I can't stop recommending this novel.

The Names They Gave Us is the story of Lucy and the summer before her senior year. Right before the summer starts, Lucy finds out that her mom's cancer has returned and her mother urges her to spend this summer not with her parents at the church camp they organise, but at Daybreak, a camp for troubled children. At the time Lucy believes her mother needs her most, she follows her mother's wishes anyway and finds herself as a counsellor for third graders. As usual with Emery Lord, this novel includes all the feels and swoon worthy crushes, while also being extremely realistic about life and the difficulties teenagers have to figure out their place in it.

The Roanoke Girls - Amy Engel (release date: 10 August)

This is an e-book that I received from Netgalley, and as always I want to thank them and the publisher, in this case Hodder & Stoughton. This in no way influences my review/opinion of the novel.

The Roanoke Girls is a difficult novel to review. I did love it, but I feel obliged to mention that the novel might be triggering for a lot of people. I want to keep my review spoiler-free, as always, however I suggest this review if you want more spoiler-y information about the potential triggers. 

So a while ago I got an e-mail in my inbox about the Roanoke Girls and I immediately knew I had to read it. The Roanoke Girls are the girls that seem to have it all: they are beautiful, intelligent and live in the gorgeous Roanoke house. Except, something is off about them. All the girls seem to mysteriously disappear or die at a young age. The only ones left living with the matriarch and patriarch of Roanoke are two granddaughters: Lane and Allegra. Allegra grew up in the mansion with her grandparents, while Lane moves there at fourteen after her mother commits suicide. While there, Lane starts to slowly unravel why all the Roanoke Girls disappear and she runs too - until a decade later when Allegra disappears and she has to help find her.

The Roanoke Girls is as thrilling as everyone says it is. While it is not scary in a typical way, it messes with your mind and with what you think is going on in the Roanoke family. A lot of controversy has been mentioned about this novel and the dark twists and turns in it. I can agree that at times it feels like Amy Engel is throwing certain things in because it sells nowadays. However, overall this novel really worked me. I like to be heart broken by a novel. I like them to be dark and depressing. If you don't like these things, I'd steer you far away from The Roanoke Girls. 

Amy Engel's writing was great in this novel - simple, yet extremely effective. We alternate between Lane's first visit to Roanoke and her coming back years later to help find Allegra. Both these stories slowly intertwine so that we get a clearer picture of what the Roanoke secret is and what might have happened to Allegra. I do wish we knew more about Lane and Allegra's mothers, as well as their sisters. While the mystery of their deaths/disappearances was quite prominent, their personalities and stories seemed to fade into the background. I think another hundred pages would have made this novel perfect for me, but I'd still highly recommend this for any thrill seeker this summer.

The Outsiders - S.E. Hilton

From an upcoming release to a book that everyone seems to already know and love: The Outsiders by S.E. Hilton. I know this is an insanely popular classic, especially amongst YA lovers like myself, but I must admit that I knew little to nothing about this novel until I read it. 

Ponyboy (yes, that's really the narrator's name) is a greaser in 1960s Oklahoma. He sees the world as two groups; the greasers like himself and the socs, who have money and basically run the world, or at least Ponyboy's neighbourhood. Ponyboy and his greaser friends constantly get in trouble with the socs and vice versa until eventually one night an argument takes a very dark turn that changes the lives of all greasers and socs.

I couldn't believe the hype of this novel when I started reading it. I even tweeted after 20 pages asking if anything ever happens in The Outsiders. And then the real story started. While the arguing between the socs and the greasers might seem, and often is, juvenile, the story takes a crazy unpredictable turn that raises the stakes for all the main characters. While I don't want to go too in depth about the spoiler, since I also want to discuss it in an upcoming Book and Tea Talk video, it really made this book one of my favourites ever in the span of a few pages.

This is one of those classics that I highly recommend for people who want to start reading classics, but don't know where to start. My Penguin edition is only 136 pages and S.E. Hilton's writing is accessible no matter what you've read before. Though I take offence in the claim that this is the first YA novel (Did everyone forget about The Catcher in the Rye???!!!), I do think this is a great transition from YA to classics.

The Lauras - Sara Taylor

The Lauras is another book I received from Netgalley, and I am grateful to them and the publisher Random House. This does not influence my review/opinion of the novel.

I'm not sure how I ended up with The Lauras on Netgalley. It's honestly one of those books that I just suddenly had and couldn't remember why it appealed to me in the first place. So I started The Lauras with a completely open mind and kept that for the whole crazy roller coaster ride this book took me on.

Alex's mother wakes her up one night, puts her in the car and drives her away from her father and family home. With no explanation given, Alex suddenly lives in motel rooms and eats junk food every day, while her mother focuses on getting them further and further away from their home. Where are they going? That's not clear to Alex, but she slowly figures out that they're following a trail of Lauras. Her mother has met several Lauras in her life - all different, but equally important, and she wants to revisit some of them and takes Alex along for the ride.

I have complicated feelings about this novel. It was original in the premise of a journey that basically consisted of people instead of places and I also really enjoyed the focus on the mother - daughter relationship. Alex is a young teen when they leave and basically grows up in the car with her mother, which leads to the expected trouble in communication. I think this combination of a mother going through a crisis and a daughter going through puberty is not explored often and I throughly enjoyed the ups and downs of their connection.

However, Sara Taylor's writing didn't really do it for me. I felt like Alex, who is the narrator, told me a lot. She told me about her background and her family and I didn't really get to see any of it in the way she communicated with other people or reacted to situations. The pieces of her mother's journey are not really puzzled together, but consist of her mother just telling her things. I wish there was a little more nuance in this novel in the way characters could show the reader how they feel instead of just telling them, which made the story feel juvenile at certain points.

There were also certain scenes that, like with The Roanoke Girls, seemed to be put in there to shock for the sake of shock. They didn't really push the character or plot forward enough and the traumatic aftereffect seemed smaller than I would expect. I would have liked to have seen more character development from certain things Alex experiences.

Taking all that in though, I still really enjoyed The Lauras. It's an original book and over time Alex really grew on me. Hopefully other authors will see how complex and beautiful mother and daughter can be together and they will write other novels focussing on it too.

All That Man Is - David Szalay

 

RATING: ★★★☆☆

allthatmanis.jpg

Manhood in novels. It seems to be the topic of choice for authors throughout the centuries.

During my MA English, I learned that the true first English novel, a story that was published and marketed in book form and didn't have an oral story tradition, is Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe in 1719. Others say the first English novel is The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan from 1678. Many people agree that the first Spanish novel is Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, which was published in parts, but can be originated back to 1605.

What is noticeable about these choices, besides the fact that it is hard to pinpoint the start of the novel or to trace a clear evolution, is not only their male authors, but the male narrators. Not only are they narrators, they also exist in the novel's title and their journey, physically, religiously and mentally, dominate the narrative of the novels. 

This tradition didn't stop in the 18th century. This year I've been making a conscious effort to read more classic novels and have discovered how more prominent male authors/narrators are in literature. I've read Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Victor Hugo, Oscar Wilde, and many other authors that are not only men, but also centralise the male experience. Somehow the emotions of men are more valid in the world of classic literature. I know that Virginia Woolf exists (and is a wonderful author), that Mary Shelley started the genre of science fiction (which some people like to contest, but I'd refer to this great article as proof that really science fiction was invented by a woman). But overall, the male authors seem to outweigh the female ones.

In this climate, that is only slowly changing because of the rise of feminism and the path cleared by woman who impacted literature (J.K. Rowling for example), David Szalay wrote All That Man Is. To say I was curiously nervous about this book is an understatement. The title is brazen and clear: this is the story about men. I didn't want to read another homage to manhood, but I think manhood in this day and age is extremely complicated. I see men my age struggle with their place in the world and uncomfortable with how their fathers expect them to be and how liberated they could be. Feminism, often deemed as the devil, could help them embrace all aspects from themselves, but unfortunately, the idea of traditional manhood prevents some men from embracing the concept. 

What is being a man? How are you a good man? When do you fail?

All That Man Is portrays manhood in its 21st century form with all those questions in the background. Instead of the romanticised men portrayed by F. Scott Fitzgerald or the world conquering brute men of Hemingway, David Szalay presents nine extremely different men with their beauty and faults. We start with a teenager and end the novel with an older man. All man are travelling, or are at least away from home and from the conventions of manhood they were raised to know. 

Personally, I disliked all nine men. While they ranged in my dislike, all of them seemed entitled and made me roll my eyes at some point. They all mansplain. They all want sympathy for something. They all put up a front and push people out to seem cool. Halfway through this novel, I was annoyed and aggravated and I couldn't believe David Szalay wrote a book, a successful one too!, about men being entitled brats in different parts of Europe. 

And then it clicked - in the last chapter. It's not like the last man in the novel was more sympathetic than the other ones. I just suddenly realised what David Szalay was trying to do with this novel. Though these characters are flawed, some seriously flawed, they are so incredibly realistic. The fact that I felt emotion for each of them shows the skill in the writing. The fact that I didn't like them just shows that, truthfully, I just don't like that many people.

The nine stories, though sometimes seeming incoherent, all have to do with time and growing up. These men all struggle with manhood in different ways and though I might find that struggle annoying at times, it is valid. I missed a voice of reason for these characters, but who has a voice of reason when you're travelling? In the end I could appreciate that David Szalay didn't become the voice of reason; didn't judge his characters for anything, but just let them be.

This novel shows the complexity of manhood in the 21st century beautifully. Was it perfect? No. As I mentioned, the nine stories sometimes seemed too detached to be in a novel together and honestly, I think nine short stories is also pushing it to get the point across that David Szalay wanted to get across. I read this book a few weeks ago and I must admit, I don't remember the name of a single male narrator. Not one. But that's also not the point. The point is their journey, and I do remember that. Their point is that they are real and you'll feel everything you can while reading this book. It is flawed, just like the characters are, and just like manhood is, but it is also thoroughly enjoyable and a fascinating look at our current world. 

Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction: First Love - Gwendoline Riley

RATING: ★★★★★

First Love is a short listed Baileys Women's Prize novel and very different from the other two novels that I finished: Stay With Me and The Power

First Love is the story of Neve and her unhealthy relationship with her husband Edwyn. In minimalistic writing, Gwendoline Riley explores the marriage and how financial troubles, insecurity and age difference influences the couple. 

The plot summary of this novel is short, because this is not an action driven book. First Love is all about emotions, relationships and how characters can develop themselves. While the writing is minimalistic, it is incredibly power and Riley is able to convey the emotions of her characters perfectly. Edwyn is constantly emotionally abusive at Neve and I felt the impact of his comments on her every single time. Due to the simple use of words and minimal descriptions, I was really able to place myself in every situation the characters were in.

First Love is not revolutionary in its concept like The Power is. This is a story about an unhealthy relationship and a woman who is too scared / financially dependent to leave it. Unfortunately, it's a tale as old as time, but the amazing writing really makes this story stand out. It's simple, yet extremely emotional, which I think is the point of literature.

There's no point writing a long review about this novel. The plot of the story is almost irrelevant - it's about the writing and the emotion hidden in it. It shows the beauty of books; how they can transport you to any world and any character at the skilful touch of a talented writer. This is one of those books you just have to pick up - I recommend every single one of you to read this novel and experience this writing.

Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction: The Power by Naomi Alderman

RATING: ★★★★☆

It's a few days until the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction is announced! And though I didn't manage to read all the books - which will be explained in a future review - I'm taking these last few days to reviews the books of the long and short list that I did read.

After Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo, I read The Power by Naomi Alderman. Both are now on the short list and are in the running to win the Baileys Prize this week.

The Power takes place in a future world where teenage girls suddenly realise they have the ability to send a sort of electric shock to people. This power varies from girl to girl, but it means that suddenly girls are the stronger sex and are able to overpower men whenever they want to. This changes the dynamic of the world and overthrows gender relationships as we know it.

Naomi Alderman follows several narrators; Roxy, the daughter of a thug whose power makes her rise among the ranking of her father's business; Tunde, a boy who travels around the world reporting on the events invoked by the power; Margot, a mayor who discovers that her daughter possess the power and is torn between her position and her loyalty to her family; and Allie, one of the most powerful girls in the novel who explores the relationship between the power and religion. While I often struggle with several narrators, I really enjoyed this aspect of the book. We follow them over a long period of time and really get to know them and the changes the power brings into their lives. As expected, this is different for every single girl, and boy, and it is interesting to see how these teenagers are influenced.

The author really manages to show a complex dimension of gender relationships. So much of our current society is based on the fact that men are inherently physically stronger, or feel stronger, than women. They feel powerful and women often feel scared - for example, we don't want to walk alone in the dark or feel uncomfortable if someone is following us. By making all teenage girls stronger than any man, Alderman explores how this influences the psyche of men and women. As expected, this is turbulent and I was pleased that this novel never showed an utopia view of this reverse society. In any society where somewhere has significantly more strength than someone else, issues will occur and the women make some dramatic changes throughout the years.

While I enjoyed the concept and character development of this novel, the writing didn't grip me like the writing of Stay With Me did. I can imagine a lot of people prefer The Power because of its innovative and original concept, but I still can't shake the feelings Stay With Me gave me. Personally, The Power veered on being too simplistic at times for me and there were certain parts which I wish were fleshed out or described more.

Overall, The Power is a fascinating read. Its plot is extremely interesting and fascinating and I could not stop reading this book once I picked this up. Anyone who reads this will really start to think about the gender dynamics and how our society works right now and how we could make it work better. Though maybe not my personal favourite, this book is extremely important and I wouldn't be surprised if this is the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction winner for 2017.

We Are Okay - Nina LaCour

RATING: ★★★★★

In case you don't know, I'll repeat it here: I love Nina LaCour! Everything Leads to You is one of my favourite YA novels and I am always at awe with how flawless writing seems when it's written by Nina LaCour.

So I was beyond excited when I bought her new novel We Are Okay. And as usual, this novel went beyond any high expectations I had.

The Goodreads summary of the novel is: 

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit, and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

While this is an interesting premise, I was worried the story would be cliché in either the way Marin's sadness is portrayed or how easy it can be fixed. 

However, Nina LaCour doesn't shy away at all from the difficulties Marin faces and how deeply rooted they are. You find out early on, this isn't really a spoiler, that Marin's grandfather died and that she grew up with him before that event. The way this book slowly uncovers the complex layers that made up the bond Marin had with her grandfather is amazing and really just a sign of amazing writing. Something starts out so simple and becomes more complex than I ever could have imagined.

Both Marin and Mabel are so easy to relate to. Marin's pain feels very real and the hopelessness Mabel feels is easy to imagine - how do you help someone grieve? How are you there for someone when they have pushed you away? How far can you push someone to let you in? These are all issues Mabel struggles with and I loved seeing her journey throughout the novel.

Overall, We Are Okay is not afraid to face difficult issues head on. Nina LaCour's amazing writing makes it easy for the reader to be guided through a journey that can sometimes be too close for comfort. However, We Are Okay also has a constant theme of love and friendship in it - how important we are to other people and how incredibly helpful we can be. This combination of sadness and happiness means this is a book I won't forget any time soon.