You either love or hate John Green. There’s just no other way around it. I’m firmly in the ‘love John Green’ camp and as a result, I had been anxiously awaiting the release of his newest book, Turtles All the Way Down. He spent a good chunk of time writing this book and when press started to talk about it, I knew I would relate to the character.
Sixteen-year-old Aza has a lot going on in her life. The father of one of her childhood friends has disappeared. That would generate fuss in the community anyway, but add in the fact that the disappeared parent is a fugitive from the law and the craziness begins to snowball. Russell Pickett is a fugitive billionaire and has completely disappeared leaving the community and, more importantly, his two orphaned sons wondering where he is. When a $100,000 reward is offered, Aza and her best friend, Daisy, decide to try to figure out what happened to him. Aza used to be friends with Russell Pickett’s son, Davis, something that Daisy decides is a good omen. Aza is left to try to bridge the gap between herself and Davis.
Aza finds herself doing a lot of trying in life now. Her father died when she was younger, leaving Aza and her mom to try to cope without him. Aza is trying to be so many different things that she feels like she has lost sight of who her real self is. She is trying to be a good friend, a good student, a good daughter, but her mind never lets her be. Aza is contantly caught in a spiral of her own thoughts that gets tighter and tighter the more she tries to ignore it. Until she acknowledges these thoughts, Aza’s mind and body control her. She can’t escape. The distraction that the disappearance of Russell Pickett provides gives Aza a new escape and reintroduces herself to his son, Davis. Aza, Davis, and Daisy form a complicated friend group and Aza spends a great deal of time worrying over herself.
Turtles All the Way Down is a fascinating glimpse into the life of a teenager trying to make it through life. Aza is constantly battling the voices in her head and the spiral that threatens to overwhelm her. She knows that what she is told to do in her mind is usually wrong, but unless she listens, Aza knows she will be unable to function. This book looks deeply into mental health, resilience, the power of all types of friendship, and how love tries to reach us all. Give it a read and let me know what you think.
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Miri feels useless. While her father, sister, and all of her peers work in the quarry mining linder all day, Miri is forced to stay out of the quarry and tend to her home. She believes that her father keeps her home due to her small stature, and this makes her a burden for the entire Mount Eskel village. When it is announced that the prince will be choosing the next princess from among the girls of Mount Eskel, Miri believes that this is her chance to prove her worth to her father and her community.
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale is a gem of a book. One of the biggest criticisms of middle grade fiction is that authors often tell, rather than show. They tell the reader how to feel about a character without letting the reader get to know the character on their own. But Hale masterfully shows the reader that Miri is moral, quick witted, funny, loyal, and strong through Miri’s words and actions. Just like Miri, the reader is conflicted about whether she would be better off marrying the prince and getting to travel and learn or if she should return to her village that she loves to help better her people. This is a conflict that many smart, talented young women deal with as they make their transition from hometown life, to college, and then to a career.
While there are a number of fantastic princess books from Ella Enchanted to The Secret Lives of Princesses to The Princess Knight, Hale is able to do something unique with this book. She isn’t just presenting an internal conflict of a young woman wanting to prove herself (although that conflict plays an important role in the novel), but Hale goes beyond that to create a protagonist that understands the importance of community and family.
I actually heard this book being recommended by Dr. Phil (not that I’m not a regular viewer). How ironic and fortunate that myself and a coworker were able to attend and hear University of Iowa professor Dr. Durham speak about her book this past February to The Women’s Connection.
The Lolita Effect, as the subtitle states, addresses the media sexualization of young girls. Dr. Durham provides many illustrations of how our culture is obsessed with these very detrimental representations (one of my favorites: major chain stores that sell junior panties that read “who needs credit cards…”). The Lolita Effect identifies and evaluates several harmful myths such as: “if you’ve got it flaunt it” and that “violence is sexy”. Dr. Durham presents realistic strategies for dealing with these media myths and depictions. As one reviewer stated she approaches her topic without being too “puritanical or permissive”.
While reading the Lolita Effect, I began to wonder when and how the term “Lolita” became equivalent to the “sexy girl”. I certainly tried my best to read Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 complete and unabridged novel, Lolita. Those Russian poets are a challenge. Middle aged Paris born Humbert Humbert (yes there are two) tells the story of his obsession with a particular type of young girl that he refers to as “nymphets”. In today’s world we call folks like this pedophiles. H.H. becomes fixated on his twelve year old stepdaughter Lolita. A very intense relationship ensues. The book was met with much controversy and has been critiqued both as – “Old Europe debauching young America, and as Young America debauching Old Europe”.
Although the namesake and topic of “sexy young girl” is the subject in both books, they are worlds apart. Durham’s book is fresh scholarly research while Nabokov’s is a tragicomedy still possessing classic literary status. I should get class credit!