I’ll admit that I frequently choose books to read based on what the cover looks like and Too Good to be True by Carola Lovering falls under that category. This book caught my attention from the start and had me desperate for a happy ending for all involved at the end.
Skye Starling is bursting with happiness. She has everything. She’s beautiful, smart, and from a rich family. Yet the death of her mother when she was only eleven left Skye to deal with crippling OCD that has led her relationships to suffer. After years of battling social anxiety and OCD, she has finally found a man that loves her truly. Burke Michaels is everyone she could have ever wanted. After dating for a short time, Burke proposes and she can’t wait to be married to him.
Despite her tragic past, Burke wants her. He may be older, but Skye sees that as a positive since he’s very handsome and definitely more emotionally mature than any other men she’s met (and dated). In fact, he may be too perfect. Actually he is. Throughout the novel, readers are privy to letters Burke has written to his therapist that reveal the truth: Burke is already happily married and his relationship with Skye is full of deceptions.
In another perspective thirty years earlier, a young seventeen-year-old named Heather wants out of her relationship. Her boyfriend, Burke, is the local bad boy. If Heather really wants to make a better life for herself, she has realized that she needs to end her relationship with Burke because he’s only holding her back. After all, she wants out of the run-down town they live in. She has big dreams of heading to New York City to make a name for herself.
Skye is blissfully unaware of the scheme that Burke is working behind her back. As she gets to work planning their wedding, Skye lets herself believe that her happiness is right around the corner. Past and present collide the closer they get to the wedding, leaving Burke and Skye stunned with the consequences.
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Anyone who has struggled with addiction or compulsion will likely appreciate Ink In Water and find it inspiring. Davis, described as a “young punk artist” by Library Journal, tells an autobiographical story about incredibly painful life experiences revolving around disordered eating, recovery, loss, and finally–helping others overcome similar disorders. Now a personal trainer, coach, author, and “body image advocate”, Davis’s memoir reveals how she first developed an eating disorder and got ensnared in the negative feedback loop that accompanies the psychology of self-harm.
The illustrations depicting Davis at the height (or really, rock-bottom) of her disorder show an emaciated, isolated individual who was starving herself to death. But by the end of the memoir, illustrations show a woman who has learned to cut herself some slack. In contrast, the woman in the final pages of the memoir is strong, determined, and no longer fears taking up space. To the contrary, Davis is interested in building herself up, through the practice of weight-lifting and strength training. Rather than shrinking and trying to make herself smaller, she embarks on a lifelong journey of recovery by focusing her mental and physical energy on becoming stronger.
While this graphic novel is largely about learning to love yourself, it also did a wonderful job of showing what a loving, supportive relationship can look like. I got a little teary when reading about how Davis’s partner essentially doubled-down on being loving and supportive through the hard times (rather than turning away from her when she was at her worst). When Davis experiences a particularly devastating loss of one of her best friends, mentors, and sponsors, her partner plans a trip to New York City to help her get out of her head. Their relationship beautifully demonstrates how loving partnerships allow for being openly vulnerable and loved and supported in spite of individual faults or shortcomings.
Check it out. I didn’t really even start regularly reading graphic novels until I picked up a work of graphic medicine. As someone who genuinely enjoys non-fiction (I know — crazy!), graphic memoirs have been a really nice change of pace. This book reminds me of how resilient we are, and that we can get better and come back even stronger after being in the grips of something that threatens to destroy us.
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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I recently finished the extraordinarily good Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, and as much as I’d love to talk at length about my love for that book, Lexie already beat me to it. Shucks. So, instead, I’m going to write about my second favorite young adult novel about a red-headed social misfit published this year — Lauren Roedy Vaughn’s OCD, The Dude, and Me.
Danielle Levine doesn’t fit in (has there ever been a young adult book about someone well-adjusted? Would anyone want to read it?) Diagnosed with OCD, she attends an alternative high school and has to see the school psychologist to work on her social skills. With no friends and a rotten self-image, Danielle’s energy goes into rearranging her snowglobe collection, writing and reading, and pining for her crush, Jacob. That is, until she meets Daniel, a fellow outsider who introduces Danielle to the cult classic, The Big Lebowski and they find themselves at Lebowskifest (something that I’m happy to report is real), a place where Danielle finally feels like she belongs.
Vaughn chose to introduce Danielle diary style — through her school essays, journal entries, and email exchanges– to great effect. Witty and sarcastic, Danielle steadily grows up as the year passes. As she gains confidence, she becomes more likable — a concept that may be inspiring to the self-deprecating among us. Fans of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie and Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky should pick OCD, The Dude, and Me.