Day 1226: Turtles All the Way Down

Cover for Turtles All the Way DownI’ve only read two books by John Green, but he seems to have the teenage sensibility down, as well as specializing in damaged heroines. In this case, the problem is mental illness.

Aza is subject to compulsive thoughts, so much so that at times she doesn’t feel in control of herself. Her obsessions center around the microbes in the human body.

Aza’s friend Daisy is a real firecracker who blogs romantic stories about Star Wars characters. She sets off the action in the novel by suggesting that she and Aza investigate the disappearance of Russell Pickett, a corporate CEO who is under investigation. The authorities are offering a reward of $100K for information leading to his discovery, and Daisy thinks they have an in because of Aza’s former friendship with Davis, his son.

Aza reluctantly goes along with Daisy’s idea to contact Davis but finds things complicated. Davis is glad their neglectful father is gone, but his little brother is suffering. To make matters worse, Aza is attracted to Davis, who knows very well the reason the two girls came calling.

Green seems to specialize in bitter-sweet, and this novel is no exception. It is very entertaining and ultimately touching. Aza’s problems are handled with understanding and delicacy. (It seems that Green also suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder.) This is another winner for John Green.

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Day 477: The Fault in Our Stars

Cover for The Fault in Our StarsBest Book of the Week!
It seems as if I have read more books lately from which I do not get a sense of the characters’ personalities. I don’t feel as if they could be real people but just projections of the author’s plot. But that is not the case with The Fault in Our Stars, which creates for us some unforgettable personalities.

Hazel Lancaster is a sixteen-year-old with thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs. Unlike the other kids in the support group her mom has talked her into attending, she doesn’t have any hope of survival. She just wants to live as long as she can. At the group, she meets Augustus Waters, a seventeen-year-old ex-basketball player who has lost one leg to osteosarcoma but has a generally good prognosis.

Hazel is witty, smart, and well read. She is obsessed with a novel called An Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houten, which is about a young girl suffering from a fatal illness, and literally ends in the middle of a sentence. As she and Augustus discuss their favorite books, Hazel explains that she just wants to know what happened to everyone else in the novel. Augustus decides to use his wish from the Genie Foundation to take Hazel to Amsterdam, where she can meet Peter Van Houten and find out what happened after the novel ended.

This novel is about teenagers falling in love, and rarely has fiction depicted two more appealing people. My one very small criticism is that they are scarily smart and funny, in intelligence reminding me more of Salinger’s Glass family than of normal kids. But Green has got the juvenile speech patterns down.

Frightfully well written, touching, funny, and ultimately sad, this novel has much to offer teens, young adults, and adults. Hazel and Augustus are affectingly human, and even Hazel’s parents, those cumbersome quantities so often ignored or eliminated in children’s or young adult fiction (note, for example, how much we see of Bella’s father in Twilight), are deftly characterized by their affectionate jokey interactions with Hazel.

Again, I feel that my capabilities are stretched here in my inability to adequately express how good this novel is. When I first started reading it, I was afraid of manipulation, as there seem to be a lot of “affliction of the month” children’s books out there right now, but that feeling left me almost immediately.