Catch-Up Reviews: Turtles All the Way Down, Wild Beauty, Exit Pursued by a Bear
This has been a long time coming. Here are some mini-reviews and thoughts about books I wasn’t quite able to cover on this blog because of school. Turtles All the Way Down I read in December, Wild Beauty in January, and Exit, Pursued by a Bear in April/May.
A small update: I’m thinking of doing monthly wrap-up reviews this summer because I’m trying to focus less time on blogging, discuss books rather than review them (focusing on my position as an author and teacher), and spend more time writing. We’ll see how this goes. In the fall when I’m back at school, I plan to finally start a YouTube channel about books and teaching and writing. We’ll see!!
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
I read most of John Green’s books several years ago. I still enjoy his YouTube stuff with his brother Hank–especially when they’re providing educational materials like Crash Course–but I figured I wouldn’t pick up the book he came out with next. And then it was announced last summer, and it featured a girl with OCD, and since I’d seen John Green’s videos talking about his OCD, I knew I had to read it. There aren’t that many #ownvoices depictions in YA, and I’ve enjoyed what I have read (Patrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here and Adam Silvera’s History is All You Left Me).
So, mental health is complicated, but as far as I know right now, according to professionals, I’m on the OCD or OCPD (the personality disorder) spectrum. Even though mine doesn’t manifest in the same way Aza’s does, but I definitely found similarities in the “thought spirals” and her obsession with a cut on her finger. I think a lot of depictions of OCD tend to focus on the actions and leave out the thoughts, which are such a key component. Green depicts these by manipulating language/sentence/paragraph structure, which works well.
I really appreciated the specific setting and references to it (Indianapolis). The story addresses issues of money, including how it relates to college, which I really appreciated because it really is on the mind of high school students. At first I found some of the characterization flimsy and there was some unhealthiness in the romance and friendship the story focuses on, but that ended up being addressed. (Unfortunately I read this a while ago and my notes aren’t too clear about it, but I remember being pleased at the directions it took, and also it would probably be a spoiler anyway.) Overall, definitely my favorite John Green book another great addition to the #ownvoices YA books on OCD, because everyone’s experiences are different!
Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore
This book is as gorgeous inside as it is on the outside. It’s a magical realism story about a Latina family, the Nomeolvides, where the men disappear and the women all can grow flowers. Their land, La Predera, keeps them isolated from the community that is afraid of them and their powers. Then a boy shows up, speaking no English without memories of where he came from, and the Nomeolvides women wonder if it’s one of their male lovers from the past.
The writing is certainly beautiful, but the story also deals with themes of colonialism, immigration, privilege, sexuality, and family. At the beginning, the five girls of the youngest generation all have a crush on their neighbor, a girl (who dresses more masculinely), and this is just accepted–even though the girls know their mothers and grandmothers are not accustomed to this. The main character, Estrella, develops feelings for the mysterious boy named Fel, and it’s great to see a queer girl in a f/m relationship because I feel like that is underrepresented often in stories. And the discoveries and plot twists? Amazing.
There are definitely others better qualified than me to talk about where this book and the rest of McLemore’s novels (which I’m excited to read soon!) lie within the canon of magical realism, but based on my limited knowledge I can see how the story and themes of colonialism and family fit into that Latin American tradition, with the addition of sexuality representation. I can’t wait to read more of her books!
Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
I picked this up because I was studying Winter’s Tale and adaptations in my Shakespeare class, so I was curious about how that frankly bizarre story was interpreted through a contemporary YA lens. It’s a rather loose adaptation and focuses on the Hermione character (also named Hermione), who while at a cheer camp her final year of high school is drugged and raped, found unconscious in a lake. She doesn’t have memories of the incident
I know some people feel that this book works out very conveniently; Hermione is not met with negativity from investigators (and the main police officer assigned to her is female). Her choice what to do when she discovers she is pregnant is explored and fully supported (although it is Canada which does have different laws concerning health care, etc). Indeed, that means it often lacks tension throughout, but I also think that’s important because there is this gentle healing tone throughout the book, and lose ends are tied up. (That said, I thought there could have been more atmosphere and work on the secondary characters.) Plus, Hermione struggles with this calmness herself, as she lacks memories of the incident. While it was sensitive and didn’t “shy away” from things (I’m putting quotes because I don’t like how that phrase is used to justify some things…looking at you, 13 Reasons Why), Exit, Pursued by a Bear definitely is important for showing that not all stories about rape have to be brutal, dark, and sad.