- In english, Book reviews

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Book title: Turtles all the way down
Author: John Green
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Country: UK
Year: 2017
Isbn: 978-0-241-33543-7
Format: Novel
Narrative: First person
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary

Overall Plot
Aza is sixteen years old and suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder. She sometimes feels like a prisoner in her own head, and she is seriously questioning whether she has any power over her own life at all. As far as Aza is concerned, her best friend Daisy is like the main character of the movie, and Aza is just the side kick. Their relationship is to a great extent Daisy talking and Aza listening, or perhaps more accurately, thinking.

When billionaire entrepreneur Russel Davis Pickett Sr. is reported missing, Aza and Daisy gets involved in investigating the disappearance, on the hunt for a hundred thousand dollar reward. The first step in finding the truth is Aza resuming a lost friendship with Mr. Pickett's son Davis. And meeting a tuatara.

But let's be honest – even though that's the overall plot, it's not really what the book is about. Not really.

Overall thoughts

I loved how raw the depiction of Aza's mental health issues were in this book. The parts where Aza loses control of her thoughts were sometimes difficult to read, but they were honest, and being an angsty person myself I could definitely relate to some of the logic her mind tries to create for her in those moments. It felt true, and truth is sometimes uncomfortable. I also very much liked the fact that Aza is seeing a psychiatrist and taking medication, because if there is one thing that needs to become less of a taboo, it is asking for help.

This books deals with many interesting themes and concepts, such as the self, whether there is such a thing as a singular self, a core I, that is independent and unattached from all outside influence. It deals with the theme of friendship and family; whether it is fine to love someone and at the same time dislike that person, and whether you can help someone else while at the same time not being able to help yourself. It talks about letting go, of missing things and people, of how it is so incredibly sad, and still okay.

The disappearance mystery in this book is really a secondary plot. It is interesting, and it makes you wonder what happened, but it is obvious a hundred pages in that it is not the main focus of this story. We get to see the mystery unfold through Aza's mind, mirrored through her sometimes fuzzy and obsessive thoughts. Just as we get to see all the characters, Davis, Daisy, Mychal, Aza's mother, Aza's car Harold and the tuatara Tua, through the lens of Aza's mind. A mind that is sometimes unstable, sometimes unreliable, but always trying its best to do the right thing.

Relevance

I feel like we are moving in the right direction with the depiction of mental health issues in popular culture. Even though it has been around in literature for a long time, it has been associated with scary and dangerous characters. It is still taboo to actually admit that you have mental health issues, and to seek help, and therefore this book is important. (Minor spoiler coming up. But not really.) I really feel like the ending of this book was perfect and very helpful in terms of normalizing and defusing the image of mental health issues. There was no magic wand waving and rose tint on the mental health situation, but an understanding that mental health issues is something a person lives with, and learns to deal with, and perhaps in the future gets better from, or even gets completely free from. But it's not certain, and it's not necessary to live a good life.

Concluding thoughts

I found the first third of the book a tad slow. The beginning of the book gave me the impression that we were in for a big mystery adventure, but the pace of the plot didn't match that. When letting go of the idea that the mystery was the main focus of the story, I realized that the story was so much more. The two remaining thirds I practically inhaled in one breath. I liked how Aza is multifaceted; there were moments where you thought “Come on, Aza, get your shit together!” and other moments when you just wanted to give her a hug. I think that John Green did a great job at depicting mental health problems in a not romanticizing way but also in a non-blaming way. The mystery was realistically mysterious, and the whole thing was just a joy to read. My copy has about a dozen folded pages to help me remember all the beautiful and touching quotes that I will be reading over and over again. 5 out of 5 stars.


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Book reviews, - In english

Info

Book title: Just kids
Author: Patti Smith
Translator into Swedish: Ulla Danielsson
Publisher: Ecco
Country: USA
Swedish Publisher: Brombergs
Year: 2010 (2011 in Sweden)
Isbn: 978-0-06-621131-2
Format: Novel
Narrative: First person
Genre: Memoir

Overall Plot

It is said that every good story has a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning of this story is when Patti meets Robert. The middle is filled with art, New York City in the late sixties and seventies, poverty and passion. The ending is painful and full of love. This book is the story of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, of their friendship, their love and their hunger for artistic life. A great part of the story plays out in New York City, and one could almost say that the Chelsea Hotel is the third main character of the book, with its dirty rooms and legendary residents of pained artists. The hotel is also telling the story. This book is a celebration of youth and art, of exploration and of the very special friendship between Patti Smith and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and it depicts their relationship over couple of decades. It begins in passion, and it inevitably ends in death.

Overall thoughts

This book made me nostalgic for a time that I was not even alive to experience in the first place. American settings in the sixties and seventies tends to do that to me, but this book did so more than ever before. I could almost taste the cigarette smoke, and smell the crowded coffee houses. It must be because of the vivid pictures Patti paints with her words. Patti has a way of explaining passion, longing and hardship, that makes every choice she made sound completely reasonable, even if it meant they were living on the verge of starvation. In this book she shows her and Robert's wonderfully fiery life together, but she does so without leaving out the gritty and ugly parts. She describes a New York City that we have heard about from so many other artists and musicians; the place where everything happened at the same time, where every artist and musician hung out together, and where magic happened in a time of revolution. Legendary names are thrown in on every other page, showing that everybody really was there. To me it is pure joy to read about this era, and to do so from a point of view of two young artists, trying to find themselves in this chaotic and mesmerizing concrete jungle is even better.

Connections

I believe that all creative people, all artists, are constantly questioning their identity and their art. Therefore, to read about two legendary artists in their youth, making art, trying things out, changing their minds and trying something else, is freeing, and it gives hope. Apart from that, this books also functions as a historic depiction of New York City during an important time of popular culture, and a beautiful one at that. I found myself thinking of other portrayals of this time period; the 2006 movie "Factory Girl" starring Sienna Miller , and the legendary 1967 documentary about Bob Dylan "Don't Look Back " by D. A. Pennebaker.

Concluding thoughts

It is important to remember that Patti Smith came to New York as a fan of something. She came, as many others, to find her place in a context that she already knew about from other artists, writers and musicians, such as Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac and Dylan Thomas. And now, her name is naturally written alongside those names. There is something dreamy about that – the fan who becomes a part of the gang. Just like Bob Dylan kind of became a part of the Beats. This book says something about being true to yourself, being passionate, being a friend, and being an artist. And since I am into all of those things; the book gets 5 out of 5 stars.


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Book reviews, - In english

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Book title: Dig too deep
Author: Amy Allgeyer
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Country: United States of America
Year: 2016
Isbn: 978-0-8075-1580-8
Format: Novel
Narrative: First person
Genre: Young adult thriller

Overall Plot

Liberty is about to start her senior year of high school when her mother is imprisoned, suspected to be involved in violent activism. This results in Liberty having to move to her grandmother's house in Ebbotsville, Kentucky, in the Appalachian mountains. When she gets there she realizes that not everything is as it should in Ebbotsville; The mountain top of Tanner's Peak has been replaced by a big mine, the drinking water is neon orange, and her grandmother is very ill. Even though the townspeople seem to think that everything is fine, she decides to dig deeper. However, searching for the truth turns out to be dangerous.

Overall thoughts

I read this book in a day, because I just could. Not. Stop. Reading. The mystery, the unfairness, the hardships and the hope that everything will turn out okay kept me going as if I was obsessed. I think that Amy Allgeyer's language is lovely, and short chapters always have a way of making me say “just one more chapter” over and over again. The book has multiple themes; pollution, people's health versus companies' profit, people's health versus people's jobs, mother-daughter relationships, the importance of dreams and hope, sickness within families, power balance between rich and poor. It also uses the opposition of good and evil, natural and unnatural, the nature and the man made in a very symbolic way, nature being the pure and clean and the man made destroying nature and making people sick. The book deals with so many deep and important topics, and I think it does so in a very nice way.

The sweetest relationship in this whole book is the relationship between Liberty and her grandmother. They have a jargon and a lingo between them that is sarcastic, and at the same time incredibly loving. They are both strong, stubborn and smart. It is a constant bickering between them, but they can switch from sarcasm to seriousness in a heartbeat when needed. This relationship creates a sharp contrast to the relationship between Liberty and her mother, which is very strained and infected with guilt and feelings of abandonment.

Connections

It is impossible to not think of the situation in Flint, Michigan , when reading this book. Flint, Michigan, is a town in in the United States, where the drinking water has been contaminated for three years, and still counting. The water have at times had lead levels high enough to make the drinking water count as hazardous waste. This leads me to think of the discussion whether water is a human right or not. In the documentary “We feed the world ” (2005) by Erwin Wagenhofer, one can hear Peter Brabeck, who was CEO of Nestlé Group at the time, explaining that water as a human right is an extreme idea . He goes on to say that water is a commodity, like any type of food, and should have a monetary value. I believe this discussion will go on to be even more important in the future, which makes this book even more relevant.

Concluding thoughts

No novel is perfect. There were a few events and characters in this book that seemed somewhat unrealistic. But as a whole I had a very pleasant reading experience, and at the same time I was confronted with important and difficult topics that had me thinking. Good combination; 4 out of 5 stars.

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