Turtles All the Way Down

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Warning: spoilers. 

I’m going to be 25 next month, but I still enjoy reading young adult fiction. John Green is one of my favorite YA authors and has been since I got The Fault in Our Stars for Christmas about five years ago. Since then, I’ve read the rest of his novels: Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns and An Abundance of Katherines. Looking for Alaska is my favorite one.

Turtles All the Way Down came out earlier this month, and is his first novel in almost six years. To promote the book, John and his brother Hank went on tour, and made a stop here in D.C., so I had the chance to see them. Their show was very enjoyable- John read a passage from the novel and talked about writing it. Hank and John did a session where they answered questions from the audience. Hank played his guitar and sang some songs.

Each ticket included a signed copy of the book. Published in hardcover, the cover features an orange spiral encircling the title with font in a paintbrush style.

Anyway, on with the book review.

Aza Holmes is a 16-year-old who lives in Indianapolis. She has obsessive compulsive disorder that complicates her daily life, as her “thought spirals” can make it impossible to focus on one thing. When Aza’s best friend Daisy Ramirez suggests that they try solve the disappearance of local billionaire Russell Pickett, Aza reconnects with his son, childhood friend Davis, and the two of them form a relationship of sorts. But she struggles to maintain a normal friendship and relationship as her mental health begins to take a turn.

The plot itself was not what I expected. Most of John Green’s novels revolve around the themes of romance, mystery, high school and social interaction. While Turtles does have these themes, John chose to focus on the very real issue of mental health, a departure from his previous books. He incorporated his own experiences of having OCD and anxiety into the character of Aza, which made her very realistic and relatable. Since the story is written in first person, we get to experience her thought spirals right with her. Her “invasive” thoughts are constantly present as she tries to live and interact with others normally. She carries a bottle of hand sanitize with her as a reminder to keep her hands clean and is aware of her digestive system as it breaks down her food. And she has to be one of the most profound characters John has written.

I have to admit that some parts of the novel were hard to read. There’s a part where Aza begins to break down and drink hand sanitizer. I had to put the book down and take a couple of breath before continuing, because I could feel the desperation she was experiencing. But I saw it as a sign of how effective John’s writing in this was. My favorite quote comes from page 9, “It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see.”

I highly recommend this novel because it’s a realistic portrayal of what having mental illness entails and how it can affect not just you, but the people around you. I can only hope that this novel can help in the effort to de-stigmatize the topic of mental illness.

As for what the title means? Well that’s something you’ll have to find out. For now, here’s a video of a turtle swimming down.

 

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Broad, Casted: Gender, Media, Politics, and Taking on the Establishment

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Like I’ve mentioned in my previous posts, I grew up outside of Rochester, New York, in a small town of about 6,000 people. My parents would always watch the news as a way to know what was going on, and I soon realized that I liked watching it too. I was fascinated by how the newscasters got to go out and talk to all sorts of people everyday. Rachel Barnhart was one of the many newscasters that we watched. Broad, Casted: Gender, Media, Politics and Taking on the Establishment is her memoir that documents her run for the New York State Assembly against Republican Harry Bronson during the summer of 2016.

In the first several chapters of the book, Rachel writes about growing up in Rochester, attending public school and deciding to major in college in journalism. Reading about her early life reminded me a lot of my own, attending public high school and being a cashier at the local grocery store as a teenager. I also majored in journalism in high school, though I decided not to become a reporter, and instead headed to D.C. to work in communications.

I enjoyed reading about the campaign trail experiences, because it reminded me of when my dad ran for town supervisor back in 2009 when I was in high school. Rachel talks about the neighborhoods she visited, the people she met and the responses she got. My dad would come home each night with stories about his experiences going door-to-door and talking to all kinds of people. He didn’t win, but those four months gave us an interesting perspective into local politics.

Tying into that, another great part was learning about how local political races work. There’s the announcement, but then comes the marathon of fundraising, getting petitions, advertising, making campaign stops and more. I’ve only come to learn more about the different types of races and just how many there are: State Senate, State Assembly, Mayoral, Gubernatorial, Congressional, and of course, Presidential.

Living in the nation’s capital, the majority of our 2016 was consumed by the highly unusual presidential race, and the suspense of not knowing who would move into the White House next. I found it refreshing to read about a much more local race and learning more about the legislative districts that encompass the Rochester area.

One of the more serious issues Rachel talks about throughout the book is the criticism she received in person, online, and through the campaign mailers, and how it was linked to sexism. This was a common theme seen throughout 2016 in not just that race, but in the presidential race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The election generated millions of reactions around the country and world, causing tension between friends and even complete strangers.

I definitely recommend this memoir for people who are interested in reading about journalism and politics.