(A note before we begin: I started reading this book yesterday, and finished it today. I wrote this review today so everything is a first impression while the story is still fresh in my mind. My thoughts might change over time, but these are the ones I have in this moment.)
(I’m also trying out a new way of reviewing.)
It’s been a while since I’ve read a ‘new’ John Green book, but this one was definitely worth the wait.
Sixteen-year-old Aza is pursuing the mystery of a missing billionaire, and there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake, so her best friend Daisy is eager to investigate. As much as Aza wants to be part of the mystery and present in her new relationship with an old friend, she’s trapped within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.
Before I get into the proper review, I just want to quickly mention how reading this book made me feel. I’ve brushed on it before, but I am a person who doesn’t feel emotions strongly, a side effect of my own mental illness. However, this book hit home so hard for me that I was just laying in bed on the verge of tears by the end of it. It’s one of the first ‘sad’/relatable books that has made me really feel an emotion, rather than just feeling numb.
Basically, this book is an incredibly relatable representation of mental illnesses. Moving on to the actual review…
+ Authentic Mental Illness
The representation of mental health in this book is ugly, disturbing, frustrating, but it’s definitely not hopeless. The word ‘OCD’ is never actually used, but that mental illness is one of the main focuses of the story, and it’s one that I also suffer from. This is a real and brutal portrayal of OCD, not just the stereotypical version that appears all throughout literature and the media. The thought-spirals and psychology behind the illness is what makes it so much more brutal, and it makes you experience what Aza is going through, not just watching it from a distance. Additionally, Aza also suffers from anxiety, and the way her experiences are described speaks so intensely, specifically the metaphor for the spiral that is across the cover. I’ll never get sick of John’s talent for metaphors, and his talent for finding the perfect words to describe something that feels so indescribable.
+ Smart Characters
What really makes John Green stand out from other YA authors, for me, at least, is that he writes intelligent teenage characters. He acknowledges that teenagers can be smart and knowledgeable and understand complex ideas, and doesn’t portray them as unintelligent just because they’re young. I love how ‘pretentious’ his characters are, because that’s how I am, and that’s how so many people I’ve met also are. The sheer amount of knowledge these characters have is refreshing, and I’m HERE for more smart people to be written into YA books.
The plot of this novel is very different to his other works. Not in a bad way, but this plot was more subtle, more simplistic, in a way. There’s an internal plot and an external one, both happening simultaneously, and it makes you think that you’re following one, then it turns out that the other is the central focus. This plot also focuses a lot more on the characters and their experiences, rather than the event-based storyline that is also occurring.
+ Aza and Daisy’s Friendship
(Contains some spoilers) I loved them as friends as it was mostly a good female-to-female friendship that wasn’t build on obsessing over boys, but then Daisy said so many cruel things to and about Aza, and none of it was dealt with properly. Daisy even makes a character in her fanfiction based on Aza to basically vent about how ‘exhausting’ and ‘selfish’ she is, but they both just forgive each other in the end?
+ Technology (mainly texting and blogs)
We live in a world that revolves around technology, and it was interesting to see how John integrated this into the story without making it tiresome. He includes it organically and makes it important to the story and the character’s lives, without making it gimmicky or using it just to fill up the pages.
This book will appeal to basically anyone with an interest in YA, whether or not they’re a young adult. Typically, John Green novels have romance as the main focal point, but here the romance takes a backseat, and the front seat is occupied by Aza’s own mental health journey.
I’m tempted to flip back to page one and read the book again. I live in the belief that it’s always more fun to watch a movie the second time, because you know all the twists and turns and if everything is going to be alright. I want to be able to experience this book for the second time, to become lost in the pages and know exactly how things are going to end, but be able to spend more time falling deep into the metaphors.
Overall, John Green is back to the world of YA, and he’s doing better than ever.
– “Anybody can look at you. It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see.”
– “Your now is not your forever.”
– “True terror isn’t being scared; it’s not having a choice on the matter.”
– “You’re both the fire and the water that extinguishes it. You’re the narrator, the protagonist, and the sidekick. You’re the storyteller and the story told. You are somebody’s something, but you are also your you.”
– “The problem with happy endings is that they’re either not really happy, or not really endings, you know? In real life, some things get better and some things get worse. And then eventually you die.”
– “Actually, the problem is that I can’t lose my mind,” I said. “It’s inescapable.”