Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Book–In John Green’s first novel since standout hit The Fault in Our Stars six years ago, Turtles All the Way Down follows 16-year-old Aza Holmes. She and her fearless best friend Daisy hear that the criminal billionaire father of Davis, one of Aza’s childhood friends, has gone missing, with a $100,000 reward offered for finding him. Daisy ropes Aza into trying to find him for the reward money. The actual heart of the book, though, is Aza and her struggles with mental illness, anxiety and intrusive thoughts.

Despite the mystery around which the plot revolves, all of the tension and interest in the story derive from Aza’s thoughts and her interior life. If you like John Green’s signature blend of philosophy, eloquence and navel-gazing, this is a great thing: you will love this book. If, like me, you prefer your books to be a touch more plot-driven and full of dialogue, you might prefer John Green’s other books, or possibly another author entirely. What I can say is that Aza has a strong narrative voice and her difficulties with mental illness feel utterly real. If you enjoy this book or want to read more YA books with mental illness themes, I recommend Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan or Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson

Books–When Ms. Bixby’s cancer progresses faster than anticipated and she has to leave school before her Going Away party, three of her sixth-grade students—Topher, Brand, and Steve—hatch a plan to skip school, go to her hospital, and provide her with her Perfect Day. They face a steady stream of entertaining obstacles during their quest, but the true depth of Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson is in the flashbacks that fill in how the boys became such good friends and why they each individually bonded so strongly with Ms. Bixby.

Chapters are told from the characters’ varying viewpoints. Topher is overly imaginative, Steve is extremely book smart, and Brand is the one with common sense. It’s fun to see how the boys get out of each of the sticky situations they get into during their day—What will they do when they bump into a teacher? How will they stretch their money far enough to buy all the things they want for Ms. Bixby’s Perfect Day? Who will be brave enough to use a toilet painted like a shark?

I listened to this book on Hoopla, and I highly recommend it either in audio or book format. It’s a great “boy book” for upper elementary students, but this grown up girl really enjoyed it too. Its themes of friendship, kindness, appreciation, and grief and really for everyone.
Other Juvenile Fiction books by John David Anderson include Posted, Insert Coin to Continue, The Dungeoneers, Minion, and Sidekicked.

A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo

Book–Amateur comic book artist and high school student Jess Wong is painfully, unhealthily in love with her best friend Angie. Jess is content to obsess over Angie secretly until Angie enters into a relationship with Margot Adams, a beautiful student from the nearby posh boarding school. Naturally, Jess thinks Margot is no good for Angie, but is this just sour grapes on Jess’s part or is Margot really bad news? When tragedy strikes at an off-campus party and everyone is a suspect, Jess must face up to what really happened that night. Or must she?

This is a dark, twisty thriller, like Pretty Little Liars meets Gone Girl meets The L Word. The book is split in two parts: the beginning is told in first person from Jess’ POV and the end is made up of police interviews and third person limited POV following multiple characters. This allows Lo to build up the tension without giving it all away too quickly. If you enjoy A Line in the Dark, you might also like twisty young adult books like We Were Liars and Last Seen Leaving.

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Book – I love author Sophie Kinsella, my favorite books by her being The Undomestic Goddess, Remember Me? and I’ve Got Your Number. They’re great romance reads with just the right amount of comedy and cute. But young adult novel Finding Audrey is definitely at the top of my list, still containing some of that romance, but centering on a young teen. Fourteen-year-old Audrey rarely leaves her house, and wears sunglasses everywhere she goes, even indoors. Since an incident occurred at her school, Audrey has become homeschooled and agoraphobic. She suffers from depression and anxiety that cause her to hide from everyone but her family. She avoids all eye contact and wears her dark sunglasses at all times. This is how Audrey lives, in fear of the next thing that will set off her nerves. That is until she meets her brother’s best friend, Linnus.

Linnus sees Audrey and he doesn’t follow the rules. He walks unknowingly into her sacred safe space that no one is allowed into. He takes Audrey by surprise but she finds herself curious to understand Linnus’ intentions. Slowly their comfortability grows, and the two become friends.  Linnus pushes Audrey to move out of her comfort zone. But finding her way in this new world of possibilities is overwhelming for Audrey. Her past has lead her to a life behind closed doors, fearful to venture into the outside world, scared of judgement and the unknown. Linnus doesn’t judge her; his friendship helps Audrey to come out of her shell and give the outside world a second chance.

This is one of my favorite young adult books. Also on my very specific booklist of agoraphobia/anxiety-related fiction is Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall.

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

Book— At scholarship student Jordan Sun’s elite, arts-focused boarding high school, getting cast in the school musical isn’t just a fun diversion–it’s a make-or-break-your-career proposition. After she gets passed over for the musical the third year running, Jordan gets some hard advice. For an alto 2 like Jordan, the deepest register for female voices, there just are not many parts, leading or otherwise, in musical theater. Shortly after, Jordan hears that there is an open spot in the Sharpshooters, the most prestigious a capella octet on campus, and decides to audition. The only catch? The Sharpshooters is an all-male group. Can alto 2 Jordan be just the tenor the Sharpshooters need?

Redgate’s characters, especially the Sharpshooters, are a diverse, tight-knit bunch and it’s a pleasure to see Jordan become a member of their little family. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy this story because I know next to nothing about music and even less about a capella, but I needn’t have worried. Noteworthy should appeal equally to music neophytes and music buffs. If you like realistic, well-drawn characters, high school stories with a dash of romance, and stories exploring gender, you’ll definitely want to read this book. If you enjoy this one, you might also enjoy the manga series Ouran High School Host Club, which has a fairly similar premise (girl cross-dresses and gets in with a popular club of boys at a prestigious school) but a sillier tone.

Girls (2012)

TV Series – It seems to me that the TV series Girls has become an obsession in the world of millennials, and just in general.  It’s one of the most realistic portrayals of mid-twenties life that I’ve seen in a television show.  Sure, certain aspects are clearly dramatized, as in any popular series, but it just feels real.

Lena Dunham stars as the main character, Hanna, but is also an executive producer, which is pretty impressive.  The series follows a group of budding adults: our starring character, Hanna, her best friend, Marnie, the bubbling Shoshana, and eccentric Jessa.  They each have such distinctive personalities; it’s fascinating to see how they change and grow as the seasons progress.  They’re in that phase of their lives where they’re cut off from their parents, struggling to pay rent, while also trying to maintain friendships, romantic relationships, and holding down jobs to support themselves.  The experiences can be crude, disturbing, and intensely sexual, but it’s also though-provoking and something good to reflect on.  It deals with difficult topics including: mental illness, drug use, sexuality and the daily struggles of life.

I turn to The Office when I need some comedic relief after watching Girls, which often makes me think too much about my own 20’s life.  It presents characters that feel like people I might know and provides a good example of how relationships change after college. I really enjoy this series as a whole.  As an added bonus, Adam Driver stars in the show, albeit as Adam, an often disturbed/disturbing love interest.  I adore Adam Driver as the angsty Kylo Ren, so it’s always a pleasure to see him on screen.

 

 

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

Book— Despite 26 crushes, Molly Peskin-Suso has never had a kiss or a  boyfriend. Her twin sister Cassie gets a girlfriend, her friends have boyfriends, even her two moms are getting married, but Molly has no one and obsesses about it, feeling awkward and left behind. Molly decides to do something revolutionary–rather than just crushing silently, she chooses to risk rejection and go after the boy she wants. The trouble is deciding which one. Will she go after Will, the cute, hipster-cool best friend of Cassie’s girlfriend, or Reid, the nerdy, so-uncool-it’s-almost-cool boy at her summer job?

While Molly is sometimes so boy-crazy that it’s suffocating to read about, she is a witty, engaging narrator who feels like a real teenager, complete with a Pinterest obsession and dialogue laden with tumblrspeak. Molly is chubby and suffers from anxiety for which she takes medication, situations which Albertalli portrays realistically and sensitively. This is a light, fun book with lots of diverse representation that’s perfect for summertime. The Upside of Unrequited will appeal to readers of John Green and Rainbow Rowell as well as those who enjoyed Albertalli’s Lincoln-nominated first book, Simon Vs. The Homo-Sapiens Agenda.

The Book of Life (2014)

Movie – When the rulers of the lands of the dead make a wager one can only image what will happen to the living. This sounds like the start of a gory horror movie, but it not. It is the premise for an animated-film about the Mexican holiday: Día de Los Muertos. In The Book of Life, La Muerte, the ruler of the Land of the Remembered makes a bet with Xibalba, the rules of the Land of the Forgotten. The wager involves three childhood friends and love.

Xibalba bets that Maria will end up with Joaquín, while La Muerte believes Maria and Manolo are destined to fall in love. Xibalba hedges his bet by presenting Joaquín with a pin that will protect him and makes him the town hero. With no protection, Manolo dies and Xibalba wins the bet. Manolo is transported to the Land of the Remembered where he meets all of his deceased family. He discovers Xibalba’s tricks and vows to travel to the Land of the Forgotten to tell La Muerte so he can get back to Maria.

The animation is colorful and imaginative. The characters were modeled after wooden childrens’ toys. The scenery for the Land of the Remembered depicts some of the most traditional images of Día de Los Muertos. There are colorful sugar skull shapes all over this land. The dead have faces like that of sugar skulls. In addition, there are scenes from the cemeteries where the families have set up offerings and alters with pictures, traditional flowers, candles, favorite foods, and pan de muertos (day of the dead sweet bread).

If you like colorful images, great animation, a cute storyline, and a fiercely independent lead female character, watch this. Also, if you ever wondered about this Mexican holiday, watch The Book of Life to get a small taste of what this holiday means to Mexicans. It is not about worshiping the dead. It is about understanding death is a part of life and this is how you get to celebrate the life of those who have passed on. By showing them how much you love them.

Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Book–Becky Bloomwood is a reluctant financial journalist with a dirty secret:  she can’t stop spending money. Despite harassment from creditors, Becky cannot resist the siren song of shiny new things, particularly clothes, to the point where she invents a dying aunt to justify borrowing money to buy a new scarf. She tries spending less money (and fails), tries making more money (and fails), and even tries marrying rich. The fun of this novel comes from watching Becky squirm; she has a knack for getting herself into sticky, embarrassing situations reminiscent of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones and is a delightfully flawed character who with a distinctive and strong narrative voice. As long as you don’t take it too seriously, Confessions of a Shopaholic is chick lit at its light, airy, and compulsively readable best.

If you like this book because of the fashion focus, you’ll also love The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger (and its sequel), the Haley Randolph series by Dorothy Howell (start with Handbags and Homicide), and the rest of the Shopaholic series. If you’d have liked this one better if only Becky weren’t so darn shallow, try some of Rainbow Rowell’s books, like Attachments, or A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan.

 

 

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Book – Eleanor Oliphant is an awkward young woman who doesn’t have any friends. She works as an administrator in a design firm and spends her weekends drinking enough vodka so that she is neither drunk nor sober. Her only contact with people outside of work are shopkeepers, utility men and weekly phone conversations with her institutionalized mother. Then, Eleanor wins a set of tickets to a concert and develops a crush on one of the singers. Eleanor decides she must improve herself to win his love and changes (and hilarity) ensue. Eleanor’s observations about people’s habits and pop culture and her attitude about life are entertaining, but also also give a glimpse of what she has endured. I loved reading about Eleanor’s transformation and her eccentric new friends. If you liked The Rosie Project or Britt-Marie Was Here, you’ll enjoy this book.