Looking For Alaska – John Green

John Green’s „Looking For Alaska” is probably my favourite work of his. Published seven years before his most famous piece “The Fault In Our Stars” (2012) captured millions of readers all over the world, Looking for Alaska showed the mysterious, dark side of growing-up, mixed with mental health issues, trauma and loss.

As I mentioned in my review of “Turtles All The Way Down” I adore John Green’s style of writing in all of his books, but in Alaska he has certainly outdone himself. He speaks the language of teenagers like no one else, which is why John Green is the master of Y/A literature (in my eyes at least). Looking for Alaska is for the lack of a better word, more “indie” than the rest of his books and I love the mystery and the companionship between the main characters. Also, establishing a protagonist who quotes the last words of dead people is so unusual, and at the same time the perfect match to the story.

Anyway, enough about the author, let me give you a quick overview of the plot (spoiler-alert!).

The book starts with young, friendless Miles deciding to go to boarding school in, as he puts it, the search for the great perhaps.

Shortly after his arrival at Culver Creek Boarding School he is named “Pudge” and has made the first three friends of his life. Chip, Pudges roommate, and his friends Takumi and Alaska. Those four aren’t the cool-kids at Culver Creek, but they are extremely smart and, especially in Alaska’s case, really good in pranking. So the first few months of the school year go by, but it wouldn’t be High School if there weren’t some sort of romantic drama involved. Miles has been falling for Alaska, the only female in their group, ever since he stepped into her dorm-room filled with books. The stunning girl is as beautiful on the outside as she is screwed-up and lonely on the inside. With her near, it never boring and historic pranks are pulled off. Yet despite the fun there’s that dark cloud that follows Alaska everywhere she goes. She literally goes from being all bubbly and seemingly happy to making cryptic comments like “Y’all smoke to enjoy is, I smoke to die.”and so the girl with the childhood-trauma and thousands of books, slowly wins Miles’ heart. She is enchanted by him as well, but just when they seem to hit it off, she dies in a car-accident, which could have been suicide but we never find out whether Alaska really killed herself or if it was a terrible accident. Miles and his friends are left in a deep hole of guilt and grief and have to fight against the tidal wave of life and remember to keep going. 

In the end, it’s Alaska who puts Miles in a miserable place in the middle of the story, yet she also teaches him and all the readers one important lesson for life: The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive.

Leah On The Offbeat – Becky Albertalli

After binge-listening to Simon Vs. The Homo-Sapiens Agenda on Audible, it came in handy that the Sequel Leah On The Offbeat was soon to be released. Of course, I preordered it and was very happy when it finally got delivered and just as I binge-listened its prequel I read Leah On The Offbeat in one sitting, which is a sign for a very fluent, easy-to-read style of writing.

But before we discuss Albertalli’s structure and style, let me give you a quick summary of both books.

Simon Vs. The Homo-Sapiens Agenda

Simon is your typical student with the same problems we all face in some sort in high-school.  Also, Simon is gay and he knows that for sure, so he starts mailing with an unknown other guy, who happens to be gay too. The two of them chat for approximately two-thirds of the book and it’s only in the end that they find out each other’s identities. It’s one of the cutest and sweetest books I’ve ever read, that I can tell you for sure. There’s a lot of relatable everyday High-School “Drama” going on and that’s pretty much about it. Nobody suffers from a terminal illness or a severe mental health condition, as we find it in most Y/A-books. The characters are literally just your average students with unique talents, attributes and fears. It’s a great read, really and one of the best things about it is, that Albertalli managed to transfer the characters to

Leah On The Offbeat

This time it’s all about bisexuality and not being super-skinny and the problems that come with falling in love with one of your friends, who has a super-cute boyfriend and seems to be super-duper hetero. And all of that whilst being in senior-year and on the edge of graduation. So, finding out what you want to do after High-School and making the most out of those last days, is definitely a huge topic in this particular book. But there’s also prom, break-ups and the cutest couple ever (Simon & Bram). And a hell lot of nice people being mostly nice, but sometimes not so nice to each other.

I don’t want to spoil you too much, so if you are looking for an easy read over the summer or sort of want to relive your own last year of High-School, go ahead an grab a copy of Leah On The Offbeat. It’s certainly one of the best Y/A-Books of 2018. In my opinion, Becky Albertalli belongs right up there to the masters of Y/A-Fiction like John Green and Jandy Nelson.

You keep running away.

You keep finding me.

I mean, Jesus Christ, how freaking cute is that? Cheesy, yes but that’s just the risk you take whenever you go buy a Y/A-Book.

But in defence of the author, so far she managed the amount of cheesiness very well in her books. Like, Simon was cute, yes, but not so cheesy you get major eye-roll-dizziness and luckily it’s the same with Creekwood #2.

To wrap this up, I think Leah On The Offbeat is a great summer-read or an easy to read book you pick up whenever you want to forget about your own life for a bit and only care about the guys in the book.

I’ll Give You The Sun – Jandy Nelson

Jandy Nelson’s “I’ll Give You The Sun” may well be my favourite Y/A-novel so far. I first discovered it when my High-school English-teacher lent it to me when I was around 17. She thought I might like it, so there I was, reading this book for the very first time. Of course, my teacher was right about me enjoying it, though at that time I couldn’t exactly pin down why it got to me the way it did.

Now, that some time has passed and I’ve reread I’ll Give You The Sun multiple times I feel more confident in explaining why I love this novel.

First of all, Jandy Nelson did a great job in displaying how it feels to be an outcast in Highschool, who is more interested in art (whatever form it may be) than in playing sports or generally participating in things the popular kids like to do.

Also, the general structure of the book was a huge plus-point for me, since having both, Judes and Noahs points of view makes the story a lot easier to understand and in addition to that, points out the misunderstandings, which have huge impacts on each life of the twins, greatly. With that I’ll Give You The Sun is to me the proof that talking to one another, being empathic and trying to see the world from the others point of view is so, so important since it makes life a lot more bearable for all of us.

That’s the main message I’m taking from the novel, but there’s also the moral to be taken, that no matter what others say, stay true to yourself and be who you are, because trying to be someone who you definitely not are on the inside will never get you to where you actually want to be.

Other than that, I’ll Give You The Sun also manages to cover quite a few issues the teenager of the 21st century is concerned with, such as being gay and coming out to oneself and the loved ones, losing one’s virginity and regretting it afterwards, falling in love so deeply it seems like the world would fall apart, the difficulties figuring out what you want to achieve in your life comes with, the list goes on and on. Plus, the topic of losing a parent at a very young age and the effects it has on the remaining family is very well put. Furthermore, the difficult situation of divorce and the sheer endless emotions that go hand in hand with it, are written about in a relatable way.

All in all, I’ll Give You The Sun is a great read for teenagers as well as adults, who long to get lost in a fictional world and who want to have the feeling that everything will be alright in the end.

Everything, Everything – Nicola Yoon

Well, here we go with yet another typical YA-book. There’s first, sort of star-crossed, love, dramatic meetings between the lovers and an overprotective parent. Everything, everything is an easy and quick read with easy-to-like characters, yet it is somehow a bit hollow and quite predictable. I’m sure teenagers aged between 13 and 16 would enjoy this read a bit more since there certainly is some depth missing and the Maddy’s and Olly’s love-story is, as so often, only displayed to the point where they eventually are able to spend their lives together. Yet, their entire relationship had been planted on her “sickness” and both try to free her for most parts of the story. But I just don’t really think this is how a relationship works. I mean they had this goal in their minds, I wonder what’s left of a relationship as soon as said goal is accomplished?

Anyway, there’s one thing I really liked about Everything, Everything and that’s how Maddy discovers the difference between existing and actual living. I believe nowadays lots of people are so stuck in their everyday-routines, where each day is so similar to the next, weeks, months, years even start to blur together and when at some point they look back at their lives and wonder where all the time has gone and why they hadn’t achieved, experience more, that’s when regret starts to kick in. For all the journeys not made, books not read, places not visited, coffee-talks not had; it’s an endless list.

In order to prevent that feeling of having wasted the time that’s been given to you it’s crucial to follow Maddy’s example: find out what’s missing in your life, take a deep breath, step out of your cosy comfort zone and live solely in the moment without fear for the future or regret for the past.

History Is All You Left Me – Adam Silvera

So, History Is All You Left Me has been my second book by Adam Silvera. I like his style quite a lot and also the issues he addresses in his books nevertheless, I didn’t enjoy this one as much as More Happy Than Not. The reason for this is, that the whole story seems to be a little too far-fetched and there’s also a lot of going back and forth between different characters which are probably meant to be plot-twists, yet none of them come surprisingly to an attentive reader. The same goes for the ending, to be honest.

In short, History Is All You Left Me is a bit too predictable, too sugar-coated and at times too overdramatic for my taste.

Silvera’s style though is, as aforementioned, very good and easy to read, since he has this stunning fluency in his language that keeps you turning page after page.

Therefore, I could easily picture this book to be a nice summer-read, because of the easy-going vibe, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to someone who really wants to get lost in a story.

13 Reasons Why – Jay Asher

13 reasons why just reminds me so much of “Die Leiden des jungen Werthers” by Goethe. That book written as a collection of letters caused a wave of suicides in the 18th century. And whilst 13 reasons why hasn’t necessarily had the exact same effect as of yet, it still is a highly triggering book, which is hard to read for people who had or still have to deal with mental health issues.
Since I’ve been struggling with my bipolar disorder for more than ten years the book was crucial for me to read.
Reading the thoughts of Hannah Baker brought me straight back to my darkest times, which I feel very happy to have escaped, but nevertheless, I still have the feeling that the demons are always lurking in the shadows, ready to jump back on me.
But I want to be honest here, I read the book for the first time a couple of years back during a highly depressive period, and at that time it actually gave me some kind of hope, because it showed me that suicide will always be there for me to choose, in case things really got too much. By now I’ve realized though how dangerous that actually was for a mentally unstable person.
So, let’s say 13 reasons why may have the right intentions in showing how the sum of small things, that don’t seem important to some people cause a teenage girl to take her own life, it still has a very weird way of talking about mental health. I mean that book actually displays suicide as a real option to run away from any problem, which I believe to be very dangerous for everyone, but especially for teenagers.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not see people who committed suicide as weak or cowardly, I just think instead of creating the image of suicide being so glamours 13 reasons why should rather show how to pull through hard times. Because in some situations all we have to get is a tiny sparkle of hope, of things getting better eventually.
Again, I don’t judge anybody who has made the decision to take their own life, but I just think no one should ever increase the number of suicides by putting it as a great opportunity to pay people back.
I know people or rather life, in general, can be extremely cruel and sometimes you feel as if you’re the one every misery happens to and nothing ever seems to go right, but suicide hasn’t only an effect on the person doing it, but also on their friends and family. For, no matter how lonely and forlorn you feel, no matter how much you think nobody cares, you are not alone and believe it or not, they do care. They really do. You just have to give them a chance to prove it.
It took me years to get the courage to try that out and it makes you feel vulnerable, but in the end, it’s definitely worth it.
And that’s what 13 reasons why should have shown.
It certainly is important, that the stigma of mental health issues should disappear and that we all should be able to talk openly about it and it is good that there are books and movies out there, because they reach a big audience and because they are so easily available to so many people the authors and producers do have a high responsibility as to what they display in their products. And in my opinion, they should really focus on pushing through rough times instead of showing how to revenge people that may have hurt a character.
They should show how humans can talk with each other. I mean it’s not that hard to tell someone that in saying or doing this and that they hurt you. Usually, people are not that evil to hurt somebody on purpose and if a person happens to do just that, there’s always the option to kick them out of your life. Anybody who hurt you and does not care enough to apologize and change things a bit does not deserve to be in your life. It’s that simple.
Don’t give somebody else the power to let you live a miserable life. You have your faith and your destiny in your very own hands and nobody can ever take this freedom away from you.
No matter how much somebody may hurt you, they can never ever reach the essence of you. That part always remains untouched, and that alone is enough a reason to keep going.
Because we are all here for a reason, we all bring something unique to this world, and we all go through bad times every now and then, but no one is ever completely alone.
So, just talk to someone. Someone will be glad to help you.
And for heaven’s sake keep going on. Life’s beautiful, we may not always see it, but it is.
Anyway, I’m not saying that book is evil or anything, it’s style is good, and most characters are real and relatable, even though they sometimes miss on a bit of depth.
Therefore, it is a nice read for people who don’t have to deal with mental health issues, because they may understand how much even the smallest thing can hurt somebody and it may also give people who have to go through rough times the feeling of not being the only one who has to deal with such issues.

Holding Up The Universe – Jennifer Niven

 

Since I quite enjoyed reading Jennifer Niven’s “All the Bright Places” I thought I’d give this one here a try as well and I frankly do not regret that choice.
Holding up the universe seems to me like your typical y/a book. A bit cheesy, a bit missing in depth and a bit sugar-coated, yet it still addresses issues every teenager has to deal with during that insecure phase of finding out who you are and who you want to be.
I guess everybody knows the scary feeling you get when you’re in school and simply dreading of doing just one wrong thing which could ruin your reputation and as result make your school life feel like hell itself.
Sadly, bullying still is an issue in today’s high schools and it literally can happen to anyone, no matter the size, the hair, the religion or the style. But Jennifer Niven went for extreme cases with Libby once being America’s fattest teen and Jack not being able to recognize faces, and that’s what I liked so much about this book. The main characters both have to deal with, let’s say, unusual problems, hence the fear of sticking out, of being the different one is all-time present, at least at the beginning, but as the story continues they step by step lose their insecurities, which showed that both of them are more than media ( in Libby’s case) and the image he created ( in Jack’s case), namely people like everybody else, with family problems, friends and most importantly their own story to tell.
Also, I very much liked Dusty and his way of staying who he is, even though he has to find out about the cruelty of life at quite an early age. It was hurtful to read when he came home the first day of school and had that talk with his brother since it seemed as if he would retreat into himself, which would have been such a waste because despite his young age, that guy has more guts than a lot of grown-ups have these days and everyone reading this book could learn so much from him.
So, to wrap this all up the message you could take from Holding up the universe is: Be who you are, believe in yourself and your dreams, surround yourself with people who genuinely love and respect the real you and don’t let the negativity of shitty people get to you.

Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell

I’m frankly not too sure what to make out of this book. It’s a nice read, though it gets a bit lengthy towards the middle.
The characters are brilliant, and the relationships between them seem very real and honest and also relatable. The protagonist is kind of a clumsy outcast, who isn’t the best at human interactions and who struggles to find her place in this world. Her main focus lies on her fanfiction-writing, which apparently consumes most of her time. I’ve never written fanfic, but whilst reading Fangirl I thought every now and then how people who really do write stories about their favorite characters feel about Cath. I mean, the book kinda makes it look like she cannot handle the real world because she’s stuck in her virtual one, but then I think a lot of people cannot handle this world and they most certainly do not all write fanfiction. So what I want to say is, that I could imagine some fanboys/girls not being too happy with how their lifestyle is displayed in this book.
Anyway, there’s only one thing that really freaked me out about this book and that’s how “The World of Mages” so relies on the Harry Potter Series. I mean, come on, an orphan who somehow lands in a world full of magic (at the fucking age of eleven!!) who surprisingly turns out to be “The Chosen One” who has to defeat the greatest danger for the magical world? I’m sorry but that simply did not work for me. The story could have been really good, I quite liked the style but not with that many similarities to one of the biggest literary accomplishments of our time.
So, sorry about that little rant, but I had to get this off my chest 🙂
Anyway, back to Fangirl. As I mentioned before I really did like the characters. I loved the relationship between Cath and Wren, how they had to give each other a bit of distance before finding back to each other in the end. Also, I thought their bipolar dad was great, you could almost see the love he has for his girls seeping through the pages. And Reagan, she’s awesome, just the right roommate for a girl like Cath, who needs a bit of instruction every now and then without being too motherly. Levi, of course, is great too, I mean who wouldn’t love to have a boyfriend who works at Starbucks? And then, there’s this thing with the twins Mom. I was quite impressed with Wren to try to let her Mom be part of her life again, it seemed to be a very mature and grown-up gesture to do. Also, I really loved what Wren said to Cath in their kitchen when Cath is making breakfast and the two of them start to fight about how their Mom abandoned them: “… Fuck that, Wren. She left you, too.” – “But it didn’t break me. Nothing can break me unless I let it.”
From my point of view, that was an incredibly powerful and impressive line, which just showed that maybe Wren had to grow up rather quickly because her Mom left her and that she also carries the scares being abandoned leaves you with, even though she doesn’t show it as much as her sister or her Dad.
To put this all in a nutshell, Fangirl is an enjoyable read, that will make you smile, twinge and relive the thrill of falling in love for the first time.

Turtles All The Way Down – John Green

I’m crushed.
It was expectable for this book to be good, but what I really didn’t see coming was this raw intensity that gets under your skin.
I rarely cry because of a book, but this one had me in tears for the last few chapters. Maybe I was so moved and touched by the story because the protagonist has to deal with mental health issues, which I, too experienced in my adolescence, and John Green did an amazing job on showing how it feels to have to live with a mental illness. Of course, everybody experiences that in different ways, but Green’s idea of telling the story from Aza’s point of view really draws the reader in her so-called “thought-spirals”, so even a person who never had to deal with any mental health issue will kind of experience how exhausting and scary this can be.
To be honest, I find it extremely hard to write a review of this book because I don’t think I can put the feeling you get whilst reading it into words (another example of how humans are language-based creatures), so if you want to feel deep emotions alongside very real characters, pick up this book, curl up on your couch and keep the tissues at hand.
Turtles all the way down will probably help you understand mental health problems better and maybe it will bring you one step closer to accepting things for what they are without trying to change what cannot be changed.