Turtles All the Way Down: Review

Turtles All the Way Down centres on 16 year old Aza Holmes who suffers from multiple anxiety disorders including obsessive-compulsive disorder. The plot covers friendship, loss, living with mental health issues and a bunch of other random bits that make the book great.

Turtles all the way down

As I don’t suffer with obsessive compulsive disorder, I found the look into the mind of someone who is living with the disorder insightful. The way I have always obsessed over a event feels more like a dark cloud coming over me, which is then all I can loop back to for that day. The next day though a lot of the time the feelings are gone. Sometimes, it can only be for 5 minutes, like every time I see a new email subscriber (I’ve seen a lot recently for some odd reason) and for some reason I’ve decided that instead of it being a totally normal thing, it’s some sort of conspiracy where people laugh at my blog (even though that makes like zero sense). So basically if you’re an email subscriber please comment below and reassure me that’s not that case! I can’t imagine what it would be like being constantly trapped in that kind of thought cycle.

I loved the characters in this novel, particularly the fan-fiction loving, hilarious Daisy who reminds me both of me and a few of my friends at times, which is probably why I love her. There is though refreshingly not too many characters to stress over, as most of the plot is centred around a core group of characters- I’ll admit I’m awful at remembering names if there starts to be too many characters in something.

Maybe the small ‘cast’ is linked to the fact that John Green has described this novel, as his most personal:

“This is my first attempt to write directly about the kind of mental illness that has affected my life since childhood, so while the story is fictional, it is also quite personal.”
Source: Penguin.co.uk 

I think this really shows. I feel much more like I am in Aza’s mind then I have felt with characters in other John Green novels though maybe that is also because Aza’s experiences in life are a lot more close to home for me than say Hazel’s experience in The Fault in Our Stars.

Image: The postcard that came along with my copy of the novel.

The novel however is not without faults. Like, all John Green books the characters are a little bit too philosophical for their own good. I’m not saying people that age can’t have those sort of debates because they most certainly can (and I think social media has brought an immense amount of pressure to have everything all figured out even younger nowadays) but in my experience this was something largely internalised or restricted to things like blogs (which, one of the characters does have).

I think this is probably my only criticism of John Green novels- I remember talking about  the topics that are discussed but always in a roundabout way. Everyone does not also always have amazing vocabulary. But as an English Literature graduate I’ll admit I don’t hate it though I can understand why people might think it might come across as pretentious.

My other not really a criticism because I loved the book regardless, but perhaps instead then a little quibble, is that the mystery that makes up the plot, for me (it’s on the blurb so I really don’t think this is a spoiler!) is a bit anti-climatic. It felt like it was there to tie characters together but this could have been done in another way- the bit where everything was revealed was also just a little bit rushed as well.

There are though elements of this book that are specular. As mentioned the novel does an amazing job at demonstrating what it’s like in Aza’s mind. At the same time though the novel is able to show and explain what it’s like for both the people who suffer from mental health and their friends and family. There is a scene in the book (which, I am going to try my best not to spoil) in which the lead character, Aza has to confront the effect her mental illness has had on her friends and family. Of course, the book stresses this is not something that Aza has deliberately maliciously done but I think it is refreshing to see the effect that mental health issues do have on someone’s family and friends. Without making the person at the centre feel incredibly guilty or selfish- just making them realise what is going around them and come out of the bubble that their mental illness has on them.

What is important to me is that we also get to see Aza’s mum and friend’s opinions- we see the importance of having an open dialogue, as it helps stop a cycle of both parties acting in a certain way because they don’t know how to do anything else.

In fact, for me one of the most powerful scenes of the novel (mild spoiler alert, maybe?) is when Aza demonstrates exactly what it feels like to think like she does. Sometimes, it does take a metaphor to help people to understand.

I’ll admit I thought one of the characters was being overly harsh at first but after a lot of thinking about it (mostly on my bus to work) I realised that it was a totally justifiable reaction. Yes, they could have brought it up beforehand but I’m not immune from letting such feelings bubble up myself and then all come tumbling out.

It also leads to some truly beautiful scenes between the two characters afterwards (and demonstrates something I’m trying to do more and more, take the time to see what your friends are doing and show some love towards it- especially in terms of things they create). In one of the scenes one of the characters says it feels like they are actually in the moment and not “watching a movie of our conversation”- something that I can definitely relate to (the feeling like I’m not quite ‘there’ in a particular moment).

Another amazing point about this book is that it talks about fanfiction. And it’s not making fun of it but celebrating it and from what I know about John Green I would only expect as much (though to be honest that is not a whole lot- I really need to go on a binge of his content). Most importantly, fanfiction is praised as being something that should have fans and does showcase really great writers and to be honest it reminded me of how I need to read more fanfiction again!

Before reading this novel my favourite John Green novel was Looking for Alaska. Since, this is the book I’ve read the most recently it is now Turtles All The Way Down but I think if I read Looking for Alaska again there might be a bit of a war going on there.

This also counts as reviewing a Youtuber’s book (though I don’t think a lot of people counts John Green’s novel as ‘Youtuber books’ even though he is very well known on Youtube) so I’ve put it under that tab. I’m hoping to try to have different tabs on my blog soon where you can click for book reviews, fashion stuff, etc. but my theme is making it a bit difficult.

I think the phrase ‘Life goes on’ has perhaps been used too much so maybe instead what you can take from the novel is ‘Life happens’. Your mental health problems are not something to be magically fixed, sometimes there will be bad, sometimes good but amongst all that life just goes on- so capture the good moments whenever you can.

April

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Feminist Reading Journey: Alice Walker ‘The Color Purple’

Image: The Kawaii Kollective

I don’t know what it’s like to be poor (sure, my family were not what I would have called ‘well off’ but we were far from poor); I don’t know what it’s like to be black; whether I’m ugly or not is subjective and my cooking skills can be pretty decent depending on my mood. But basically what I’m trying to say is my situation in life is quite far away from that of the main protagonist of Alice Walker’s infamous novel ‘The Color Purple’; however that is the reason I started this whole journey. To read and learn about experiences other than my own.

One of my favourite traits in a person is when they can be empathic to other people. When they can push past whether something ‘offends’ them and see why it might offend others. Something, which is still lost on a lot of people. As, for example a few weeks ago I saw three men dressed up as the Jamaican bob sled team from the film Cool Runnings complete with black face, pop up on my Facebook feed, and a lot of the comments I saw focused on how it was just a ‘laugh’ and people should get over it. They concentrated on how it didn’t offend them, so people it did offend must just be oversensitive. I think this is a good example of racism in Britain works, and why people do not point to it as much as racism in America. It’s less blatant except when something like this pops up, and people cannot understand why their behaviour would cause offence. See also this brilliant article on how golliwogs are viewed in Britain today for this in action. Now, don’t get me confused, I am FAR very from being qualified to be the voice of racism within Britain. Not least, because I live in a privileged position that means I’ve never been the victim of it.

If you’re wondering what my ‘privilege’ is, basically I’m white, and I’m petite in height (this is not generally viewed as something that connotes ‘privilege’ but I’ll explain my reasoning a bit more below). And yes that means I get asked for directions a lot, as generally, people don’t see me as a threat. I’ve noticed this in airports/ in passport control, as well, where even my significant other has been treated different to me (not horribly I might add though- this experience is nothing compared to what people of colour have to go through), despite being the same level of politeness as me. However, he’s tall and some people can find the intimidating. I know this because when they realised that he was with me their whole body language towards him changed dramatically. I can only imagine what people of Asian, or black, or any other person who doesn’t present as white has had to go through.

However, forgive my rant. On to the book. Though, my rant is important because it shows just how good this book is at making you think about the racism in society that surrounds you, even though this book was set in a different time period and place to me. Also, for those not aware here is the context of the book, which I am unashamedly taking from Wikipedia: “Taking place mostly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on the life of African-American women in the southern United States in the 1930s, addressing numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture”. The woman the novel specifically focuses on however is Celie, who is poor and uneducated and living in the American South, who begins the novel with a horrible home life, followed by a disastrous marriage.

So before I spoil too much of the plot let’s get onto the main things I love about the themes of this novel:

  • Female empowerment- Celie just doesn’t give up, no matter what life throws at her- she really rises like a phoenix out of the ashes (forgive my overdone metaphor).
  • Female friendships- it’s a little worrying that I still get happy about seeing positive female friendships in books and on the screen (though I’d like to point out this is not me referencing the film because I have yet to see it!).
  • Female sexuality- this book talks about female desire, which is important (obviously), and it has LGBTQ+ representation!!!

The Color Purple

Image: @aprilisthecruellestmonth/ Instagram 

So as you can see there is a heavy focus on the female within this novel, which is not entirely surprising as I’ve dubbed it as part of my feminist reading journey. However, in my research I saw that a lot of members of the black community were upset over the representation of black men as only being barbaric and as sexual predators. Though I believe this was mostly a criticism of the film (but I’m assuming by extension also the novel). However, a lot of people also said that it accurately depicted their experience, and the film was only supposed to tell one woman’s story, and not stand for black men and women everywhere.

Also, before I go on I would also like to take this moment to warn anyone who hasn’t read the book yet that it contains depictions of sexual violence (so if that makes you uncomfortable in any way shape or form I wouldn’t recommend this novel). It’s because of the sexual content of the novel and due to it’s depictions of ‘rough language’, and ‘homosexuality’ to name just a few concerns brought up (not forgetting the novel’s ‘negative image of black men’) that the book has been banned numerous times. I don’t know about you but if a book has been banned, I immediately want to read it more. Mainly, because the very idea of banning reading of any kind disturbs me to my core (knowledge is power after all).

The Color Purple The Kawaii Kollective

Image: The Kawaii Kollective

Overall, this book is about someone who had no voice, and following their journey to them finding their voice. While they were helped to that realisation by the friendships in their life on their way; ultimately Celie finds her voice all on her own. And I challenge you to think of a more empowering message than that.

There are though instances where fighting back also just sees someone constantly beat down (which, I’m sure a lot of people can find symbolic meaning in both now and for some constantly throughout their lives). Sofia, is one such character who experiences this, and she reminds me of a lot of strong people I know. Who would never give up on what they believe in. Unless it’s stamped out of them. Instead, of taking the sorrow from this, I try to see it as an example of if you crush someone so much, even the strongest people will fall. So that is why we need to ensure this unequal system of power that allows people to succeed in this is destroyed in the first place (though I’m sure you’re all thinking, if only it was that simple- and I completely agree).

So there you have it, ‘The Color Purple’ was everything I expected it to be, and delighted me in other ways (I was genuinely shocked to see depictions of homosexuality in the book- as I’d never heard this mentioned about the book or film before- though I’m not sure if the film is as explicit). If you like being sucked into someone’s world and truly feel like you’re feeling a character’s life, this novel is for you.

If you want to know more about what I thought about particular passages, etc. please don’t hesitate to leave a comment, as I fear this blog post is not as extensive as it could be due to that I’m currently fighting back a cold.

🍂April🍂

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Update: What’s happening with my Feminist Reading Journey

Image: Pexels 

It’s been a lot more than a hot minute since I’ve written a post for my feminist reading journey series so I thought now would be a good time to have a bit of a catch up and discuss what’s happening with the series. So sit down, have a cup of tea (or if you are like me and hate tea, another beverage) and settle into this short and sweet post. To put it simply, I’m bringing the feminist reading journey posts back. Although, I’ve said in the past that they will be every two weeks; I think for everyone’s sanity including my own- more sporadic than that might be better but I will see how it goes.

I will be relaunching the series next week with a post about The Color Purple. I’m not sure what day the post will be out yet, but it will be an additional post to my normal Monday and Friday posts. Posts in this series I’ve decided will always be like that (apart from this one now), as I feel like putting the series in my regular content will limit my content a bit.

After that I’ve devised a line up (in no particular order) of books I’m hoping to complete by the end of the year. I’ve tried to pick up a line up from authors with a variety of different backgrounds and from different positions- as I always want the books I’m reading to not necessarily be books I know I’m going to agree with. I also think there is something interesting seeing how feminism has changed throughout the generations. The books I picked also discuss a variety of issues that I’ve not explored as of yet, including where body image stands in feminism, and I will also be looking in more detail about gender’s place within feminism- specifically looking at a novel by Kate Bornstein (a transgender author- I mention this only because it is important that transgender individuals are able to tell their own narrative), which ‘offers alternatives to suicide for queer youth struggling to be themselves’.

So without any more of my ramblings here is what is coming up. Next week when I post my The Color Purple post I will announce, which novel is coming next, and so on and so forth. So if you want to read along with me please ensure you check where I am at the end of each post. I’m also going to try to post my reading updates on my Twitter so make sure to follow me there: @aprilcruelmonth.

  • Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
  • Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
  • My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
  • Dragon Ladies: Asian American Feminists Breathe Fire by Sonia Shah
  • Fat is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach
  • Women, Race and Class by Angela Davis
  • Sex Object: A Memoir by Jessica Valenti
  • Hello Cruel World by Kate Bornstein
  • The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur (to check out my post on Milk and Honey click here.)

So there we have it. Who know if I will be able to get all of these completed by the end of the year, but here’s hoping. If you have any more suggestions, please let me know.

🍂April🍂

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Feminist Reading Journey: Margaret Atwood ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

Image: The Kawaii Kollective

Let me start this by saying no I haven’t seen the Hulu TV series yet but I fully intend to! This post however isn’t about the tv series, or the film adaptation, it’s about the novel. I actually read ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ as part of my undergraduate university degree, but I had read the novel before then because, well, because I like reading!

I also want to quickly address for anyone following this series that I will be reading some new books soon, and the series will be continuing. It’s just on a little bit of a hiatus while I try to finish my dissertation and sort my life out. When it properly comes back I’ll make a blog post letting everyone know, and hopefully have my reading list on there in advance so people can read along with me if they want to. I also want to take more care with the authors I select so that I can actually start to read a variety of different experiences. I try and make my feminism intersectional, and I know at the moment I’m not doing my best to represent that in these blog posts. In terms of a time scale, posts will also be every 2 weeks so that they are not rushed. However, for everyone who hasn’t been reading the rest of my blog posts, sorry about that ramble, and don’t worry I’m going to get on to this blog post now.

First of all, there is a reason that ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is a classic, and for those of you who have burned before (like me) by the term ‘classic’ being bestowed upon a book because it is incredibly long and difficult to follow; don’t worry this isn’t the case here. The story (for those who don’t know) follows a woman called Offred (though this isn’t her ‘real’ name) and her life as a handmaid in the fictional dystopian future of Gilead (a military dictatorship). Her position as a handmaid in this dictatorship means that she is kept for reproductive purposes and her ‘job’ is to reproduce in an elaborate ceremony with The Commander (the male head of the household she lives at) with his wife attending (it’s as bad as it sounds).

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I’m not going to say anything more about the plot than that as I don’t want to ruin anything, but think about the way reproductive rights are in the US (and continue to be in Northern Ireland, and other countries in which there are restrictions on abortion laws or abortion is illegal) and you get a sense of what is going on. Although, there was some positive news recently that women from Northern Ireland will be able to get an abortion in Britain for free. However, this verdict also came on the same day that: “Belfast’s Court of Appeal ruled abortion law in Northern Ireland should be left to the Stormont Assembly, not judges – effectively overturning an earlier ruling that the current abortion laws were incompatible with human rights laws” (Source: BBC News).

While a lot of people might argue that ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is not necessarily about abortion (which, I agree with to a certain extent); because in the tale the women desire to have a baby. However, they are still being controlled and forced into that one position- their reproductive rights are being taken away from them. I’m also not the only one to have made this link as women have been seen sporting robes similar to the ones depicted in the Hulu TV series in a number of protests related to reproductive rights and the fight against misogyny.

It for this reason that the quotation I ended up choosing is: “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Don’t let the bastards grind you down”. And this week the quotation is very apt not only in terms of equality, but in my own life. I’m coming up to the period where I’m at a bit of a transitional period in my life where I’m not quite sure where I will end up or where I will be. There is something also truly horrible in not knowing, which I hate more than just generally being in a horrible situation. However, I know I’ve just got to get on with it and things will turn around. And at a much faster rate than if I just let life take me where it may. But it’s hard, and I know my friends are finding hard, so basically in a round about way I just want to say if you’re finding everything hard that’s ok. Just try your best to let someone know that you’re finding it hard.

As always the quotation for ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ has been beautifully illustrated by  Caroline from The Kawaii Kollective:

The Handmaid's Tale Image

Image: The Kawaii Kollective

In regards, to the quotation it is also incredibly relevant recently, as the fight for equality has felt difficult, especially with the series of headlines hitting the media regarding gender parity. Perhaps, the most famous of which is the news of the gender wage gap within the BBC, as well as the controversy surrounding the price of the morning after pill in Boots. Especially, considering Boots’ response that if the pill was priced cheaper it might mean that Boots is “incentivising inappropriate use”. Now then more than ever we need to be banding together to fight for change, while not letting these hits grind us down. And there has already been action with a number of female stars from the BBC acting together to write a letter urging the director general to fix the pay gap.

And this links to the main thing I have seen written about ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and that is that the story is not just a tale: but a warning or a sign of what is happening in our world (particularly, in the Global North, and specifically in America right now). I’ve touched on this already by discussing some of the restrictions placed on women having an abortion, but there is much more that is happening against gender equality and equal rights for everyone whatever gender they identify as (I don’t mean this remark as a flippant ‘whatever’ but as a way to include the variety of different genders people identify as) in Trump’s America.

The author of the article I just linked under ‘gender equality’ also mentions how President Trump doesn’t believe in climate change. In fact he actually pulled the US out of the Paris climate accord, which is horribly ironic considering that the reason why the majority of people in Gilead are infertile is due to radioactive pollution.

Many of the practices within the novel are also present within other countries in the world not just America, particularly regarding same sex love  (in the novel women are circumcised as a punishment for this, and this is something that is still carried out today though not necessarily as a punishment for homosexuality). This practice may be more familiar to you under the name FGM or Female Genital Mutilation, which can “lead to severe bleeding, pain, complete loss of sensitivity, complications during childbirth, infertility, severe pain during sex, recurring infections and urine retention. And in some cases it is lethal. Unlike male circumcision, female genital mutilation also inhibits sexual pleasure”.

I think then now is a good a time as ever to read ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (perhaps the best time) and think about how the practices described are similar or the same to practices inflicted against either gender (as there is not a lot of mention in the novel of how these practices would affect people who exist outside the gender identities of male or female) within the world. Think about then how the world Atwood describes would be like for those who exist out of the 2 gender binaries just mentioned. Most of all, write, talk and protest about the injustices that too closely mirror our own.

After all, Margaret Atwood is being heralded as the ‘voice of 2017‘ so you might as well see for yourself what she has to say. As for me I’m finally going to watch the TV show, and not let anyone grind me down any longer.

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