‘Turtles All The Way Down’ by John Green (Book Review)

'Turtles All The Way Down' by John Green

I seem to punctuate my reading spells every now and then with a good Young Adult genre that seem to awaken some leftover “YA emotions” hibernating in some corner of me and I time-travel. Interesting exercise that this is – to look back at one’s vulnerable time as a YA, now ensconced in the acquired wisdom (more or less) in a dear exchange of youth, hope and careless optimism – is to see life come a full circle.

The Book: is a first-person narrative by the highschooler protagonist Aza who keeps getting into an obsessive hypochondriacal cycle of over-thinking going down into an infinite and ever-tightening spiral, a condition she is very well aware of, but unable to extricate herself from. In other words, this book is primarily about how it feels to be trapped in mind of a mentally ill person. Yet, just like touching someone else’s body isn’t the same as having someone else’s body, reading about mental illness may not be even close to actually experiencing it, though it behooves us to educate ourselves and empathize. Other characters in the story are Aza’s mother, her friend Mychal, almost-boyfriend Davis and the psychotherapist, Dr. Singh. But the character I most enjoyed was Aza’s longtime best friend Daisy – a Star Wars fan fiction writer coming from a very modest family background with tons of practical wisdom, quick wit and humor that I loved!

One day, Aza tells Daisy about the struggle with competing “voices” in her head and to understand which one is the real her at its core (if there be one at all – which in itself is a pretty scary and defeating thought). And Daisy shares with her this little story about a conversation between a scientist and an old religious lady:
Having explained the Big Bang and how the earth and life came into being, the scientist asks his audience if they had any questions, and an old lady raises her hand and says, ‘That’s all fine and good, Mr. Scientist, but the truth is, the earth is a flat plane resting on the back of a giant turtle.’ The scientist decides to have a bit of fun with the woman and responds, ‘Well, but if that’s so, what is the giant turtle standing upon?’ And the woman says, ‘It is standing upon the shell of another giant turtle.’ And now the scientist is frustrated, and he says, ‘Well, then what is that turtle standing upon?’ And the old woman says, ‘Sir, you don’t understand. It’s turtles all the way down.’  Thats how the book gets its curious title, and aptly so because, in my opinion, this alludes to the eternal question that has haunted the thinking man: Who am I?

The philosophical conversations between Aza and Davis are intertwined with inspiring literary quotes. The climax of the book is not that Aza gets cured of her affliction and lives happily ever after; it is, instead, very realistic and makes you shed tears, it also hopeful believable and very beautiful. As I turned the pages to Acknowledgements, I was touched to find these last few lines, “It can be a long and difficult road, but mental illness is treatable. There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t” and a treatment referral helpline for SAMSHA 1-877-SAMSHA7. John Green’s writing is, as always, very engaging, clever and is in an honest voice. I give this book 4 stars on Goodreads.

 

Book Review: ‘The Secret Life Of Bees’ by Sue Monk Kidd

'The Secret Life Of Bees' By Sue Monk KiddWhen I finally got around reading it amidst several projects (a family wedding, relocating to another state, getting back to work after years, to name a few),  maneuvering through digital / physical library copies, whenever available, (oh, and some other books I finished during that period), I eventually did finish The Secret Life of Bees. The point of sharing my eventful summer activities is not to demonstrate my utmost capability and managerial skills (which I kind of did), but to emphasize that notwithstanding, the book stayed with me. Some thoughts and some feelings from sporadic readings staked themselves up in my heart and nudged me like the annoyingly persistent inner voice to take it up and finish it.  To mentally pick up from exactly where I had left every time, without any loss of interest or motivation is, I think, quite remarkable. In my case, it was not as much about the story (which was also very good), as it was about how it was told.

It is 1964 country deep in South Carolina  and the Civil Rights Act has just been passed (in theory), but the country has still to catch up (in practice). The story revolves around a 14 year old Lily Owens with no mother and a tyrant for a father. In a series of events, she and her black caretaker Rosaleen find themselves in another town, where Lily is trying hard to find clues about her deceased mother. There she meets the black beekeeper Boatwright sisters, especially the eldest (and my very favorite) August, and her life changes.
[On a side note, talking of bees, how often do you see the subject of a catchy book title carry over to the content (like that book with really no hedgehogs) I mean, who does that? This one actually has several bee references; now ain’t that funny, honey!]

To sum it up, The Secret Life of Bees has the prowess to cut through all the noise around you and suck you in and hold you there. How Lily talks to herself (and to the readers) about her emotions and stuff seems so deep and so believable. There were times I found myself letting out a cathartic weeping spell that seemed to wash my soul clean. Oh boy- did it feel good or what! This book is a coming-of-age drama, Steel Magnolias, Oprah kinda feeling all rolled into one. If the honesty and candor in the expression grips your heart, the alluring imagery makes it soar. I recommend this short book just for the experience of it. Four Stars on my Goodreads.

Extras:
The paragraph below conjured up images of bright sun, summer, humming bees and insects, and all the charm of country living and olden times (when life was different, quieter and, perhaps, simpler):
The woman moved along a row of white boxes that bordered the woods beside the pink house, a house so pink it remained a scorched shock on the back of my eyelids after I looked away. She was tall, dressed in white, wearing a pith helmet with veils that floated across her face, settled around her shoulders, and trailed down her back. She looked like an African bride. Lifting the tops off the boxes, she peered inside, swinging a tin bucket of smoke back and forth. Clouds of bees rose up and flew wreaths around her head. Twice she disappeared in the fogged billows, then gradually reemerged like a dream rising up from the bottom of the night. We stood on the porch in the pink light shining off the house. June bugs flickered all around, and music notes floated from inside, sounding like a violin, only a lot sadder.

The movie trailer (that I have not watched yet):