Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A sixteen-year-old girl who has extreme anxiety which leads to thought spirals that can only be controlled through compulsive, self-harming actions and how she deals with her mental illness while she continues to also be just a normal teen with crushes on boys, a best friend, and straight As in school.

What made me pick it up: John Green is a phenomenal writer who structures his stories so the blows come at you hard and fast at the end and leave you happy/sad and bawling. He just gets teens and how to write them and when I found out he had incorporated aspects of his struggle with mental health into this book I admired him all the more.

My favorite things: My favorite thing is also the thing I hated the most and what made me keep getting exasperated and putting the book down and walking away. Green writes so honestly and in such a raw way about this character’s experience of thought spirals and the compulsive behaviors they lead to which she feels will help that it was hard to read about her suffering. I needed frequent breaks because staying in the fictional situation for too long made me uncomfortable for her and sad for her and in pain for her. It is masterful, but it may be a trigger to some individuals, and it is certainly overwhelming to read if you have any amount of empathy at all. I like how he portrayed it as a struggle by a normal person who has a normal life and only ever aspires to be her authentic, balanced self able to do normal things. Most of all I was brought to tears by the honest depiction of the process of treating and managing a mental illness and the very hard-earned hope that can come from continuing to try.

Who it’s great for: Anyone who has struggled with or known someone who struggled with mental illness. Readers who need hope.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Pick this up in your local library or get a copy online somewhere like Amazon (affiliate link).


 

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: Set in the politically charged late 1960s Chicago, a young girl struggles to solve the mystery behind the death of her strange and alluring upstairs neighbor. She lives her life through monsters and horror films, desperately trying to escape the reality of her family’s struggles and her own outcast status.

What made me pick it up: I read a preview of this that made it sound incredible. (It was.)

My favorite things: First, let me just say that I was so pleased to find “Book One” written on the spine because this volume opens up far too many threads to close. The story is mysterious, heavy, exciting, and grim, and it pulls you in from the beginning. The art is made up of these beautifully crosshatched panels made up to look like the notebook of a young girl, and Ferris effortlessly recreates classic works of art in her own style.

Who it’s great for: Fans of graphic novels looking for monsters, murder, mystery, or history.

Abby’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells


Pick up a copy of this book at Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.


 

Who Killed Christopher Goodman? by Allan Wolf

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A fictionalized account of a 1979 murder that took place in the author’s hometown while he was in high school. Told through 6 different narrators – including the killer.

What made me pick it up: I was intrigued by the plot, but when I realized it was based on a real murder from my hometown’s past I knew I had to read it.

My favorite things: Wolf changed the name of the town and the people involved, but he kept the names of streets, events, and local businesses. For a native of the town where the murder occurred, reading this was a bizarre experience but still engaging. I love the variety of voices, used to paint a more complete picture of the events that took place, with each of the narrators trying to discover ways they could have prevented the senseless murder.

Who it’s great for: Older teens and adults who crave mysteries or suspense. The short chapters and rotating narration make this a great choice for reluctant readers.

Abby’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells


Pick up a copy of this book at Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

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Originally published in: 1962

What it’s about: Merricat, Constance, and Uncle Julian are an odd, reclusive family, ostracized by the people of their community after the rest of their family die of arsenic poisoning.

What made me pick it up: This was a deep dive into my TBR backlist, but the audiobook was available on OverDrive so I went for it.

My favorite things: This isn’t a complex story, but it is elegantly told. Merricat’s narration is simple, uncomfortably direct, and quietly unsettling. And yet – her fears and anxieties feel valid and worthy of consideration. More sinister than odd, the Blackwood family still demands pity. Jackson was a master at creating creepy but believably human characters.

Who it’s great for: I don’t know about you, but when I’m in a reading slump, or really any kind of slump, I need a creepy story or two to kick me back into gear. If that’s true for you then you should definitely grab this the next time you need a pick-me-up. Good for fans of gothic novels, horror, and mysteries.

Abby’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells

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Want a copy? Find one at Amazon (affiliate link) or see if it’s available at a library near you.


Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: The story of a 1921 murder in Tulsa, Oklahoma unwinds through two perspectives: William’s, set at the time of the murder, and Rowan’s in the present day.

What made me pick it up: I read a prepub review that piqued my interest and put it on hold as soon as our library ordered it.

My favorite things: Latham uses the dual timelines explore the parallels between racially motivated violence in the early 20th century and the violence of today that has inspired the Black Lives Matter movement. Based on the 1921 massacre of Tulsa’s African American community, the author effectively uses mystery and suspense to bring attention to an often forgotten part of American history.

Who it’s great for: Teens interested in understanding racial violence and justice in American history. Fans of murder mysteries and readers of historical fiction.

Abby’s rating: four-shells


Want a copy? Find one at Amazon (affiliate link) or see if it’s available at a library near you.


Night School by Lee Child

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: Jack Reacher, in this book still a decorated Army Major, and his pursuit of bad guys before time runs out.

What made me pick it up: I devour this series so I’m on the holds list for each new book the second I hear about it. It may take a few months to come in, but it’s always worth the wait.

My favorite things: This character is so classic it is always entertaining to follow along as he puzzles it out with the help of his new coworkers and old friends including my favorite character in these books – Frances Neagley. Child never fails to provide plenty of action. I recommend these books to everyone.

Who it’s great for: Adults who are looking for an action movie in a book. Jack Reacher fans who can’t wait to read the next in the series. People who have seen either movie and wonder what all the fuss is about.

Erica’s rating: four-shells