Turtles All The Way Down – Review

“The thing about a spiral is, if you follow it inward, it never actually ends. It just keeps tightening, infinitely.”

There are about a million different thoughts rushing through my brain about this book, but there’s really only one that’s important. If you’ve ever known someone to struggle with mental illness, this book helps open a window into understanding. And if you’ve ever struggled yourself, read this to know that you are not alone.

Aza has OCD. She can’t help but think of the billions upon billions of bacteria that reside in her body and how any one of them can hijack the system, completely taking over and possibly ending in her death. One thought can lead to another, and before she can stop, she’s being pulled into a thought spiral, which she calls invasives.

“It’s just an invasive. Everyone has them. But you can’t shut yours up. Since you’ve had a reasonable amount of cognitive behavioral therapy, you tell yourself, I am not my thoughts, even though deep down you’re not sure exactly what that makes you.”

When we first meet Aza, we meet her best friend Daisy along with all of their lunch table friends along with her disorder, all at the same time. It’s an amazing introduction. We are seamlessly submersed into the world of Aza and her friends. We also learn that there’s a billionaire fugitive on the loose with a sizable reward for information leading to his capture. Which would be simple lunchroom gossip, except, as Daisy is insistent to point out, Aza once knew his son.

This novel is a stunning coming of age, both vivid and breathtaking. But what sets it apart isn’t the raw honesty regarding living with mental illness. It’s that Green explores issues of substance, that anyone of any age can relate to in some fashion. This novel is wonderfully complex. It isn’t only when we are teenagers that we question the nature of our existence, or the meaning of love in all it’s beauty and consequence. But there is a certain poignancy in framing these questions not just in an adolescent perspective, but also in the specific view of mental illness.

“But I also had a life, a normal-ish life, which continued. For hours or days, the thoughts would leave me be, and I could remember something my mom told me once: Your now is not your forever.”

I don’t have OCD. But, I do have my own struggles, and everything Aza thinks and goes through is so relatable. The parts that aren’t relatable, are presented in such a raw way that they are easily understandable. I don’t know if others with anxiety or depression have them, but I really relate to thought spirals, things that invade my mind and paralyze me for moments, hours or even days at a time. They aren’t about bacteria or germs, but they are there nonetheless. It’s hard to explain them sometimes, and Green brings them to life, in all of their weird intensity.

More than that, Green is unflinching in his portrayal of the guilt, the loneliness, the fear and the uncertainty, and all the complex emotions that go along with mental illness.

“I know you’re not trying to make me feel pressure, but it feels like I’m hurting you, like I’m committing assault or something, and it makes me feel ten thousand times worse. I’m doing my best, but I can’t stay sane for you, okay?”

This is something that I rarely come across in books about mental illness. The way you feel like you have to be okay, even when you’re not, because people around you are worried about you. The pressure to make everything seem fine. It isn’t that they’re asking you to lie, necessarily, but the worry and the fear are palpable to you. It’s hard to explain why you can’t just be better. Why you can’t just be normal. So sometimes it becomes easier to just try and cover it all up. They don’t mean to add pressure, and you feel terrible for even suggesting that they’re making it worse. But they do, and sometimes they are.

This isn’t a book where we get a superficial look at the relationships in Aza’s life either. The relationship with Daisy was one of the best, in my opinion. Being best friends with someone is an intimate relationship. In some ways, even more intimate than a romantic one. I adored Daisy. She’s fun, sassy, funny, loyal and driven. But she’s complicated and struggles to understand Aza. Even more important than understanding her, is simply loving her and accepting her.

“What I want to say to you, Holmesy, is that yes, you are exhausting, and yes, being your friend is work. But you are the most fascinating person I have ever known.”

This struggle felt so real, because living with mental illness is exhausting sometimes, and loving someone with mental illness can be just as exhausting. It doesn’t need to be excused or justified or apologized for. And the honesty it took to examine this aspect of their relationship is heartbreaking and amazing.

We fight with our moms, our friends, people we know, sometimes people we don’t. Yet, when people know you struggle with mental illness in any facet, this fight tends to be held back. Your actions are excused, or justified, or worse, relationships get distant and fragile. So when you find people that will confront you, and fight with you, and make you feel normal (even when it makes you feel awful) it can feel monumental. Green gets that, and captures it beautifully.

“You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.”

I still feel that there is so much more to say about this book, but honestly, I don’t think I can capture everything in one blog post. This book made me feel so many things. I laughed, and cried, and flagged quote after quote. It is beautiful and necessary and such an important contribution to the conversation about mental health.

It isn’t easy to admit to mental illness. It’s even harder to describe that struggle. To open yourself up exposes you to the world in an intimate vulnerability that is difficult no matter who you are. John Green opens a piece of himself up to us by writing this gorgeous book. Aza is fictional, yes, but the truths written within her character are very real. So to him, I say thank you. Thank you, for writing a book that made me feel seen. That made me feel understood. That just made me feel.

I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone!

 

We All Fall Down – Review

“I stay in the car because I’m not welcome at the door.”

From the very first sentence we see the tension built into the backstory of this YA thriller. Theo and Paige have been friends forever. Paige battles anxiety and Theo battles ODD, ADHD and a number of other disorders. Together they can face anything.

Except Paige’s parents think Theo is a negative influence. Except Paige has had a crush on Theo forever, and has decided to leave the unrequited feelings in the past. Except, they aren’t unrequited.

“Paige checks her phone and teeters in her pretty sandals, and my mind is popping and buzzing, but there’s not a thing I can do. I’ve had all the time in the world. If she likes this guy, I need to suck it up and deal.”

Theo doesn’t deal with things though. He gets drunk. The party is at an old bridge, and Paige is pushed to climb the bridge by her date. When she starts to have an anxiety attack, Theo is too drunk to help. Instead he gets in a fight. But when he hauls his fist to take a swing, it isn’t her date’s face his fist collides with. It’s Paige.

Talk about an explosive opening act.

When we meet Theo and Paige again, several months have gone by. Theo is back near the scene of the crime, so to speak, working for his Uncle, trying a new assortment of meds and living in a pit of regret. Paige is attending a summer Science program on the opposite side of the bridge for college credit. She is working on forgetting Theo, accepting that he is bad news like her parents told her all along.

They both want to forget. They both want to move on. But something keeps bringing them together. Something keeps reminding them of the one night they both want to forget. Something won’t let them move on.

The representation of mental health issues in teens is phenomenal in this book. It isn’t just how accurate and relatable Richards makes Paige and Theo. It’s the details. How Paige’s parents are typical helicopter parents, constantly hovering and interfering. How Theo’s have simply written him off as too much trouble and too much work. Both are very real reactions from parents when dealing with adolescents who struggle with disorders.

Even though we don’t see a lot of Paige’s parents, their influence is felt throughout the entire thing. I think this is also very accurate and was well done. Whether it’s the over involvement or the complete disappearance, these reactions shape both Theo and Paige and how they react to various situations. It is also extremely well written because it is these small details that build the tension and suspense within Paige.

“Alarms flare in my mind. I shouldn’t have said his name. Shouldn’t have talked about his at all. What if she says something to my parents when they pick me up?”

As far as Theo goes, we see very little even in the background of his parents. Rather it is his Uncle Denny who is his main parental figure for the summer. Denny has a construction business and is letting Theo live with him and work, to keep him out of trouble. Denny is actually a decent Uncle. He tries, but is clearly in over his head with Theo. He doesn’t even know where to begin. But you can tell he cares, and Theo cares about what he thinks as well.

“He nods slowly, still ruminating whatever armchair-therapist crap he was about to spit out. He must think better of it, because he adjust his cap on his thinning hair and sighs.”

But no matter how many meds Theo forces his therapist to prescribe or how many times he promises to stay away from Paige, some force seems to be pulling them together. Whether it’s mysterious noises drawing them to the bridge, or remnants from the party long thought discarded mysteriously appearing; something is happening. And it always leads back to the bridge.

This part of the novel was especially enjoyable for me because I think bridges are creepy in general. Yes, they are beautiful from a distance. And romantic. And historical. But really. Driving a car over something that could collapse at any moment is terrifying to me. So I completely get the anxiety and trauma associated with this bridge. Throw in some weird supernatural nonsense. I would be out of there super fast!

But what I really enjoyed was how Richards was able to weave the supernatural in to play against both Theo and Paige’s natural dispositions. If you constantly question everything, how do you know when you’re being haunted or going crazy? It’s a fine line, and the suspense both of them felt at legitimately not knowing the answer was brilliant.

“The arsenic is there because rivers are full of icky things. And because no matter how deep you bury them, they find their way to the surface.”

This is excellent YA suspense. It deals with relevant issues and, perhaps, gives a new light and perspective on how kids dealing with those issues feel. It also is a bloody good haunting novel. Whether real or imagined, the ghosts we believe to be real will always be as powerful as we allow them to be. I absolutely loved how this was handled, and explored and ultimately, how this story ended.

I won this book in a giveaway from Teen Reads and am thrilled I was able to read it!

 

 

Counting Wolves Blog Tour

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This week, I am happy to be a part of the blog tour for a new book, Counting Wolves. Thank you to XPresso Book Tours for the review copy!

“Most secrets we hide even from ourselves.”

Counting Wolves is a book exploring what fear can do to us. How it can impact us and effect us in ways we don’t expect.

Milly has to count to one hundred to walk through doorways. And speak. And take a bite. Which is a problem to everyone. But they don’t understand that Milly does it to keep the wolf at bay. If she doesn’t, the wolf will be unleashed and hurt everyone.

Her step-mother has her committed to an adolescent psych ward after Milly faints in her gym class. Here, she is surrounded by other fairy tales come to life, and is forced to deal with witches and toads who run the floor. Milly realizes that counting here isn’t as strong, and has to learn how to use new weapons to fight her wolf.

The story is a unique take on mental illness. Sometimes when we envision how an illness manifests, or what can trigger certain behaviors, we see it from the outside. Here, we are thrown into Milly’s mind and have to work to unravel the real from the fantasy along with Milly. While it wouldn’t happen as quickly in real life, the message is still effective.

We also are able to see how mental illness can develop in an adolescent. At that age,  trying to figure out what’s real and what’s in our head is a struggle without trauma, or compulsions, or outside stressors impacting us. Milly doesn’t quite capture everything right about OCD or trauma induced compulsive behavior. Personally, I feel that the short timeline made it feel more unrealistic and forced than the author intended. No one can stop behaviors in a week that have been reinforced and reenacted for years. It simply isn’t realistic. However, in terms of facing the fairy tale, it works.

As far as other characters, I absolutely adored Vanet. I think his depiction of manic behavior was accurate and his personality added some humor to the heaviness and darkness of the subject matter. I would have liked to have seen a down episode, as manic-depressive behavior is never all ups, but the timeline of a week made that difficult from a plot perspective.

“Maybe he is the fairy godmother. He’s the only person I’ve ever met who actually seems to believe anything is possible.”

The one problem I had with the novel, was the psych ward didn’t seem realistic. I do have some knowledge in this area, and the behaviors of the staff just wouldn’t happen, in my experience and opinion. Some of the details regarding the other patients, also didn’t ring quite true, but they were minor and I understand their relevance to the story.

Overall I did enjoy the story. The depiction of mental illness wasn’t 100% right in detail, but the feel of how terrifying it is was right. Having thoughts you can’t control and compulsions you can’t stop is overwhelming and frightening at any age. Our minds always try and create an explanation, and using fairy tales was a good way to show that.

I also really enjoyed how Milly’s parents were depicted. They were set up to be uncaring, or even part of the problem, and really the author did a nice job showing their support. Even more, Dr. Balder was depicted as a caring psychiatrist, with Milly’s progress as his priority. I think that having Milly surrounded with this love and support is important in talking about mental health. It removes the idea that getting help has to be problematic, and sends a fantastic message about relying on others and accepting help.

For anyone looking for a way to understand how mental illness can sometimes look and feel, this book gets the panic and the fear right. Counting Wolves sends all the right messages about not just what fear and the spiral into compulsive behaviors can look like, but also about getting help and accepting support.

“Fear is the mind-killer.”

Want to win a copy? Click the link below for a chance to win one of 25 ebooks!

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Counting Wolves is available now. Synopsis and links are below! Once again, thank you to Xpresso Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this book!

Counting Wolves
Michael F. Stewart
Publication date: August 14th 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult

The Breakfast Club meets Grimm’s Fairy Tales in the lair of an adolescent psych ward.

Milly’s evil stepmother commits her to a pediatric psych ward. That’s just what the wolf wants. With bunk mates like Red, who’s spiraling out of control; Pig, a fire-bug who claims Milly as her own—but just wants extra dessert—Vanet, a manic teen masquerading as a fairy godmother with wish-granting powers as likely to kill as to help; and the mysterious Wolfgang, rumored to roam for blood at night; it doesn’t take long for Milly to realize that only her dead mother’s book of tales can save her.

But Milly’s spells of protection weaken as her wolf stalks the hospital corridors. The ward’s a Dark Wood, and she’s not alone. As her power crumbles, she must let go of her magic and discover new weapons if she is to transform from hunted to hunter.

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo

Author Bio:

Michael F. Stewart is winner of both the 2015 Claymore Award and the 2014 inaugural Creation of Stories Award for best YA novel at the Toronto International Book Fair.

He likes to combine storytelling with technology and pioneered interactive storytelling with Scholastic Canada, Australia, and New Zealand’s, anti-cyberbullying program Bully For You. In addition to his award winning Assured Destruction series, he has authored four graphic novels with Oxford University Press Canada’s Boldprint series. Publications of nonfiction titles on Corruption and Children’s Rights are published by Scholastic and early readers are out with Pearson Education.

For adults, Michael has written THE SAND DRAGON a horror about a revenant prehistoric vampire set in the tar sands, HURAKAN a Mayan themed thriller which pits the Maya against the MS-13 with a New York family stuck in the middle, 24 BONES an urban fantasy which draws from Egyptian myth, and THE TERMINALS–a covert government unit which solves crimes in this realm by investigating them in the next.

Herder of four daughters, Michael lives to write in Ottawa where he was the Ottawa Public Library’s first Writer in Residence. To learn more about Michael and his next projects visit his website at http://www.michaelfstewart.com or connect via Twitter @MichaelFStewart.

Michael is represented by Talcott Notch.

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter

10 Things I Can See From Here

Living with anxiety is no easy task. First, you have to actually live with anxiety. Then you have to try and help everyone in your life understand what that means.

Maeve is a teenage girl living with anxiety. The one person who understands her, and can help her fight through the panic is her mother. Which is the good news. The bad news is that her mom is going to Haiti for six months. Meaning Maeve has to go live with her dad.

I’ve lived with chronic anxiety for most of my life. Some days it’s manageable. It’s controllable. It’s easy to forget how crippling it can be. Other days it’s not. My entire body can feel jittery and wired, a feeling of panic hovering just on the edges for no reason. I can feel the crushing weight of this panic. So, I was more than a little timid about reading a book where the main character has an anxiety disorder.

People commonly attribute anxiety to simply worrying. “We all have our worries. There is no corner on the market.”

There is no corner on the market for stress. Or worry. But anyone who has stared at a dark ceiling, exhausted from worry but nowhere near sleep understands that there is a difference. The thing with anxiety, at least for me, is that often I can feel that crushing weight of panic for no discernible reason. Not because I’m worried about any one particular thing. Or have any one particular stress. Sometimes I am filled with the tingly numbness of panic and I don’t know why.

This is the world Maeve lives in. One potential ‘what if’ can spiral out of control and cause her to panic. It’s debilitating. It wreaks havoc on her family, her relationships and on her sense of self.

I really liked how Mac captured how exhausting it is to live with an anxiety disorder of this magnitude. My anxiety is not as severe as Maeve’s, yet I completely understood how she felt.

From the moment Maeve steps on the bus headed to Vancouver, she can’t get those worries out of her head. Facts are constantly running through her head, an endless ticker of morbid statistics. She can’t stop. Even though she survives the bus trip, her father being an hour late without answering any calls or texts sets an ominous tone for a her visit.

Her father is a recovering alcoholic (50-90% of recovering addicts relapse). Her step-mother is pregnant and planning for another home birth (a plethora of dangers there). Her younger twin brothers offer her a surprising safe haven by “being little and loud and bursting with bright, shiny goodness,” Owen is a worrier like her and Corbin is fearless. But they both offer her love and understanding and distraction.

With her mother not as available as she promised and her dad acting weird, there is plenty for Maeve to worry about it.

Anxiety is not always an easy thing for outside people to understand. It is an invisible enemy. How do you explain to someone that everything really will be okay? Because, the thing is, we don’t know that. We can’t know that.

Fear is a good thing. It is the reason we survive, the reason we evolved. Fear keeps us safe. But our brains also have a switch. A way to control the fear and keep it from controlling us. If our ancestors were controlled by their fear, we would never have left the cave. We never would have discovered anything that propelled us into the future.

When that switch is defective, or missing entirely, it’s hard to comprehend.

“But I see the fear, and then I go through the fear, and then I get to the other side of fear. I go through it.”

That’s how most people deal with fear. Like Salix, the girl Maeve is drawn to. She doesn’t let her fears control her. She looks it in the face and goes through it. You would think that someone like that might struggle with dealing with Maeve. Surprisingly she is the one who seems to see her the clearest. She sees how Maeve struggles, and instead of making her be someone she isn’t, she asks her for small steps. I honestly thought that was beautiful.

In the end, even though nothing goes right, and Maeve has to face and deal with more than she ever thought possible, she also discovers that life happens. She takes small steps and in those small steps, she finds that there is a strength in progress. Even if is something small. And sometimes those small things, prepare you for something bigger.

For someone who deals with anxiety, who struggles with it, this ending was perfect. “Everything changed, and everything stayed the same.” Because that’s exactly how life works. Everything does change. Even if we don’t want it to. Even if we fight for things to stay safe, and the same. But, everything also stays the same.

I don’t imagine that Maeve woke up the day after the book ended cured. Or relieved of her worries and anxiety. But, I do believe that some days became easier than others. That some things became easier than others.

This book is funny and has heart. It is warm and heartfelt. If you struggle with anxiety, or even know someone who does, I think that this book gives an insight of what it can be like. Maybe it doesn’t fit everyone’s experience, but I felt it was relatable and realistic.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

Follow Me Back – Review

We live in a social media world. For better or for worse.

There was a time, not so long ago, when sharing every aspect of your personal life would have been considered obnoxious and narcissistic. Who needs to know where I am or what I am eating every hour of the day? Those private details were shared in tabloid magazines about celebrities. Something we only wanted to know about celebrities.

I’m also sure, if you had asked most of the population back then, about whether people would one day all open themselves up to that level of public awareness, most would say no. Who could imagine a world like that?

Turns out, at least a few people did, and social media was born.

Take a society already obsessed with celebrity, and make everyone easily accessible. Or, at least give the impression of being easily accessible. How does that change us? What dangers does that bring? These are the questions raised in Follow Me Back.

“You wanted this, Eric. You worked your ass off to get discovered. Remember?” ∞ “I just didn’t totally understand what I was signing up for.”

When we dream of being famous, of living a life of luxury unimaginable to most, we tend to see the nice shiny pieces of that life. I’ve always been fascinated with how we idolize celebrities in our society. We mock them when they shut down a store to shop, yet if they try to walk down the street, we mob them. We ridicule their concerns for privacy yet pay for overpriced magazines to glimpse a picture of them on the beach, or in their backyards.  We expect them to be available to us all the time. To be the people we believe they are. Nevermind who they actually are.

Before social media, celebrities had their stalkers. They’ve always had obsessed fans, willing to do anything to get a napkin dropped, a fork used, a shirt forgotten. But in a world where information about location was slower, where you relied on physical sightings or inside sources, those fans were easier to predict. Easier to contain.

Now, all it takes is a tweet. 140 characters. An Instagram photo. A Facebook update. And within seconds, everyone in the world can access that information. Anyone can access that information.

Eric Thorn is a singer. Locked in a contract he didn’t understand, and is now beginning to hate. He has mobs of fans. Fans with Twitter handles like @MrsThorn or @TessaHeartsEric. Millions of girls dying to meet him, to profess their undying love for him. It’s exhilarating. It’s smothering. It’s terrifying.

There’s another side to social media. The side that allows us to experience life in a different way. To open ourselves up to new experiences and ideas. For some people, social media helps them feel not so alone. Helps them find people who they can connect with. Helps them enrich their lives in ways they would never dreamed.

That’s where Tessa Hart finds herself after a traumatic experience leaves her unable to leave her house. She finds her release in writing fanfic about her favorite pop star Eric Thorn. Following him and his fan accounts is a release for her. Her way of finding social interaction in her isolated world. When one of her stories goes viral, her follower count rockets up. The hashtag #ericthornobsessed trending to #1.

Tessa believes she sees something in Eric Thorn that others don’t. A fear that she relates to. Her therapist thinks she’s projecting. Is it possible to see something in a photo? In an online video? Is it possible to see something no one else sees? Or do we just see what we want?

A twist of fate intertwines Eric and Tessa. I could tell you more, but where would the fun in that be? Needless to say, you will not see the plot twists and turns until they happen.

This is a book where everything you think you know is wrong.

It isn’t just the plot twists that makes this novel compelling and insightful. It’s more an analysis about the role social media plays in our lives.

We follow people without thought. Sure, there are reasons. We like their books, their music, their art. Sometimes we even know them. But I’m also sure there are people we follow, people we are friends with, that we don’t really know.

Social media is a strange intimacy. People who are active on their accounts give us glimpses into their lives. It can feel like we know them. We see them in bed, walking down the street, at their tables. We see what they watch, what they read, what they listen to, what they eat, what they wear. It can feel like we know them as well as we know our closest friends.

To us, they are someone we know. Someone we feel genuine affection for. But to them, we are a fan. One follower in a sea of thousands. Perhaps even millions.

If they comment, or retweet, or like what we post, it’s a thrill! We feel a connection, a touch of intimacy that validates how we feel about them. And if they actually follow you back? Confirmation that somehow we made it on a radar of impossibility.

These strange intimacies are the world we live in. These private worlds that feel just as big and just as real as the one we breathe in.

Follow Me Back was a seamless glimpse at how social media and celebrity worship can create an alternate reality. We see how social media can be useful, even helpful but also harmful. There is a deep look at privacy and intimacy. This commentary is subtle and done skillfully. It takes a plot twist to bring this examination to light.

This book will make you take a step back and look at your own habits. Are you part of a fandom? Could there be a dark undertone lurking beneath the love and adoration? What about social media friendships? Can you ever really know who you are talking to?

As more apps are developed and more accounts are created, this is a conversation we all need to be having. What is the line between fandom and obsession? How much of our lives should be available and accessible?  How do you stay social while still protecting yourself?

It will make you think of social media and the role it can play with mental health. For some people, finding a group to talk to can be life-saving. Life-changing. But it can also be a Pandora’s box. An opening into a world of obsession and temptation that can easily spiral out of control.

Follow Me Back is a brilliant blend of Young Adult fiction wrapped in a psychological thriller. The plot is fast paced, each page demanding to be turned. I devoured this in a day. Yet you are still lulled into a state of complacency. Of believing you know what the end will be, in scope if not detail. Yet, the reality is so different, so unexpected.

If there’s one thing social media has taught us, sometimes what you see is not what you get. Sometimes a perfect and beautiful feed can hide something darker. Often, who we are is much different than who we want the world to see.

 

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

A review: Me Before You

Typical romance novels are not my jam. I can do without heaving bosoms and deep, meaningful stares. Bleh. And after falling for the 50 shades hype, I am highly skeptical of all hyped romance novels.

Part of my issue with the genre is all the sex. Not that I care about sex in a book. I don’t. I can get hot and bothered over a well placed sex scene like anyone. But, I don’t need half the book to be sex scenes. They get boring. I mean, let’s get real. There’s only so much heavy breathing and passionate throws a girl can take without massive eye rolling.

Romance also typically means: happily ever after.

I am a sucker for a tragic ending. Throw star-crossed in there, and I’m done for. Blame Shakespeare. I don’t crave happily ever after. Maybe it makes me an evil reader, but I like my fictional characters to earn their happy. Like the rest of us.

So I was wary to read Me Before You. To be fair, I did not learn much about the story. The only two plot points I knew were this: he is in a wheelchair and bumblebee tights.

This book probably would never have even crossed my radar if the movie didn’t come out. Finnick Odair and Daenerys Targaryen?! Falling in love?! Well, who wouldn’t want to see that? Ever wondered how TBR piles get out of control? This is how.

Skepticism in hand, I sat down to read. Words of warning trickled through my brain. Words like predictable and typical. But I needed to watch the movie! Finnick and Khaleesi people!!! So, like the dedicated book nerd I am, I opened the book.

Can I just say, wow?!

I mean, yes there certainly is an air of predictability to the book. To a point. If you haven’t read this book – STOP HERE!!! YE BE WARNED!!!

Okay – we are entering the spoiler zone.

First, I really liked Louisa Clark. I will accept and fully admit my bias since I couldn’t get Khaleesi out of my head, but whatever. I still really liked her character. She was funny and adorable and real. I could picture being friends with her. And then there’s Finnick, I mean, Will. *sigh*

I expected to see the relationship between them develop. It’s hard to see the movie poster of them smiling at each other and NOT piece that together. How they ended in that relationship was a pleasant surprise. It wasn’t a cutesy, easy relationship. She did win him over, but not in the easy predictable way I expected.

This book tore my heart out. Which, as I said before, I love. I’m a weirdo, I know.

Honestly, I expected to be disappointed by the ending. I fully expected the author to take the easy road. For him to declare that Clark had, in fact, given him the will to live. I would have rolled my eyes at that ending, and thrown the book down, disappointed at the fluff I had just read.

I know that there is a point of view that this book is terrible because a man who is severely disabled chooses not to live. They are upset at the connotations this brings, and perhaps about the negative message it gives to those who live disabled lives. I disagree.

Full disclaimer: I do not have a debilitating disability. I do get severe migraines along with a myriad of other health issues that often make me feel as if my body has taken me hostage. It does not compare to a spinal cord injury. But I do understand what it might mean to be this man.

My husband is a lot like Will. He loves doing dangerous, exotic things. He has jumped out of a helicopter in Poland (he doesn’t speak Polish), and swam with sharks. He snowboards and hikes and rides a motorcycle. We don’t live quite the adventurous life as Will, but if he could, he would.

He has struggled with his own health issues, that have put a damper on his outdoor life. And the depression that follows is no joke. It is real. Luckily, his issues have an answer. They have treatments that work. But I won’t lie. As I was reading the end, all I could think was what if.

What if he had no hope of recovery? What if he had to accept living a life he didn’t plan, or want? What if things got worse? What if?

I completely understand the argument, that being disabled does not mean a lesser life. I fully agree. But, I also agree that no one has a right to tell you what a lesser life is. One way or the other.

Maybe it’s because I’ve struggled with depression. I’ve struggled with this dark thing that no one else seems to understand. It isn’t a matter of going outside and realizing life is beautiful. Or appreciating the people who love you. It is bleak and heavy and overwhelming.

So it felt real to me that even this bright, bubbly woman, who he clearly loved, wouldn’t change his mind. I understood when he told her, loving her was a constant reminder of who he couldn’t be, what he couldn’t have. Sometimes accepting a life as is, just isn’t enough. Maybe that doesn’t make people happy. It doesn’t make it less true.

We are constantly told to live up to our potential. To reach for the stars. Yet, when it suits us, the message changes. Accept life as it is. Be grateful for what you have, not what you don’t. For someone who knows themselves, or who has lived to their potential and had it taken away, perhaps they know the path to their own happiness best.

As a society, I think we are afraid to have difficult conversations. The message wasn’t kill yourself if you have a disability. In fact, the author highlighted the chat rooms and people who were able to accept their changed lives and make the best of them. But even they understood when someone couldn’t.

So yes. This book had an air of predictability to it. They fell in love. She won him over. But, as in life, it was a touch more complicated than that.

Sometimes we don’t get the ending we want. Sometimes we fall in love with someone who isn’t meant to stay in our life. But sometimes, we get to open our eyes, push through the pain, and really learn how to live.

The Female of the Species

“This is how I kill someone.”

That sentence signals, buckle up, we’re going for a ride.

“Dedication: For the victims.”

The dedication tells you the ride is going to be bumpy.

I have been a fan of Mindy McGinnis since I read her duology, Not a Drop to Drink. Her writing style is enthralling, plunging me into some dark subjects and tones, but done in such a way, that I often forget to expect it. This book was no different.

The Female of the Species, is my favorite read of the year. I had heard a lot of hype about this book. Hype scares me. Not that I haven’t been swept away in the rush of a popular book. I have and often. But, there’s always a lingering worry. Maybe it’s just hype. That worry was completely unnecessary.

Even with the opening line, the narration falls into such simple rhythms of high school life, that it’s easy to forget the violence in the beginning. Even though we are reminded of it, lightly and then all at once, over and over throughout the book.

This is a book full of lingering questions. It seems like March was a month for books that crept into the depths of my subconscious. Books that made me question everything I thought I knew. Everything I thought I believed.

What makes up a persons moral character? At what point is an action right, or wrong? Does that change if the action is violent? Is there ever justification in finding your own form of justice, when justice seems elusive?

We follow the narration of three high school students. Jack and Alex, both competing for valedictorian, and Peekay, the preacher kid, or P.K.; hence the nickname. They meet, and their lives become intertwined, even though they have grown up together in the way of small towns.

Alex is the main character. Even though there are three narrations, the plot follows her. The other narrations orbit around her, their lives impacted irrevocably by hers. The question of right and wrong, answered differently by both. Peekay leaning one way, Jack the other. Leaving Alex in the middle, wondering where she fits and where she belongs.

We live in a muddy world. In a world where good things happen to bad people. Where right and wrong can be politicized and weaponized. “Anger makes you tired, but guilt keeps you from falling asleep.” Sums up the world we often face. We want to be angry at injustice, but find ourselves guilty instead. We are tired, yet we cannot sleep.

That guilt is misleading. Are we guilty if we take action. Or if we don’t. Maybe both. Maybe there is no way to avoid the guilt, or the anger. In a world where there are no clear answers, hell, there may not be an answer, McGinnis forces us to ask: how do we move forward? How do we decide how to proceed?

This book is a YA. It is set in High School. The characters are adolescents planning where they will go to college and what they will major in. Yet, these juvenile characters are forced to grapple with these questions. They are forced to look violence, and injustice, and unfairness dead in the eye and make decisions they can live with. The fact that they have to do this, highlights the injustice so many young people face.

The brilliance in this book is we know from the beginning the subject matter will be heavy. We know we will face victims, and violence. We even suspect there will be murder. Yet, somehow, she makes us laugh before she makes us cry. She makes us love before she horrifies us. And throughout it all, she lulls us into complacency.

This novel deals with life in it’s messiest form.

I realize that there are many, many people in the world who have never been victimized. Who may not even know someone who has. I’m incredibly happy for you. Really, I am. I wish there were more people like that. I wish that horrors of life were confined to the pages of fiction. Where we can close the cover, shiver to ourselves, and thank the heavens that those horrors are confined to stories. I wish.

We do not live in that world, though. We live in one where bad things do happen. They happen often. And they happen to people who don’t deserve it. They happen to teenagers everywhere.

So I applaud books like these. Books who can help open the eyes of those who may not know victims. Books who can help victims themselves feel less alone. Books that make us all question harder, tougher issues. Books that make us think. Books that make us feel.

The opening was shocking. And the end is shocking. But this is the moral I think. Often, we need to be shocked into action. Jolted into decision.

Sometimes life is full of violence. Sometimes it is tragic and unjust. Sometimes the ones doing good, are also the ones in the wrong. Sometimes doing nothing is worse than doing something. And sometimes, vice versa.

It’s an ending that doesn’t leave you. It stays with you, whispering while you watch the news. It lingers in your head, the questions altering your view, changing how you see things.

“I am vengeance.”

The books didn’t help her understand what she was, where she fit. So she did the best she could. Perhaps books like this help those without a voice, without a place find their way.

***** this book deals with sexual assault, violence and homicide. Please read with caution.

Hello, stranger

Somehow the month of February passed and it feels like a day. Depression is weird like that.

I don’t mean to imply that I spent the entire month lying on the floor of my closet with a blanket clutched around me. I didn’t. Although, some days felt like it. In reality, most of the days, just passed.

Even that seems more depressing than I intend. I did have some really great days in there. Not every day is depressing when you’re depressed. At least, not for me.

The most memorable weekend of my month, was watching my littlest brother get married in a beautiful ceremony in Austin. (#whitewedding2017 ❤️) It was a weekend full of family. Lots of laughter and lots of love. I played with my nieces and nephews. I hugged my dad, and laughed with my brothers and sisters, and saw family I haven’t seen in years. I spent the weekend with my son. It was a very enjoyable weekend.

But that’s exactly what’s funny about depression.

I can have a moment with one of my brothers, where we realize we have the same background on our watch. A moment of laughter when we agonize that we truly are related (and there’s nothing we can do about it). I can have another moment where I realize what a smart, funny, amazing man my son has grown to be. A moment filled with pride and love and adoration. I can have a moment with another brother when we fall into the rhythms of teasing and joking so easily. A moment full of happiness and laughter.

I can have all these moments, and still feel alone and unseen. Feel broken and unworthy. Feel isolated and lost.

I once read that depression is the absence of emotion and anxiety is the onslaught of emotion. I also read it described as depression being stuck in the past and anxiety being stuck in the future. This push-pull dynamic is what makes the two go hand in hand.

Depression is weird because most days I feel okay. Some days are great, and others not so great, but in general, there is a haze surrounding me. Like, there’s a piece of gauze wrapped around my head. It makes everything a little distorted, everything a little fuzzy. It’s a push-pull battle between the ups and downs, the past and the future, the emptiness and the worry. It takes a lot of focus to stay in the present.

Isn’t it funny, that I worry about writing about myself and my feelings too much? I started this blog to help me focus on my writing. I knew I would write about books, and fandoms, and writing, but I also knew I would inevitably wander down some emotional paths. I’ve been diagnosed with depression since my early teen years, but the feelings have been around as long as I can remember. They are as much a part of me and my laugh, or my eyes, or my dark sense of humor. It’s crazy to worry about writing or thinking or talking about this side of me too much. But, I find I often worry about things that I find crazy.

One of the reasons for writing is to help me focus. Focus is also a way to stay in the present. It also helps me more than I ever thought. Writing about characters I make up helps me look at the world differently. And for me, when I always feel unsure of my thoughts, or second guess myself, focusing on something else is life saving.

My writing can be tied to my state of mind. Different emotions help me write in different ways. The key, I find is just starting.

This is, I find, the most difficult thing to understand. If the hardest part is getting started, it shouldn’t be that difficult, right? Oh, so wrong. Opening my laptop can feel like a trek to the summit of Everest. Even if it’s sitting on the coffee table in front of me. This little Mac and I have many a staring contest (don’t ask who wins).

Why? I don’t know. I’m sure someone has an explanation, or a reason, or a rationale. The best I can describe it? It’s like someone has covered you in thick, wet clothing and stuck you in a giant bowl of mush and then added a weighted blanket to your ensemble and turned off the lights.

Everything is heavy. Everything takes effort. Everything is in my head.

It’s a mental battle of will. Against myself. Which I can’t win or lose. Like I said, it’s weird.

So, this month was busy. I wrote 10,000 words and edited 8 chapters and went to a wedding in Austin and paid all my bills on time. I managed to do half a month’s worth of bookstagram pictures before getting derailed! I read 5 books. I didn’t do any blog posts. The weird part of my brain wants me to feel guilty for not doing any posts. The sane part of my brain pats myself on the back for a productive month.

Writing is helping me see the fog. It’s helping me get through it. When I began my journey, all I could see was fog. I woke up lost and tired. Slowly, I’m finding my way out.

The month of February was filled with moments of not wanting to get out of bed. Of feeling so overwhelmed I wanted to scream. Of pushing down the panic and fear and stress. It was also filled with laughing until I cried. Of happiness and jokes and kisses and cuddles.

I’m putting reminders in my planner and calendar to write here more. I had planned on a January reading wrap up, which I obviously didn’t do. I might do it anyway. And a February. Because I can. Hopefully I’ll even get them done before March ends. I may even do a 30-day blog challenge to get in the habit of writing. My own March madness. It is the perfect time to try something crazy, after all.

The point is, I hope to stop being such a stranger. I hide when I am uncomfortable. Which means, I’ve been hiding in some way most of my life. Hiding is avoidance. Hiding is procrastination. Hiding is not writing.

So, here’s to writing. And not hiding. And to stop being a stranger. Even to myself.