Epiphany Jones – Review

“In Hollywood it’s not what you create that matters, it’s the image you portray.”

Before I start this review, I need to warn readers that this book has almost all the trigger warnings a book could have. It is dark, brutally so, and deals with very real but very horrifying issues like child sex trafficking, rape, abuse, and mental illness. These scenes, while not overly graphic in nature, are very realistic and chilling.

This review may also contain minor spoilers. I will avoid them as much as possible, but be warned, minor spoilers may find themselves below.

Epiphany Jones is a difficult book to describe. It feels strange to describe a book that so accurately explores grotesque topics as good. But for all its horror, it is a very good book. Grothaus balances the gut wrenching scenes with sharp dark humor, and the combination is both unsettling and entertaining.

Jerry, a unique unreliable narrator, struggles with mental illness. He is subject to hallucinations of a very visceral sort, believing that these people he sees are real at first. He also has a massive porn addiction. Of course, he’s been in therapy and these visions go away when he’s on medication. The problem is, he isn’t always on his medication. And it doesn’t really do anything for the porn problem.

“When you think something isn’t real you just don’t pay too much attention to it. But you sober up quickly when your imaginary friend stabs you with a spork.”

Unfortunately for Jerry, he finds himself off his meds and in the middle of the theft of a priceless Van Gogh. And he’s the main suspect. Which forces him into hiding with Epiphany Jones, a woman who hears the voice of God. She is his only chance at redemption.

But in order for Jerry to clear his name, he must solve the mystery of Epiphany and what she wants. And that takes him down a dark road into both of their pasts.

“I’m pretty sure Epiphany doesn’t have a three-strikes-and-you’re-out rule. It’s gotta be two, at most. After that she probably kills you.”

At the beginning, we don’t know how or why Epiphany has chosen Jerry to help her find whatever she’s looking for. It is a very violent path that we go down unraveling the mystery behind Epiphany and, surprisingly, Jerry as well.

Their two histories are intertwined in ways that Jerry refuses to believe until the evidence is overwhelming and pieces of his long buried memory begins to surface. This truth forces Jerry to confront the demons of his past and decide who he wants to actually be moving forward.

“People in real life, when something bad happens, they don’t turn into action heroes or detectives, like they do in the movies. In real life you take the path of least resistance. You do the easiest thing that ensures your survival.”

Even though this book was published June 2017, the subject matter is hauntingly relevant, given news coming out of Hollywood lately. Grothaus has taken the shiny veneer of off what we believe Hollywood to be and taken us into the dark, black rumors that have been whispered about for decades.

It isn’t even raising the idea that Hollywood executives could take place in sex trafficking, of children no less. It’s the entire dirty underside of Hollywood. How people in power abuse their power. Whether it’s the publicist who gets a young woman to sleep with his son over promises of stardom, or succumbing to the whims of a Super Star who must be given whatever perverse pleasure they demand. There is a side to Hollywood carefully controlled and very well hidden.

“The people with the real power in Hollywood don’t need to be recognized. They make the celebrities. And they know each star is just a cog in the wheel. A brand. Each star will be replaced when the time comes.”

What makes this book so good, even though the subject matter is so difficult, is that you can’t help but feel the truth in his words. Sex and power always go hand in hand, and abuse of both always follows closely behind.

But what makes the book even more exceptional, is the accurate examination of trauma and how these deep, deep traumas that occur in childhood, scar and haunt their victims forever. Both Jerry and Epiphany experienced traumatic shocks when they were young. And the extent of that trauma shows in their adult lives.

These fissures in their mental health are clearly shown throughout the plot to be attributed to their experiences as children. Sometimes it’s easy as a society to rank someone’s trauma as better or worse than others. It would have been easy to do that. To show that Epiphany had far more reason to behave in the ways she did than Jerry had. Instead, we get their mental illnesses shown to us as separate and unique as their personalities.

Their experiences shaped them, molded them, and we are shown their pasts in a slow reveal. Grothaus takes us down dark roads and blind alleys, making us assume opinions of both characters. It’s only after opinions are formed that he shines the lights and opens doors to give us more truth and fill in the missing gaps. It is an exercise in empathy. It is an exercise in judgment. And it’s bloody brilliant writing.

“The guy who’s heart you broke when you cheated on him thinks you’re a manipulative bitch, but the homeless person you gave five dollars to thinks you’re a gift from God. The thing is, in a way, everyone is right.”

There is humanity dripping off of these pages, demanding that you open your eyes and look around. It’s easy to hide from these dark subjects, to turn and pretend that it doesn’t happen, that it couldn’t happen. But Hollywood is literally the business of turning humans into a commodity. All Grothaus does is ask us to examine the possibility of what that can truly mean.

This book won’t be for everyone. As I mentioned, there are some dark parts that are very difficult to read. But beyond those passages, this book is stunning in it’s black humor and keen insight. This is a book that will change you, and stay with you long after you close the cover.

Thank you Orenda Books for sending me a copy to read and review!

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!