Saturday, January 13, 2018

Whistling In The Dark by Shirley Hughes

Whistling In The Dark is set in a suburb of Liverpool, England during the period from the fall of 1940 to the spring of 1941. It follows a small community of neighbours as they struggle to cope with the nighttime bombing of the docks of Liverpool, the rationing of food and goods and the appearance of a mysterious stranger.

Liverpool was a major port located on the northwest coast of England, where the River Mersey meets the Irish Sea. With its strategic location, docks which were used by the Royal Navy and the many industries, Liverpool was recognized as a key port by Hitler. As a result the city became the second most bombed after London, during the Blitz, suffering many casualities. The first bombing raid occurred in August of 1940, and continued throughout the autumn of 1940.

Joan Armitage lives in a suburb of Liverpool with her mom, her seventeen-year-old sister Audrey, her brother Brian and a younger sister Judy. Joan's father, who was a wireless operator on an oil tanker in the Merchant Navy was lost at sea.  Audrey's beau, Dai Davies is also serving in the Merchant Navy helping bring food and supplies to England. Audrey worries about Dai and each short leave he's granted is time for them to quickly see one another. Many families have lost a father or a brother so they understand the fear.

As Joan is working on her french homework one evening in the sitting room she hears a faint low whistle and then sees "the dark shape of a man looking in at her." Terrified, Joan opens the door to see Brian arriving home on his bike from grammar school. They immediately lock the back door and when Mum arrives home, she and Brian search the garden and surrounding bushes without luck.

At school the next day, Miss Sanderson introduces a new girl, Ania who is Polish. To prevent Angela and her friends from bullying Ania,  Joan's best friend Doreen makes a point of talking to Ania during the mid-morning break. Doreen tells Joan that Ania is an orphan who came to England on the Kindertransport and now lives with the elderly Mrs. Mellor.

Besides school, Joan goes to the teenage hops at the youth club and to the cinema, usually the Queensway Cinema to see American movies. These movies offer her "a glimpse of heaven compared with the chilly reality of the blackout and endless queues for the meager family  meat ration..." She also does youth-service work with Ross Jenks and Derek Williams, collecting salvage for the war effort. One afternoon on their way to look for salvage they decide to stop at the old Royal Hotel which is now used to house evacuee children from the risky areas of Liverpool.  The hotel is run by volunteers from the Women's Voluntary Services (WVS). A few of the children tell Joan and the boys that they believe the hotel is haunted because they hear footsteps at night and strange noises coming from the attic.

When Joan returns hope she finds Captain Ronnie Harper Jones, who is stationed with the Army Catering Corps paying her mother a visit. Although Joan doesn't like Ronnie who she thinks is "on the oily side", she does like the parcels of food he brings for them. Joan's mother insists that she attend the charity dinner dance in aid of the Red Cross at the golf club; Ronnie is taking her mother, which does not make Joan happy. Both Audrey and Brian also don't like Ronnie. Before Ronnie leaves, two army men arrive to question Mrs. Armitage about whether they've seen anyone suspicious lurking around. They inform the family that a Polish refugee with the Pioneer Corps has deserted. Although she remembers the earlier siting of the man around their home, Mrs. Armitage lies to the army men, later telling Joan that she doesn't know the circumstances and if the stranger is the Polish man she wants him to have a chance to get away as incarceration in the Military Prison is terrible.

As the Blitz in Liverpool intensifies, Joan finds the frightening bombing raids to be one of many situations to be overcome. The annoying visits of Captain Harper Jones lead to an upsetting decision by Joan's mother. The discovery by Derek and Ross of a hidden cache of blackmarket foodstuffs result in a serious accident and the uncovering of a local blackmarket ring that brings down a highly respected resident. Added to this is the reappearance of the mysterious stranger whose presence complicates life for Joan and her family.

Discussion

Whistling in the Dark paints a realistic picture of life in Liverpool during the Blitz of 1940-1941. Author Shirley Hughes draws on her own personal experience of having lived through the Liverpool Blitz when she was a teenager.

Narrated by Joan Armitage, the first part of the novel develops the setting, providing young readers with a sense of life during wartime. In many ways life went on during the war; Joan and her friends go to movies at the theatre, attend dances and she continues to take art lessons. Her sister Audrey has a boyfriend in the Merchant Navy and her mother is being courted by a much disliked Captain Harper Jones. But Joan's narrative mentions the many ways life in Liverpool changed during the war: the blackout curtains, the shortage of nylons leading women to paint their legs with gravy browning, children scavenging for metal and other scraps for the war effort, the rationing of coal and food especially meat and sugar. Hughes particularly focuses on the children being hungry; "...they were aching with hunger." and how when visiting each others homes, they refused food because "in this era of food rationing, it wasn't polite to accept food." And of course the bombing raids which overshadow all aspects of life.

One especially memorable scene in the novel in which the terror of the bombing raids is captured occurs when Joan and Doreen go to the cinema to see a Betty Grable movie. In the theatre, they hear "the heart-sinking wail of the air-raid siren outside". Instead of enjoying the film, Joan finds she can't concentrate, "Her ears, like everyone else's were straining to catch the sound of those engines getting nearer: German Focke-Wulf bombers on their way to drop their nightly barrage of high explosives to pound the Liverpool docks." They must remain in the theatre, the power goes out frequently leaving them in total darkness, flakes of plaster occasionally falling from the ceiling as they heard "the distant sickening crunch and thud of explosions over Liverpool..." And afterwards when the all clear has sounded and Joan and Doreen along with others leave the theatre, "...the sky over Liverpool was blazing orange and fiery red."

Using the character of Ania, Hughes also explores the plight of Jewish children sent to England via the Kindertransport. Ania arrives in Liverpool completely alone and is eventually befriended by Joan and her family. Readers also see the attitude that existed towards deserters like Ania's uncle, Likasz Topolski, who has deserted only because he wants to meet his neice.

Within the novel however is a more courageous story - that of the role of the Merchant Navy in bringing in food and supplies to Great Britain at tremendous risk. This risk meant that everyone was careful not to waste and that many necessities were done without. It was a risk Joan and her family knew well as her father had been lost at sea and it was a risk Audrey lived with daily regarding her boyfriend Dai.

Hughes packs a ton of action into the latter half of the novel; Ania's story is developed, the identity of the mysterious stranger revealed, the discovery of a black mark cache and numerous plot twists that make for an exciting and satisfying ending.  Whistling In The Dark covers many aspects of wartime England in an informative and engaging way for younger readers.
 
For further information on Liverpool during the Blitz:

The Imperial War Museums website has substantial information on the Liverpool Blitz.

The Merseyside Maritime Museum website.

Book Details:

Whistling In The Dark by Shirley Hughes
Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press   2015
227 pp.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

DVD: Victoria and Abdul

The movie Victoria and Abdul portrays the unusual friendship which developed between Queen Victoria of England and an Indian Muslim servant, Abdul Karim. This relationship was to cause scandal and intense jealousy among the Victorian British aristocrats and royalty of the time. It was largely forgotten mainly because after Queen Victoria's death, all of the correspondence between Abdul and Victoria over a thirteen year period was destroyed by members of the Royal family.

Almost immediately after the elderly monarch's funeral, Queen Victoria's daughter Beatrice and her daughter-in-law - King Albert's wife - Queen Alexandra walked to Frogmore Cottage - the home of Abdul Karim and his family-  on the grounds of Windsor Castle. They burst into the home and forced Abdul's wife to hand over the letters Queen Victoria had sent him. The house was searched by accompanying guards and any letters, correspondence, notes, and postcards were removed, and thrown into a bonfire on the lawn. Abdul and his wife were summarily deported the next day to India. Albert had finally erased all evidence of Abdul Karim from his family's history. Or so he thought.

The story of their unique friendship might never have come to light if it were not for Indian author and journalist, Shrabani Basu. On a visit to Osborne House on Isle of Wight to see the newly restored Durbar Room, Basu couldn't help noticing the several portraits of Abdul Karim, especially one by Rudolf Swoboda. Although she initially thought he was an Indian servant of the late Queen, Basu noticed that Abdul was portrayed as a nobleman. Her interest piqued, Basu began her research, a task that would take her to three countries over a period of five years. First she discovered the late monarch's thirteen Hindustani journals, written in Urdu, a language the queen had learned to read and write from Abdul. The journals which were kept in the Royal Archives, had never been translated. Basu also located a few surviving pieces of correspondence written by Queen Victoria to Abdul and read the personal diaries of her physician, Sir James Reid as well as the correspondence of the Royal household, the Viceroys of India and many other letters written by the monarch.

Rudolf Swoboda's portrait of Abdul Karim
 To learn more Basu travelled to Agra, India where she located Abdul's abandoned and derelict tombstone and she also discovered the house that Abdul had built on land given to him by Queen Victoria. However the family was no longer living there and the house was occupied by a Hindu family who informed her that Abdul Karim's family had moved to Pakistan after the 1947 Partition of India.

Basu returned to England and in 2010 published her book about Abdul and the Queen, Victoria and Abdul: The True Story of the Queen's Closest Confidant.  Eventually she was contacted by the great nephew of Abdul who told her that the family in Karachi, Pakistan had possession of Abdul's journal. From this journal, Basu was able to piece together the long-forgotten story of Abdul Karim and his thirteen-year friendship with Queen Victoria. It was a story King Edward VII and the royal court attempted to wipe away when his wife Queen Alexandra and Princess Beatrice arrived at the home of Abdul after Queen Victoria's death.

Victoria and Abdul, directed by Stephen Frears is based on Basu's book. The  movie  begins Abdul's story in Agra in 1887 with Britain having formally ruled India for twenty-nine years at this point. Abdul Karim, who is seen recording the names of criminals, is called to the Government office to see Mr. Tyler. Tyler thanks Abdul for the carpets he chose to be sent to the British Exhibition and states that the Governor General has decided to present the Queen with a "Mohur" as part of the Jubilee. To present this coin, Abdul and another Indian have been chosen to travel to England. While Abdul is excited at this prospect, Mohammed intimates that he was forced to make the journey.

In England Abdul and Mohammed have authentic uniforms tailored for them and after being instructed on how the evening at Windsor Castle will proceed, they are warned not to look directly at the Queen. This is an instruction Abdul disobeys as he is backing away from the queen. The next day as Abdul and Mohammed are readying to leave England and return to India, Mr. Bigge arrives to inform them that they will be remaining in England. Eventually the two are made the Queen's personal footmen.

As Queen Victoria spends time with Abdul she learns about his family, about the beauty of India including the Taj Mahal and the Peacock Throne, but also about the pillaging of these national treasures by the British. Abdul tells her about spices and Indian food including garam masala, Dal rogan josh and chutney made of mango. And Abdul begins to teach the Queen how to speak and write Urdu, the language of the poets.When Queen Victoria reveals her loneliness and sadness and that she no longer sees a purpose for her life, Abdul tells her  life is about service. He quotes a verse from the Koran, telling the Queen, "We are here for the good of others."and reveals himself to be a Muslim.  Abdul tells Queen Victoria that he is a Muslim and that his father was his munshi - his teacher. Inspired by his words, Queen Victoria requests that Abdul become her munshi, to teach her the Koran, Urdu and anything else he can think of.

But Queen Victoria's growing friendship with Abdul, her learning to read and write Urdu, and her bestowing honors and titles on him, lead to resistance, jealousy and plotting within the royal household to get rid of Abdul.

Discussion

Victoria and Abdul is a fascinating film about a little known friendship during the reign of Queen Victoria. The movie stars Judi Dench as Queen Victoria, Ali Fazil who portrays Abdul Karim, Adeel Akhar who is Mohammed Buksh, Michael Gambon as the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury and Tim Pigott-Smith as the Queen's Private Secretary, Sir Henry Ponsonby. Eddie Izzard looks remarkably like his character, Bertie, The Prince of Wales and the future King Edward VII. And for Dench, it's not the first time she's portrayed Queen Victoria; she starred in Mrs. Brown, a film about her deep friendship with John Brown, a Scottish servant.

The film is "based on real events - mostly" as a disclaimer states in the opening scenes. Most of what is portrayed in the film, Abdul's unusually intimate friendship with Victoria, her learning Urdu, and the racist and jealous attitudes towards Abdul are accurate.  However, Director Frears does take some liberties. For example, Abdul did not travel to England to present the Queen with a newly minted medal but came to England because Queen Victoria requested two Indian attendants for her Golden Jubilee celebrations. While Queen Victoria is portrayed as a racially tolerant woman, she was British and the British ruled over India with policies that created serious racial and religious tensions on the Indian subcontinent. The Victorian court and Victorian society viewed dark-skinned people as unequals and social policies reflected this belief. The British attitude is subtly portrayed throughout the film; for example when Arthur Bigge sets foot back in England, he remarks, "Civilization!" even though like India there is a class system and beggars on the docks.

Abdul (left) and Mohammed (right)
In the film, Victoria is portrayed as quite ignorant of the culture and beauty of India, despite that fact that one of her titles is Empress of India. This may have been because, as she explains in the film to Abdul, she has never visited India due to fears that she would be assassinated. Abdul tells her about the spices and foods of India, garam masala and chutney made of mango - fruit Victoria is determined to sample.

Abdul tells her the story behind the building of the Taj Mahal in Agra, but he also tells her that the jewels of this historic and important site were stolen by the British. He enthralls the Queen with his descriptions of the Peacock Throne which he claims was smashed by the British as a punishment for the Indian rebellion. In the film Queen Victoria is portrayed as being quite dismayed at the destruction of the Peacock Throne and the vandalism of the Taj Mahal, however, these actions were likely seen as justified by the British and occurred while Victoria was Queen.

Nevertheless, Abdul was able to influence the Queen to learn something of Indian culture, so much so that she even created her own Durbar Room at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. She commissioned John Lockwood Kipling and Sikh artisan Bhai Ram Singh to decorate the room which was filled mostly with gifts from Indian princes.

The Indian view of Queen Victoria and the British is presented in the film through the character of Mohammed Buksh. While Abdul is thrilled to be traveling to England to meet Queen Victoria, Mohammed is not impressed because she is someone who has "oppressed the entire Indian subcontinent". Mohammed often makes humorous but accurate statements about the British throughout, and he is shown as refusing to help Bertie and other members of the royal household when they ask for help in forcing Abdul to return to India. His derision towards Bertie is marked and representative of the growing resentment of the Indian people towards the British.

Overall though Victoria and Abdul is an entertaining film that opens a window into the very end of the Victorian era. Frears was able to film on location in many of the original settings including Osborne House, Balmoral Castel and Glen Affric and the cinematography captures the beauty of these places admirably.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

Turtles All The Way Down is John Green's most recent novel, published six years after his very popular The Fault In Our Stars. In this new novel, sixteen-year-old Aza Holmes attempts to solve the mystery of the missing father of a friend while dealing with her own mental health issues. Although the novel begins with a mystery, Aza's attempts to solve it are gradually hijacked by her increasingly oppressive thought spirals.

The novel opens with Aza eating lunch with her best friend Daisy Ramirez at school when Daisy and classmate Mychal Turner tell her that Davis Pickett's father has disappeared. They are certain Aza knows Davis from attending camp with him a few years ago. In fact, Aza did attend Camp Sphero with Davis after both fifth and sixth grade. It turns out Davis's father  disappeared the day before being arrested on bribery charges. Police arrived at his home early in the morning with a warrant but he wasn't home and hasn't been seen since. As a result there is now a hundred-thousand-dollar reward for information leading to his arrest.

Daisy struggles to attract Aza's interest in solving Pickett's disappearance so they can claim the hundred-thousand-dollar reward. This is because Aza is struggling to cope with her obsessive compulsive thoughts about contracting a Clostridium difficle bacterial infection. Aza is reading the Wikipedia article on human microbiota and worrying about whether her stomach noises are a sign of impending illness.

From Daisy's research they learn that Russell Pickett CEO and founder of Pickett Engineering, wasn't home when Indianapolis Police arrived with a search warrant. Detective Dwight Allen stated that he was last seen by his sons Davis and Noah the previous night and that there are no surveillance cameras on the property. However Aza  who spent some time on the Davis estate when she was younger, remembers that there was a motion capture camera in the woods by the river. Because there is a camera at the front Gate, Daisy believes that Pickett walked through the woods and left via the river so he would not be seen.

Daisy and Aza sneak onto the Davis property from the river using an old canoe that Aza's family has. After wandering through the trees on the grounds, Daisy locates the night-vision camera and Aza connects her phone to the camera. She is able to download a photo from September 9th of "the back of a stocky man wearing a striped night-shirt. Time stamp 1:01:03 a.m." Quickly, Aza and Daisy are picked up by Lyle, a security officer for the estate and they tell him Aza knows Davis but that their canoe took on water and they had to beach it.

Lyle takes the girls to the house and there they meet Davis who is puzzled to see them but realizes that like many others they are after the reward money. He tells them he doesn't know the whereabouts of his father and after treating them to Dr. Pepper's Davis drives them home in his Cadillac Escalade. Daisy and Aza continue to dig up information about the Pickett family, learning that entire Pickett fortune will go to the pet tuatara in the hopes that the fountain of youth can be discovered. They also uncover the reason for Pickett being under investigation: he allegedly bribed "state officials in exchange for contracts to build a better sewer overflow system in Indianapolis." A police report that Daisy manages to obtain tells her and Aza that they know more than the police do at this point.

Davis texts Aza telling her he is reluctant to become friends with anyone because he won't know if they are simply after his money. Aza reveals that they know something about his father and asks if it will make things worse for him if they go to the police. Davis asks her not to go to the police. Daisy who has agreed to go out with Mychal has Aza set up a double date with Davis Pickett. After dinner at Applebee's they go to Davis's mansion. While Mychal and Daisy check out the artwork, Davis shows Aza the movie theatre and then takes her outside to the golf course where they lay in a sand trap and talk. Aza tries to explain her struggles with obsessive compulsive thoughts to Davis but when they begin kissing her compulsive thoughts about germs take over. After pulling herself together they talk about the night vision picture of his father. Davis needs to know whether Aza is there because she genuinely likes him or because she's after the reward. To solve this problem Davis decides to give Aza the one hundred thousand dollar reward in cash.

The next morning Aza tells Daisy about the money which they split equally, depositing it in bank accounts with the help of Davis's lawyer. This leads Daisy to quit her job at Chuck E. Cheese and to buy herself a new laptop and a car. Although Noah sends Aza more information about his father, Daisy and Aza give up their investigation. Daisy has the money and isn't interested while Aza's OCD begins to increasingly take over her life.

As Aza's friendship with Davis begins to develop, her relationship with Daisy begins to fall apart. It isn't until she has a serious accident that Aza is finally forced Aza to confront her illness and work on trying to get better.

Discussion

Green latest novel, Turtles All The Way Down, is a revealing portrayal of mental illness and its debilitating effects, one which the author is intimately familiar with. The story is told by Aza Holmes who is now an adult, reflecting back on this portion of her life. Aza has obsessive compulsive disorder , experiencing compulsive thoughts focused on her contracting serious bacterial infections such as C. difficile. These thoughts force her to stay mostly in her head, meaning she struggles to develop relationships with the people around her. Her thoughts also lead her to have a distorted view of herself: she doubts the reality of her existence, she questions whether she is able to control her own life and she believes that she is merely the sum of her thoughts.

The image of Pettibon's spiral that Green felt
represented a "thought spiral".
Aza describes her thoughts as invasive, so distracting she often gets caught in what she calls a "thought spiral" in which she is mostly inside her head. For example, when Mychal is telling Daisy about his new art project, Aza wants to listen but her thoughts about a possible bacterial infection are overwhelming. As a result, she doesn't notice that her friend has dyed her hair,  she's unable to tell Daisy that she does remember Davis Pickett, that she remembers summer camp and that she likes her idea for Mychal's art project because "the thoughts kept coming, unbidden and unwanted."

Green uses the imagery of spirals, gyres, whirlpools, galaxies and circles to portray Aza's unwanted, intrusive and obsessive thoughts. These images all describe the never-ending, infinity of OCD thoughts and actions. This is perhaps best exemplified when Aza visits Davis's home she notices the colorful spiral by American artist, Raymond Pettibon and experiences the urge to grab it off the wall and run away with it. "It didn't feel like something I was looking at so much as something I was part of." Green states that he used the Pettibon painting in the story because it "felt for the first time like I had seen a direct expression of my experience with obsessive thoughts. I didn't feel like I was looking at a metaphor for my thought spirals; I felt that I was looking at the thing itself." Turtles All The Way Down is not a reflection of Green's own experiences of OCD, but it is his familiarity with illness that allows him to capture it so effectively.

In trying to explain what she experiences to Davis, Aza struggles to convey the idea that "When my thoughts spiraled, I was in the spiral, and of it." Aza explains to Davis that her spiral is different from the "widening gyre" William Butler Yeats mentions in his poem 'The Second Coming.'"But the really scary thing is not turning and turning in the widening gyre' it's turning and turning in the tightening gyre. It's getting sucked into a whirlpool that shrinks and shrinks and shrinks your world until you're just spinning without moving, stuck inside a prison cell that is exactly the size of you, until eventually you realize that you're not actually in a prison cell. You are the prison cell."

Aza's belief that the "real" her, the "way-down-deep" her is trapped in this prison, leading her to wonder if she is real. This struggle to determine if she is real begins to take center stage in her existence and has many facets. She tells her therapist, Dr. Singh that thinks she might be "fiction".  Aza wonders if there is a "way-down-deep me who is an actual, real person" or is she "only a set of circumstances"? She tells Singh, "...I don't control my thoughts, so they're not really mine. I don't decide if I'm sweating or get cancer or C. diff or whatever, so my body isn't really mine. I don't decide any of that -- outside forces do. I'm a story they're telling. I am circumstances." Singh responds by telling Aza that she is giving her thoughts too much power; "Thoughts are only thoughts. They are not you. You do belong to yourself, even when your thoughts don't." 

In trying to explain how she sees herself to Daisy Aza states, "...It's like when I look into myself, there's no actual me -- just a bunch of thoughts and behaviours and circumstances. And a lot of them just don't feel like they're mine. They're not things I want to think or do or whatever. and when I look for the, like, Real Me, I never find it. It's like those nesting dolls,  you know? The ones that are hollow, and then when you open them up, there's a smaller doll inside, and you keep opening hollow dolls until eventually you get to the smallest one, and it's solid all the way through. But with me, I don't think there is one that's solid. They just keep getting smaller." Aza believes she's not able to find the "real" her but doesn't recognize that this is a product of her obsessive thought spirals.

Aza's image of the nesting dolls reminds Daisy of two stories told about the Earth; a scientist who explained how the Earth formed over millions of years but then was told by an elderly lady that the Earth is actually a flat plane resting upon the back of a turtle which sits on another turtle. When questioned what was underneath the turtle she states that it is "Turtles all the way down." This story is a paraphrasing of a story often told to express the problem of "infinite regress" ( a sequence of reasoning that goes on infinitely, that is forever) in cosmology. For Aza the quest to find the real Aza is like "Turtles all the way down" - a form of obsessive thought spirals that as Daisy points out to her friend is not accurate.

Because Aza believes her thoughts control her, she wonders if she's real and in control. "And it's kind of terrifying to me that what I think of as, like, my quote unquote self isn't really under my control?...And if you can't pick what you do or think about, then maybe you aren't really real, you know?..." To convince herself that she's real, Aza continually digs her fingernail into her fingertip, reopening the wound so that it bleeds and must be constantly bandaged. But even this seems in adequate to Aza because she feels doing this "didn't even prove what I wanted it to prove, because what I wanted to know was unknowable, because there was no way to be sure about anything."

Green's characters are delightful yet tragic, eccentric yet normal, multi-dimensional and downright fascinating. Aza has OCD, is intelligent and has a sixteen-year-old Toyota Corolla, with a paint color called Mystic Teal Mica and named Harold by her father. To help the reader understand what Aza experiences, there are page-long descriptions of the thoughts and internal dialogue that Aza has with herself as her thoughts loop infinitely around whether or not her finger wound has become infected or she has C. difficile. She is resilient and courageous, although she doesn't recognize herself as being so.

Daisy is Aza's best friend and is somewhat eccentric herself: she writes fan fiction about Chewbacca's love life with Rey. Daisy wonders how to help her friend, "Like, does it help to be reassuring or is it better to worry with you? Is the anything that makes it better?" But she also finds being Aza's friend draining. "You're so stuck in your head, ...It's like you genuinely can't think about anyone else....It's just frustrating sometimes...But you're slightly tortured, and the way you're tortured is sometimes also painful for, like, everyone around you."  To express what she feels, Daisy has created a character Ayala who is representative of Aza in her fan fiction.

Davis Pickett is the caring boy Aza falls for, a poet, but whose circumstances are tragic; abandoned by his father, the fortune he was due to inherit given to a pet lizard. Davis who seems so sweet is desperate for Aza to get well, something she just can't promise him. The cast is further rounded out by Dr. Karen Singh whose genuine concern towards Aza and her positive attitude portray the benefits of having a good therapist.

Green avoids a saccharine ending, where Aza seizes control of her condition, changes how she views herself and gets well. Through Aza, Green explains that happy endings are not really happy or not really endings. Instead the ending of the novel is realistic and authentic. When Aza has a pessimistic view of how her life will be, Daisy tells her,  she can be the author of her life; "You pick your endings, and your beginnings. You get to pick the frame, you know? Maybe you don't choose what's in the picture, but you decide on the frame." 

Aza breaks off with Davis because she tells him she can't be what he expects and hopes she will be. "I know you're waiting for me to get better...it's incredibly sweet, but, like, this is probably what better looks like for me." Aza knows everyone wants to hear that she's getting better but the reality is something less happy. "Everyone wanted me to feed them that story --darkness to light, weakness to strength, broken to whole. I wanted it, too."

Aza comes to the realization that she will go on, just as Davis will go on after he learns of the death of his father. "I would always be like this, always have this within me. There was no beating it. I would never slay the dragon because the dragon was also me. My self and the disease were knotted together for life." But Green does end the novel on a hopeful note; Aza does go on to have a mostly good life, a family, and perhaps most importantly a deep and true friendship with Daisy.

Turtles All The Way Down is authentic, somewhat intense in that it is a realistic piece of fiction that challenges readers to try to understand mental illness and the challenges involved. There are so many themes to explore in this novel, for example the meaning of friendship, and the literary references Green sprinkles throughout the novel (Sherlock Holmes and The Great Gatsby). Let's hope we don't have to wait another six years for Green's next novel.

Book Details:

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green
New York: Dutton Books    2017
286 pp.