Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for Turtles All the Way Down and Speak Easy, Speak Love
Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers on October 10th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
#1 bestselling author John Green returns with his first new novel since The Fault in Our Stars!
Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.
Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.
In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.
While not my favorite John Green book, Turtles All the Way Down was still a moving read for me. I loved the main character Aza, who is smart, funny, and sometimes extremely quiet. She’s quiet because she is living with OCD, which often occupies her thoughts and keeps her locked inside of her own head. John Green does an incredible job of showing what OCD is like from inside the mind of someone who is actually experiencing it. It’s raw and honest and sometimes quite painful to read. If you think you know what OCD is like from either something you’ve read or maybe from someone you’ve watched going through it, you only know part of it. Seeing from Aza’s perspective that ever-tightening spiral that kept her locked inside of her own mind was so enlightening. Turtles All the Way Down is also an #ownvoices novel, so many thanks to John Green for sharing his own experiences with us.
In addition to the way it provides a greater understanding of OCD, I also liked the book’s focus on friendship. While I wasn’t big on the part of the story where Aza and her best friend, Daisy, decide they want to play amateur detective and investigate the father of Aza’s friend, Davis, I was very big on their friendship. Aza and Daisy have a wonderful relationship that is built on honesty, even if that honesty is sometimes a little brutal. I liked the idea that Aza ultimately knew she had someone in her corner no matter how tough things got.
What else? Oh, a really sweet romance develops between Aza and Davis. I liked Davis a lot and thought he and Aza had wonderful chemistry. More importantly, I didn’t feel like their romance took away anything from the rest of the story and I liked that romance was not a cure for OCD.
The only thing I really didn’t like was a distracting and seemingly random subplot about an ancient lizard called a tuatara that Davis’ father kept as a pet. Maybe there was a deeper meaning there that I missed, but for me, the lizard was just in the way. Still a moving and entertaining read overall. 3.5 STARS
Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George
Published by Greenwillow Books on September 19th 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction, Retelling
Six teenagers’ lives intertwine during one thrilling summer full of romantic misunderstandings and dangerous deals in this sparkling retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.
After she gets kicked out of boarding school, seventeen-year-old Beatrice goes to her uncle’s estate on Long Island. But Hey Nonny Nonny is more than just a rundown old mansion. Beatrice’s cousin, Hero, runs a struggling speakeasy out of the basement—one that might not survive the summer.
Along with Prince, a poor young man determined to prove his worth; his brother, John, a dark and dangerous agent of the local mob; Benedick, a handsome trust-fund kid trying to become a writer; and Maggie, a beautiful and talented singer; Beatrice and Hero throw all their efforts into planning a massive party to save the speakeasy. Despite all their worries, the summer is beautiful, love is in the air, and Beatrice and Benedick are caught up in a romantic battle of wits that their friends might be quietly orchestrating in the background.
Hilariously clever and utterly charming, McKelle George’s debut novel is full of intrigue and 1920s charm. For fans of Jenny Han, Stephanie Perkins, and Anna Godbersen.
Speak Easy, Speak Love was just such a delightful read for me. It’s a retelling of one of my favorite Shakespearean plays, Much Ado About Nothing, and author McKelle George manages to capture all of the magic of the original play, while simultaneously crafting a fresh new story. If you’ve read the original play, you’ll be particularly delighted to know that not only does she have her own Benedick and Beatrice, but their verbal sparring without a doubt rivals that of their Shakespearean counterparts. I found myself laughing out loud numerous times, which is always refreshing.
Aside from bringing to life new versions of my favorite characters, George also chooses a fabulous setting for her retelling, New York in the 1920s. The 1920s is such a rich and vibrant part of American history and I loved how George was able to incorporate so many important aspects of that time period. She seamlessly weaves in Prohibition and speakeasies, the Mob, the Jazz Age, and with Benedick in particular who wants to be a writer, she also touches on the rise of great American authors like Hemingway and Fitzgerald.
I can’t recommend Speak Easy, Speak Love highly enough. There are lots of great shoutouts to Much Ado About Nothing sprinkled throughout the novel too, so before you read the book, I’d definitely also recommend reading the play or, even better, watch the 1993 film version where Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson play Benedick and Beatrice. So much fun! 4.5 STARS