My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am the first to admit, I was ready to find fault with this book. After all, we have been waiting for a long time for a new book from John Green and his mental health struggles are well-documented. I was worried he had lost his touch. Boy, was I wrong. I think this is the book John Green has been working towards all his life. His anxiety disorder has informed and nuanced this book and makes it a brilliant, revealing and insightful read. Aza is a realistic and sympathetic protagonist and the support cast of characters feel flawed and true too. Aza suffers from chronic anxiety which manifests itself in a germaphobic way. She is obsessed with contracting a C. diff (Clostridium difficile) infection and even goes as far as swilling hand sanitiser around in her mouth to prevent it. Everyday life is a constant struggle for Aza as she veers between seeming to be like everybody else, and succumbing to her toxic self-talk.
Daisy is Aza’s patient and loving best friend, and she is believably drawn by Green. Star Wars mad, and fiercely supportive of Aza, Daisy reminds me of my best friend in high-school; sometimes it was like us against the world – just like it is for them. Daisy is honest with Aza, and she needs that honesty to help her stay connected to the real world. Davis, the other major character, is wonderful. I was wary of another romantic relationship in a John Green novel, but this one is very different to his others. It’s raw and real, and Davis and Aza stumble and trip their way to mutual understanding through late night text conversations, which I felt was right on the money for them both.
There is a mystery (Davis’ missing father) to be solved, and Aza has a lot to deal with as well.
John Green’s first-hand understanding of anxiety shines through, and his writing is better than ever. When Aza and Daisy find themselves in a sewer tunnel, Aza asks Daisy to turn off her torch:
‘Turn it off. Nothing bad will happen.’ She clicked off her light and world went dark. I felt my eyes trying to adjust, but there was no light to adjust to. ‘Now you can’t see the walls, right? Can’t see the rats. Spin around a few times and you won’t know which way is in and which way is out. This is scary. Now imagine if we couldn’t talk, if we couldn’t hear each other’s breathing. Imagine if we had no sense of touch, so even if we were standing next to each other, we’d never know it.
‘Imagine you’re trying to find someone, or even you’re trying to find yourself, but you have no senses, no way to know where the walls are, which way is forward or backward, what is water and what is air….You’re just stuck in there, totally alone, in this darkness. That’s scary. This’ I said, and turned on the flashlight. ‘This is control. This is power There may be rats and spiders and whatever the hell. But we shine a light on them, not the other way around….This’ I said, turning off my light again, ‘is what I feel like when I’m scared.’ (p.263)
For those of you who swore you’d never read another John Green novel, give this a go. I think you’ll be glad you did. I know I am.
For ages 13 and up