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Basic summary: Two women—Lia and Scarlett-- meet at Oxford University after World War I and fall in love. They eventually part ways because lesbianismBasic summary: Two women—Lia and Scarlett-- meet at Oxford University after World War I and fall in love. They eventually part ways because lesbianism wasn’t really an approved way to live life. Lia moves back to America and becomes a workaholic journalist; Scarlett goes on to become a closeted movie star. Throughout their lives, they come together and fall away; theirs is, at its heart, a “the love that got away until it was almost too late” story. Now: do yourself a favor and, having read this synopsis, don’t bother reading the book. While it’s heartbreaking to think of the countless men and women who had to deny their basic selves and forego lives with the people they loved most, you won’t be honoring their struggles by ingesting this book.
“Show, don’t tell,” the writing gurus advise us. And great, that’s good solid advice. Except I am not ever really sure what that means…until I encounter a book that breaks this cardinal rule. And then I think…Yes. I get it now. Dear readers: this is that book.
To say that this book is poorly-written is to be kind. While I won’t belabor the point overly much through snark, since I don’t make it a life goal to be a big jerk, I will provide the following points:
-This book is the epitome of telling. I have never felt more like a passive audience, being informed of something. It reads like a person’s personal oral history, or recollections, without any editing.
-The pacing is terribly, terribly erratic. A good third of the book focuses on one term at Oxford; the rest of the book jumps ahead two years, then ten years, then twenty, and basically sums up the rest of the main character’s life.
-The character development is shallow, at best. More often, it’s inconsistent and unengaging. At first, the main character Lia professes to love and respect her smothering parents; yet practically as soon as she returns stateside, she begins fighting with her mother and becomes almost estranged from her parents, to the point where she doesn’t even inform them when she is graduating. Some characters, like the people Lia was lodging with in Cambridge, are explored to a certain extent, and then abandoned. We never get a good feel for the secondary characters, like Becks and Will and Robbie; in particular, Will is scarcely, if ever, mentioned after Lia returns from Oxford, yet, towards the end of the book, Lia mentions how “for the first time in a while, I missed Will.” He had been gone from the story for so long that for a moment I was like, “Wait, who?”
-Scene transitions are abrupt and leave you wondering if you accidentally skipped a few pages. (You didn’t). Other topics are introduced out of nowhere, like, when Scarlett and Lia are arguing, when all of a sudden, Scarlett announces, “I went to see so-and-so. He was lobotomized.” Swell.
-The storyline is riddled with gaps and holes. On page 110, Lia says, all casual-like, “since starting my job at the campus library” and I thought, “WHAT job? When did this happen? You’re referencing this like it’s something you mentioned prior, but you didn’t. This is the first we’ve heard of it!” Then later, when she talks about how she and her partner Becks are growing apart, it’s because her job is her true love. Except we don’t even know what her job is. We don’t until later in the story.
-There’s at least one coincidence that is simply too much to bear belief. Lia goes to China to find Scarlett, who is there filming; whilst exploring, she sits down at a hot-pot restaurant and is served by the owner, who turns out to be Scarlett’s father.
While I commend the writer for striking out and publishing a novel, because that’s never an easy feat, I will say that it could benefit from much more meat, as well as extensive editing. In its current form, this book had no business being published or reviewed by a professional journal....more
"Write what you know," goes some old tidbit of advice from some person from some other time. "Don't write what you know," say others. I suspect that a"Write what you know," goes some old tidbit of advice from some person from some other time. "Don't write what you know," say others. I suspect that adherents to both rules have encountered success. I also suspect that Mr. Green, in Turtles, is an adherent to the former rules. He knows a thing or two about a thing or two, after all, but he definitely knows from firsthand experience what it is like to struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and anxiety. The pages of Turtles are soaked in that intimate knowledge, as the protagonist, 16-year-old Aza Holmes, also struggles with these mental health issues. I don't think it will shock anyone to see this (wonderful) book as an attempt from Mr. Green to confront those issues, to connect with people who have them, and to show what it's like to live with them. Autobiographical? Most definitely. Well-executed? Without a doubt. Bittersweet and heavy, and somehow, the most realistic of his books so far.
Also, THANK YOU to Mr. Green for setting the story in Indianapolis, my FAVORITE place in the world. He did an amazing job of capturing the mundane, understated spirit of this city. It's not a flashy place; it's solid and problematic and lovely and pretty low-key, and somehow, all of that comes through in this story. ...more
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