Aza is a sixteen year old in Indianapolis. She has a dedicated mother, a lively best friend and terrible crippling anxiety. She runs into a childhood friend, Davis, when his billionaire father goes missing. For a little while, everything seems to be perfect, until her anxiety worsens and Davis' father's mystery grows deeper. As the world around her gets darker, so does Aza's mind as her anxiety attempts to take over.
I've been a huge fan of John Green since Looking for Alaska, and have read almost all of his books mostly when I was in high school and college. I was so happy and excited when he announced he was coming out with a new book. It didn't matter that I don't read much YA Literary Fiction anymore or that I knew nothing about it, I was just excited to get back to one of my old favorite authors. It felt like coming home in a way. I eventually found a signed copy at my local bookstore, Bookmarks, and couldn't help myself.
As always, John creates beautiful and complex characters. They're greatly flawed, every one of them, even Aza's mother who isn't in much of the story, is a full and well rounded character. Aza, the narrator and main character, shines the brightest. She is a strong and unique voice that isn't often seen, especially in this genre. Her philosophical stream of consciousness type of narration can sometimes been dizzing or nauseating. Sometimes you want to grab Aza by the shoulders and shake sense into her, but that's also how Aza feels about herself. The anxiety eventually becomes a character itself who you dread and fear. It's impressive how well John forces us to feel the same way as his character.
One of the most surprising elements of this novel is the plot itself. The summary on the back of the book and the begging of the story implies that the plot will focus on the disappearance of Davis' dad and his corrupt company. It definitely seemed like it was going to be a adventure, thriller story, similar to Paper Towns. Instead, the story focuses on Aza's anxiety and her battle with it. That was an interesting turn of events that initially had me disappointed but I came to appreciate over the course of the novel.
I had a couple of small pet peeves about the story telling. The scenes were fairly repetitive with little action. The characters mostly talk and how they feel and discuss events going on. Luckily the plot and characters are compelling enough to keep me going. It was also frustrating to see John make fall into some habits that new writers make, but I suppose being a well-known author means you can afford to break some rules.
The important thing about this book and why I love it despite it faults, is that it made me feel a way I haven't felt since high school. It's the raw, enthusiastic drive to read a book from cover the cover. It's the kind of drive that makes you spend an entire Sunday in bed, from breakfast to dinner, doing nothing but reading. Ignoring your dog, ignoring your husband, ignoring your arm when it goes numb. All the required reading in college and graduate school make reading sometimes seem exhausting, but it was great to reminded how much fun it can be again.
This book is perfect for John Green fans, YA literary fiction fans and all of us who have struggled with some of the issues Aza is going through. But if you're expecting a beautiful ending wrapped up in a bow, you're going to be disappointed. This isn't the kind of book you're going to walk away from thinking everything in the world is beautiful and that the characters have nothing but rainbows ahead of them. It's a book about the real world and it has a realistic ending, but that does make you feel better in a way. It reminds you that you're not alone, that just because you don't have the perfect ending doesn't mean you're not successful, that you can be messed up and still be worthy of love.