Though it took John Green six years to write and complete this book, it was worth the wait! Besides my favorite The Fault in Our Stars, this is a close second for me in the beauty of writing and capturing a unique story in such a realistic way.
Aza Holmes has always been kind of stuck in her own head. She has severe anxiety and has been seeing a therapist for years to try different ways of fixing it. Her worst fear is to catch a quick-acting deadly infectious bacteria called C. diff. from, well, anything. She’s obsessed with her body being made up of different bacteria, and consequently suffering with an identity crisis. Is she the bacteria or the bacteria really her? Because of this incessant internal monologue, Aza also feels she’s a sidekick to her best friend Daisy’s life story. And Daisy wants to find the missing billionaire, whose son Davis used to be friends with Aza at Sad Camp, the grief camp for people who’ve lost a parent (Aza’s father and Davis’s mom). If they find him, they could win a hundred thousand dollars, which could help them attend a good college. Daisy pushes Aza to use her past friendship to talk with Davis, and Aza finds him one of the few people who can almost see inside her head, which is terrifying. He’s lonely and has a way with words. Though Aza tries hard, her anxiety gets worse and unfortunately it coincides with her new relationship with Davis and her uncertain best friendship with Daisy, who’s involved with her own new boyfriend. Aza feels like she’s in an ever-tightening noose of her thoughts and nothing can set her free.
This is kind of a semi-mystery as Aza and Daisy are trying to figure out what happened to Davis’s missing father. There seems to be a parallel in thinking between Aza and his father, making her able to associate her own feelings with ones he might have been having before his disappearance. Aza also has an usual relationship with Davis’s younger brother Noah; maybe because she’s different, she comes across as not threatening to Noah allowing him to open up to her about his own vulnerable feelings. This novel defines the perspective of vulnerability rather well with that constant feeling of being unsure and the thought spiral that can occur. One of the biggest strengths is how it illustrates mental illness with particular accuracy and sensitivity. You’ll see that in some of the quotes below. There is a bit of romance, a bit of teen invincibility, and a big element of the importance of friendship.
“The whole problem with boys is that ninety-nine percent of them are, like, okay. If you could dress and hygiene them properly, and make them stand up straight and listen to you and not be dumbasses, they’d be totally acceptable.”
“One of the challenges with pain–physical or psychic–is that we can really only approach it through metaphor. It can’t be represented the way a table or a body can. In some ways, pain is the opposite of language . . . ‘The merest schoolgirl, when she falls in love, has Shakespeare or Keats to speak her mind for her; but let a sufferer try to describe a pain in his head to a doctor and language at once runs dry.’ And we’re such language-based creatures that to some extent we cannot know what we cannot name. And so we assume it isn’t real. We refer to it with catch-all terms, like crazy or chronic pain, terms that both ostracize and minimize. The term chronic pain captures nothing of the grinding, constant, ceaseless, inescapable hurt. And the term crazy arrives at us with none of the terror and worry you live with. Nor do either of those terms connote the courage people in such pains exemplify, which is why I’d ask you to frame your mental health around a word other than crazy.”
“You feeling scared?”
“It’s not like that. The sentences doesn’t have, like, an object. I’m just scared.”
“I thought about how everyone always seemed slightly uncomfortable when discussing their fathers in front of me. They always seemed worried I’d be reminded of my fatherlessness, as if I could somehow forget.”
“You are my favorite person. I want to be buried next to you. We’ll have a shared tombstone. It’ll read, ‘Holmesy and Daisy: They did everything together, except the nasty.'”
“It seemed surreal and miraculous to me that so many cars could drive past one another without colliding, and I felt certain that each set of headlights headed my way would inevitably veer into my path.”
“I started thinking about turtles all the way down. I was thinking that maybe the old lady and the scientists were both right. Like, the world is billions of years old, and life is a product of nucleotide mutation and everything. But the world is also the stories we tell about it.”
“‘The problem with happy endings is that they’re either not really happy, or not really endings, you know? In real life some things get better and some things get worse. And then eventually you die.’
Daisy laughed, ‘As always, Aza ‘And Then Eventually You Die’ Holmes is here to remind you of how the story really ends, with the extinction of our species.’
I laughed, ‘Well, that is the only real ending, though.'”