- The Good: An intimate portrayal of anxiety and OCD; friendship > romance
- The Bad: Mystery sub-plot not fulfilled; best friend more interesting than protagonist
- The Literary: Shakespeare! Yeats! Schopenhauer! Fitzgerald!
Aza Holmes is a normal high school student. She spends time with friends, eats way too much at Applebees, and worries about paying for college, but she’s tortured by anxiety, which often spirals out of control. When a billionaire goes missing and her best friend decides they should investigate, she meets an old friend, and her life takes a new turn.
The intimate portrayal of Aza and her mental illness are at the heart of this novel. It’s a serious struggle, and the book is relatively somber for it. Aza is obsessed with her intestinal microbiology and a wound on her hand that she won’t let heal. She makes headway throughout the story, seeing a therapist and taking medication regularly. But it’s the realization that she will never be completely cured, that she will always live with some form of anxiety, that is the mark of her growth.
In addition to the mental health theme, Aza gets close to the son of the missing billionaire and her best friend reluctantly accepts a date from a friend at school, so some romance threads are set up. Interestingly, they aren’t really paid off. Both girls move on from their love interests before the conclusion. Although I like the shift away from the expected ending, be aware, lest you feel cheated.
And on top of the mental health and romance, there’s a mystery novel in here too. A billionaire goes missing, there’s a cash reward, and it turns out our protagonist Aza has information that the police do not. Unfortunately, this plot line isn’t really paid off either. There is an unexpected twist away from the mystery about half way through, and although the ultimate questions are answered (do they find the billionaire? do they get the cash?), how they do it is not very satisfying.
I really like that most of these characters are passionate about something interesting, whether it be fan fiction, space, poetry, or tuatara. Characters take time to philosophize, which I think is great for a YA novel. And there’s real worry about money and how the poorer you are, the more it dominates your life. Sure there’s a huge difference between a billionaire’s son and lower-middle class Aza, but at least she has a car and a laptop, which her best friend can’t afford.
Recommended for anyone who wants to understand anxiety and obsessive thoughts.
“We never really talked much or even looked at each other, but it didn’t matter because we were looking at the same sky together, which is maybe even more intimate than eye contact anyway. I mean, anybody can look at you. It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see.”