Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
Published by Puffin on 10 October 2017
Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.
Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.
I haven’t really read a lot this year, but this book changed that. I received it last Thursday (I pre-ordered it on Amazon because signed copy), and read it in one three hour sitting.
The first thing I want to address is this book’s depiction of mental illness. It is honest and feels genuine. I have clinical depression and generalised anxiety disorder, and Aza’s thought spirals are all too familiar. It was a relief to see some of my flaws and ‘quirks’ in a character, so I can only imagine how much it must mean to a teenager suffering with a mental illness. Green has OCD, so it is easy to see why Aza’s OCD feels genuine. In some ways, Aza’s thought spirals were discomforting – and occasionally horrifying – to read, but you eventually come to terms with being inside a mind that is at war with itself.
“There’s no self to hate. It’s like, when I look into myself, there’s no actual me—just a bunch of thoughts and behaviors and circumstances. And a lot of them just don’t feel like they’re mine. They’re not things I want to think or do or whatever. And when I do look for the, like, Real Me, I never find it.”
In the Tumblr generation, mental illness is almost romanticised, but Green doesn’t do that. You get the shitty part of dealing with mental illness: how frustrating it can be for family and friends. Your world view can become incredibly myopic and all you see is how your mental illness affects you. You don’t always pay attention to the people around you, and you can’t always articulate what you want from them. I appreciated this being explored in Daisy and Aza’s relationship.
Like any John Green book, you can expect some fantastic characterisation. Davis with his fear of nobody liking the real him, Daisy and her Chewbacca x Rey romantic fan fiction, Mychal and his art, Aza and her …everything (she’s a bit like mustard). They feel realistic and they’re memorable. You really come to care for them, and when Daisy and Aza were fighting, my heart was breaking (their friendship is the true love story of this book).
I found the B story of Davis’ missing father to be a little clumsily handled, and felt that it kind of took away from the main story. It was wrapped up hurriedly towards the end of the book, and to be honest I had forgotten that that plot point had been dropped halfway through the book until it resurfaced again. However, the ending itself was realistic, but still optimistic.
I really appreciated the message that life goes on. Maybe you’re not in the best spot right now, but you will get through it. Life is not set in stone. Green never dumbs his books down for his audience, and that is why he is one of the most celebrated YA authors today.