Title: Turtles All the Way Down
Author: John Green
Page Count: 286
Publisher: Dutton Books
Original Publication Date: 2017
Genre(s): Young adult, Contemporary, Realistic fiction
Aza Holmes never thought she’d wind up trying to solve the Case of the Missing Billionaire, but when her best friend Daisy takes an interest in the $100,000 reward, Aza gets sucked into it. She used to know the billionaire’s son, Davis, from when they were children attending a camp for kids who’d lost a parent — Aza’s dad, Davis’s mom. While Daisy and Aza struggle to befriend Davis and find his father, Aza is internally struggling with something else every day. She suffers from a form of anxiety/OCD, stuck in her “thought spirals,” as she calls them. “Invasives,” thoughts growing like weeds in her mind. Aza tries to live a normal life, but can she ever truly have a life if she can’t seem to control her own thoughts? Is there even an “Aza” in the tangled mess of her mind?
Let me start out by saying IT IS GOOD TO HAVE JOHN GREEN WRITING BOOKS AGAIN. Ahem. Anyway. Turtles All the Way Down is the long-awaited novel by my favorite author of all time. And it did not disappoint. The backdrop to this story is a mystery about a missing billionaire, but really, the novel is about Aza and her struggles with her mental illness. The mystery plot carries the story along, but Aza’s mind and how she deals with her anxiety are in focus, here. It is very much an introspective novel, so it does seem slow at times, but the story carries well and takes you from A to Z (like Aza’s name) fairly steadily.
The novel is told by Aza in first-person POV, though towards the end there is gets a little confusing with the whole “breaking-the-fourth-wall” thing. With Aza as our main character, we are reading everything going on in her mind, and for someone with anxiety and OCD, the mind is often a treacherous place. Aza is plagued with thought spirals and invasives — she cannot control her thoughts and they often get out of control, to the point where her actions are erratic and not normal. As someone who has anxiety herself (and possibly a mild form of OCD), this book was definitely triggering. I’m not a fan of that word—triggering—but in this case, that’s how I would describe it. I felt myself growing anxious while reading about Aza’s anxiety. I’m not sure how this book reads to someone without mental illness, but for me, it was hard, because it became a work of non-fiction at that point, a novel about my own mind and its inner workings. I have a feeling people without anxiety probably look at Aza like a freak, but I resonated with her on a deep level. Green definitely captured Aza’s mental illness perfectly, which makes sense since Green struggles with this type of mental illness himself.
Though not a lot happens in the physical realm, you see a lot happening within Aza and her mind. It’s very much that kind of novel. Though I did enjoy the background plot of the missing billionaire. His son, Davis, is this quasi-love interest, but is more of a minor character, which is interesting. Green’s novels are often very much love stories in some ways, but this story has romance on the back burner. Though his love stories give me life, it was sort of refreshing to read this story that focused more on the self. It’s definitely one of those stories that make you think.
Like I said, it was easy to relate to Aza. I share similar threads of her mental illness, which gave me instant sympathy for her. Though I did relate to her, I found it hard to get close to her, if you know what I mean. And maybe you don’t — this is kind of hard to explain. I grow very attached to characters, but I wasn’t as engrossed with Aza as I usually am with Green’s protagonists. I related to her, I sympathized with her, but it was hard to truly get to know her and care about her. Maybe it’s because Aza’s mental illness got in the way of her own personality and person. Maybe that was the point, because when you have panic attacks and anxiety, it’s hard to feel like a person, so maybe Aza not feeling like a person made it hard to truly connect with her. I don’t know. Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I just need to read it again. Anyway, yes, I like Aza, and though it was hard, I enjoyed being in her head with her.
Daisy is really the only other main character of the story. As best friends go, she’s pretty much Aza’s opposite in every way, but that’s what makes them such good friends. When they have that little spat in the car, it really resonated with me in ways I cannot explain. It just reinforces the importance of seeing things from other people’s point of view. I’ve forgotten that lately, and I’m trying to remember it. Anyway, Daisy is a fun character, and since Davis plays a relatively small role in the novel, it’s good that there’s a best friend to fill the spaces.
As you all know, I can’t praise John Green enough. I would literally read his grocery lists (ha ha). I like that he takes randomly absurd plotlines and overtop of those includes really deep, philosophical lessons and meanings. He’s pretty cool. And I love how he can take the most random experience and put it into words, making it the most relatable thing I’ve ever felt.
“I like being outside at night. It gives me this weird feeling, like I’m homesick but not for home. It’s kind of a good feeling, though.”
See what I mean!?
So yes, this book was long-awaited and much appreciated. Thank you, John Green. You’ve changed my life and I hope to meet you one day. Honestly and truly, thank you.
Ah, yes, and feast your eyes upon my gorgeous signed copy!!! I know he signed a butt-load of these and many of you guys have one, too, but I am just so happy about these pen markings on paper. Seriously, this is the greatest thing I own.
“Anybody can look at you. It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see.”
“True terror isn’t being scared; it’s not having a choice in the matter.”
“And the thing is, when you lose someone, you realize you’ll eventually lose everyone.”
“The worst part about being truly alone is you think about all the times you wished that everyone would jut leave you be. Then they do, and you are left being, and you turn out to be terrible company.”
“Our hearts were broken in the same places. That’s something like love, but maybe not quite the thing itself.”
“In the best conversations, you don’t even remember what you talked about, only how it felt.”
“We’re all stuck inside ourselves.”
“You’re both the fire and water that extinguishes it. You’re the narrator, the protagonist, and the sidekick. You’re the storyteller and the story told. You are somebody’s something, but you are also your you.”
“To be alive is to be missing.”
*If you can believe it, there’s about a dozen more quotes I didn’t include.