Book review: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: AmazonGoodreads
Publication Date: October 10, 2017
Source: Borrowed

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.

Sixteen-year-old Aza has enough going on in her life without worrying about the mysterious disappearance of Russell Pickett, her childhood friend’s father.  Despite everything else in their lives, Aza and her best friend Daisy decide to attempt to track Russell down.  Meanwhile, Aza rekindles her friendship with his son Davis and tries to mask her own deteriorating mental health.

Have you ever seen that Tracy Chevalier quote that sometimes shows up while the Goodreads app is loading? “I have consistently loved books that I’ve read when I’ve been sick in bed.”  Well, I don’t know about being sick in bed, but I have consistently loved books that I’ve read while flying.  Except for a brief two-chapter intro that I read in my own bed, I read the entirety of Turtles in the airport and on a plane.  I was sucked in by Green’s writing style and I could not escape it.

Stepping back for a second, let me just say that I was so excited when I saw that a new John Green book had come out.  While I do understand a lot of the criticism of his earlier works, honestly, I’ve loved most of it.  I love his writing style.  I love his pretentious teenage characters. I love the weird plots.  I really just love John Green, okay?  Please don’t judge.

And, honestly, I think that he took a lot of that criticism and actively worked to avoid it in this book.  Because, first of all, this isn’t a love story.  Sure, there’s a little twinge of romance in here, but it’s far from the main focus. The main focus, in fact, is Aza’s mental health and how it impacts every facet of her life.  And let’s get one thing straight – Aza is no manic pixie dream girl.  (And Davis isn’t a manic pixie dream boy, either.)  Both Aza and Davis are their own characters who exist for purposes other than furthering a romantic plot.  Similarly, Daisy exists as more than just a sidekick.

Of course, the kids sometimes talk like they’re 40 (or 80) years old, but I actually didn’t have a problem with it.  It seemed to me that it was very in-character for the child of a quirky billionaire and a girl who’s spent years in therapy to not necessarily speak like your typical teenager. Also, I think it’s important to remember that we’re actually inside Aza’s head more frequently than we’re not.  Aza is very introspective and doesn’t often speak.  We see more of her thought spirals than actual conversations and I thought it was so interesting to see her thought processes.

So, those thought spirals.  This is a topic that’s actually very close to my heart since I have struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember.  While my overall mental health is certainly much better than Aza’s, I definitely saw myself in some of the things that she did.  My anxiety really comes out when I travel, and it’s most prominent and most problematic in the last couple days before I leave.  While I’m not hurting myself or making myself ill, I definitely have thought spirals of my own that I’ve never really seen represented in literature.

I guess my final verdict is that John Green’s still got it, and I’ll still read anything that he writes.  This felt like a slightly more grown-up version of his work and I am totally here for it.

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