Turtles All The Way Down – John Green
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.
Review: Look at me! I actually read this book right after it came out instead of buying it and putting it on a shelf for months. I’m proud of myself. To an outside observer, it might look like I’m in control of my life.
“If only I were as good at life as I am at the internet.” – Turtles All the Way Down
Okay. I’ve been a John Green fan for nearly a decade. I love his sense of humor and the way he looks at the world. When I heard he had a new book coming out, I was thrilled. I went out on release day, found myself a copy, and started reading immediately. I adored the beginning, but as the book went along, I started to get disappointed.
The story is narrated by sixteen-year-old Aza, who has crippling obsessive compulsive disorder. When the billionaire father of her childhood friend goes missing, Aza and her other friend, Daisy, decide to investigate. Maybe they can find the missing billionaire and claim the $100,000 reward.
The plot of this novel is very different from what I expected. I blame the synopsis for that. It kind of felt like a bait-and-switch. I expected to read a story about two girls searching for a missing billionaire. The book actually does start out that way. Then the mystery disappears, and it becomes a book about a girl having OCD. That’s when my attention started to wander. I found the mystery story a lot more compelling than the sick-lit story. I kept hoping we’d get back to the mystery, but we didn’t until it was accidentally solved at the end of the book.
Basically, this novel has an identity issue. It’s a story about mental health problems with an underdeveloped mystery thrown in. Novels don’t need to fit into neat genre boxes, but I’m not sure what this book is. It isn’t what I expected.
Even though the mystery gets lost in all the OCD stuff, I like the ethical questions it raises. What if a missing person doesn’t want to be found? What if the missing person’s family wants them to stay missing? If you know where the person is, are you required to call the cops, or can you keep the info to yourself? It’s all very thought-provoking.
The author gets a lot right about anxiety. I can’t comment on the OCD stuff because I don’t have experience with that, but I think the portrayal of anxiety is extremely realistic. Aza is trapped inside her own head. She feels cut off from others, even when she’s sitting right beside them. She feels like she’s an inconvenience to other people. I’ve experienced all that myself. I love that Aza’s mental illnesses weren’t cured in the book, and I like that being in a relationship made the illness worse, not better. I’ve never seen that in a book before, but it makes complete sense to me. Starting a new relationship can cause big changes in a person’s life. Even positive changes can be stressful.
“True terror isn’t being scared; it’s not having a choice on the matter.” – Turtles All the Way Down
“Everyone wanted me to feed them that story—darkness to light, weakness to strength, broken to whole. I wanted it, too.” – Turtles All the Way Down
I did wonder who Aza is on her “good” mental health days. This book shows her at her worst. She’s hospitalized and struggling to find a medication that works. But, what does she do on days when she feels okay? We learn that she loves her car, is in AP classes, and doesn’t like space movies. There has to be more to her than that, right? Why is Daisy friends with her? What do they do together? I wanted to know more about Aza.
How much you enjoy this book will depend on your tolerance for John Green’s characters. Like in his other books, the characters in this one are overly precocious teens who discuss philosophy and quote poetry at each other. I (mostly) like them because they’re funny and make me think. Their pretentiousness did get on my nerves a few times, though. I rolled my eyes especially hard at Davis’s melodramatic blog posts. Why did we need to read so many of those?
I guess I have the dreaded mixed feelings about this book. I had fun reading it. It made me laugh. It made me think. It irritated me. It’s not what I expected. It’s relatable. It’s beautifully written. It’s a half-baked mystery with a lot of other stuff going on. I mostly liked it. I’ll definitely read whatever John Green publishes next.
“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.” – Turtles All the Way Down