The anxiously awaited John Green novel, Turtles All the Way Down, is much darker than his usual works, but all the more breathtaking.
Typical elements of a John Green novel such as the stirring friendships amongst friends with oddly specific characteristics and existential questions are all still present. Awkward undertones, and an abrupt ending that is not really qualified to be an ending, still deliver the same impact to readers.
Even in the presence of all of these stereotypical elements needed for a John Green production, this book stood out in the fact that Turtles All the Way Down was definitely the hardest to read. The entire novel takes place inside of the protagonist’s mind which is filled with obsessive and compulsive thoughts that can be disturbing for squeamish readers. For instance, the protagonist feels the compulsion to continuously reopen a wound on her forefinger, drain the blood, and sanitize it afterwards.
“I wanted to give people a look at living with a mind that doesn’t feel like it’s entirely yours,” Green said at the launch event for Turtles All The Way Down in New York City.
Green has been open about his own struggles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (O.C.D) on his Youtube channel and in various interviews. Through the inner monologues of the main character, Aza, readers instantly develop sympathy for her. Green was extremely successful in depicting the mind of a person plagued with compulsive thoughts.
The book begins with a series of inner monologues by Aza about how she has no control of her own life, and then her best friend, Daisy, explains how a millionaire goes missing and that there is a reward for anyone with any information. This is how Aza comes across her love interest, Davis, her old camp buddy and son of the missing millionaire. The mystery does not come up much because as Aza and Davis’s relationship develops, Davis gives Aza and Daisy money to stop investigating.
The mystery hardly drives the book at all. It is more of an afterthought, or an event that leads to the reintroduction of Ava and Davis. Daisy and Aza merely stumble upon the solution to the mystery by coincidence.
The love between Davis and Aza is not at all the main focus of the novel, which is highly unlike John Green productions, which are usually overflowing with love and awkward but cute romantic scenes, as observed in The Fault in Our Stars, Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns. This book is more about Aza learning to love herself rather than to love another person, which is something a lot of people need to be focusing on in this day and age.
The book is a little slow in terms of action and events because it is mostly just thoughts and inner monologues. It is far from boring, as the book travels far into the thought spirals, of the protagonist which is dark yet mysterious and intriguing to read. The only element in the novel that seemed to drag on and take up unnecessary space were the statistics and factual information about C.diff, a bacterial infection that Aza is terrified of.
Because readers spend so much time in Aza’s mind, there is a sense of sympathy readers almost instantaneously develop for her, and hopefully for real people that struggle with O.C.D. There is a powerful line on almost every page that readers can take away and apply to their own lives. The entire novel is overflowing with impactful metaphors that almost force readers to pause and absorb the words they just read.
Endings in most of Green’s books have usually been shocking or devastating. The way he brought this book to an end was realistic and true, but hardly an ending at all and a tad underwhelming. He ends it in a way that makes readers feel like the book never ended. Perhaps this is because Aza’s restless mind never seems to stop and so that is the impression Green wanted to give readers of this book.
This book is considerably different from his past novels, but this new style is refreshing. This book was well written and the simplistic, awkward tone really enhanced the novel.
This book should be read by those that need to learn empathy and people that are patient and intrigued by differences. It gives a much needed insight as to what it is like living with a mental disease and to be a prisoner in your own mind and body.
This society needs more books that generate understanding and compassion for people that are struggling or people that are different, as Turtles All the Way Down successfully accomplishes.