4/5 stars. Contemporary, Young Adult, Mental Health.
Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of the fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at the 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.
In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.
Aza is worried about getting sick. Every rumble in her stomach makes her think she has a bacteria that will kill her, so to distract herself and to make sure she is real, she presses her thumb into another of her fingers – something she has done so many times that finger has developed a callus, and is always covered in a band-aid (which Aza changes constantly because what if she got an infection?).
She has medicine intended to help her control this anxiety, but what if the medicine makes her not be Aza?
When Aza’s best friend Daisy – a Rey + Chewie fan fiction writer – sees a monetary reward for information about the disappearance of Russell Pickett, whose son Davis was a childhood friend of Aza’s, Daisy encourages Aza to rekindle that friendship so they might find information to lead them to the reward.
I’ve been waiting for another John Green book, and Turtles All the Way Down has finally come. I was surprised by this one because it was much different than what I would call a typical John Green book – and I have read nearly all of them: The Fault in Our Stars, An Abundance of Katherines, Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns, and Let it Snow (a collaboration effort between John Green and two other authors). All of his books seem to be asking the question of how our relationships with people affect our perspective on the world, but Turtles seems to ask a more intimate question on how our own minds and perceptions of the world shape our relationships.
–> see a boxed set with his earliest books here
Kuddos to John Green for using his spotlight to discuss mental health – a topic that is near to him and often ignored or written poorly in novels. He presents Aza’s mental health in such a way that the reader can feel it, and it is described so nobody could say, “Well, get over it. We all feel that way, but you are just being a baby about it.”
Aza, Daisy, and Davis, the three most central characters, were so well developed. Green looked at these characters, their traits, and thought about how each of their situations would find its way into every fold of their lives. How Davis being rich might make him doubt the reason people were interested in his friendship, how he might approach online media as either DAVIS PICKETT or use social media to finally become anonymous. How Daisy might use fan fiction to vent about current every day problems, like how having a friend with a mental illness might be less than fun at times. How Aza’s relationships with her mother, Daisy, Davis, and others would be affected by her mental illness, and her actions. Really beautifully done characterization, as is the case with John Green novels.
Apparently some people are not a fan of the John Green writing style, but I certainly am. He has a skill all writers should have – the skill to constantly observe, and to question, and to discover why human nature is so. He presents his findings with simple clarity in a way I would say is similar to the poet Rupi Kaur. They both find these truths about things we experience every day and they make a point to say them. (See some of these truths John Green has pointed out in the quotes I’ve included at the end of this review).
I thought the one thing this book lacked was with the pacing. It is a short book, under 300 pages, yet the first 200 felt a bit on the slow side. Then when I got to the ending, I was left thinking, that was it? I would have liked more at the end which I can not tell you about because spoilers. Turtles All the Way Down was a bit on the slow side for the first 90%, and then incredibly fast for the last 10%. While this did cause me to remove a star, it did not ruin the read.
Overall, great discussion of metal health, great writing, decent pacing, brilliant characterization. 4/5 stars.
And now some quotes from the book:
“I remembered Daisy throwing daddy longlegs at me because she knew I hated them, and I’d scream and run away, flailing my arms but not actually scared, because back then all emotions felt like play, like I was experimenting with feeling rather than stuck with it.”
“Maybe I’m just a lie that I’m whispering to myself.”
“Sometimes you happen across a brilliant run of radio songs, where each time one station goes to commercial, you scan to another that has just started to play a song you love but had almost forgotten about, a song you never would’ve picked but that turns out to be perfect for shouting along to.”
“You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.”