Finally! A new John Green book! John Green fans, rejoice! It’s been since 2012 since we’ve had new JG material. I must warn you, though, don’t expect this new novel to have the same tone as TFIOS which featured teens dying of cancer in a really beautiful, poetic, sweet, often-funny, and tragic way. Turtles All the Way Down is the exact opposite of TFIOS. It’s a raw, gritty, painful, often-difficult to read, brutal look at the reality of anxiety and OCD and the thought spirals that go along with these disorders. Although the plot includes a love interest, there is nothing romantic about this book.
Aza is 16, still grieving over the father who died years ago, basically has only one friend, and suffers from debilitating anxiety and OCD. Her disorder manifests itself in the form of intrusive thoughts that spiral out of control on a near-constant basis. Aza refers to these thoughts as “invasive thoughts” because, like invasive plants, they cannot be controlled. Aza’s one friend is Daisy; she could not be more different from Aza. Daisy is bubbly, funny, comfortable in her own skin, talented (she is a semi-famous author of Star Wars fanfic), sociable, and struggling with her family’s poverty. When the story breaks that a local billionaire has gone missing and a $100,000 reward will be given to anyone with information on his whereabouts, Daisy decides that she and Aza are going to be the ones to get that money. Daisy points out that Aza actually knows the billionaire’s son - Davis. Aza and Davis attended “Sad Camp” together a few times several years ago (Davis has a dead mom) and developed a friendship, but she hasn’t seen him since. Daisy decides it’s time Aza reunites with Davis. And the story begins.
Because it’s a JG book, I had to tag many of the pages to reflect on some of the awesome quotes (the publisher knows this about JG books so the book came with a package of tags - love it):
“I was so good at being a kid , and so terrible at being whatever I was now” (25).
“If you could dress and hygiene [boys] properly, and make them stand up straight and listen to you and not be dumbasses, they’d be totally acceptable” (40).
After Daisy and Aza’s big fight, Daisy is trying to describe Aza to Aza by comparing her to their city of Indianapolis: “You work with what you have. They had this s*** river, and they managed to build an okay city around it. Not a great city, maybe. But not bad. You’re not the river. You’re the city” (243).
“As I stood underneath the water, I wondered what I’d worship as I got older, and how that would end up bending the arc of my life this way or that. I was still at the beginning. I could still be anybody” (269). There’s that hope I love so much in YA.
“As Always, Aza ‘And Then Eventually You Die’ Holmes is here to remind you of how the story really ends, with the extinction of our species” (276).
“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” (285).
“ . . . no one ever says goodbye unless they want to see you again.”
Turtles All the Way Down has a definite autobiographical feel to it, especially if you are aware of JG’s struggles with mental illness. In his Vlog Brothers post from July 25, 2017, he describes his illness and it sounds a lot like Aza’s.
Below are links to articles (one written by John, himself) about John’s struggles with mental illness and the obstacles he had to overcome in order to write Turtles:
John Green on 'Turtles All the Way Down,' mental illness: 'I can only think in swirls and scribbles'
John Green’s new book is not a quirky sad romance. It’s an existential teenage scream.
John Green on Mental Illness and Writing a Book That Mirrors His Own Life
My NerdCon Stories Talk about Mental Illness and Creativity
I’ve not read a better book describing what it’s like to have a mental illness. It made me uncomfortable and scared and it also made me understand this illness just a little bit better. And isn’t that one of the reasons we read? I love that readers who would normally not pick up a book about mental illness are going to pick this one up just because it's written by John Green. They are going to get a whole new reading experience. I predict Turtles All the Way Down will become the quintessential YA novel on mental illness.
Finally, John recommends viewing the video below for some background on Aza's obsession with the bacteria in her body. I learned a lot from watching it. Including stuff I really didn't need to know, like poop transplants (no, really).