“You are both the fire and the water that extinguishes it. You are the narrator, the protagonist, and the sidekick. You are the storyteller and the story told. You are somebody’s something, but you are also your you.”Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
It all begins with a fugitive billionaire and the promise of a cash reward. Turtles All the Way Down is about lifelong friendship, the intimacy of an unexpected reunion, Star Wars fan fiction, and tuatara. But at its heart is Aza Holmes, a young woman navigating daily existence within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts. In his long-awaited return, John Green shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity.
After reading John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” and truly enjoying it, I decided to go after some of his other works. That’s when I picked up “Turtles all the way down”. I honestly didn’t have any expectations going into it. It was simply a book I decided to read because of its author. But boy, was I surprised. This book ended up as one of my favorites.
The story is narrated by a troubled Indianapolis teenager Aza Holmes who, along with her best friend Daisy, decides to search for billionaire Russell Pickett, who has gone missing under a cloud of fraud and bribery accusations, in the hope of receiving the $100,000 reward money. Early into their search, Aza begins to fall for Russell’s son Davis who is also troubled having to deal with his father’s disappearance while still mourning his mother who died nine years ago.
When I first read the book’s description I truly didn’t think much of it. It sounds like a simple story…but I should have known better when it comes to Green. While the story line sounds catchy enough – a good old mystery – it is definitely not the main focus of the novel. Aza’s mental health is. She suffers from terrible anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. People tend to associate O.C.D. with repetitive behaviors, but on Aza’s case her repetitive, intrusive thoughts are her true torment. She’s obsessed with – and repulsed by – the ecosystem of bacteria that seethes inside her. She can’t stop worrying about multiple horrible scenarios in which that bacteria is involved, she has to fight off the insistent, unignorable urge to use self-harmful “solutions” to these problems. Sometimes the urge wins.
We spend long periods of time inside Aza’s head, listening to these swift and unsteady thoughts. The rational part of her, the one that sees a therapist and fitfully takes medication, tries to talk herself down. But her mind doesn’t let up. And Green takes us through it all – all the torment and anguish that Aza feels, when she is so hard on herself for being the way she is, and then the moments where she understands her worth and that it’s not only okay, but freaking fantastic to be just the way she is. This is what made me fall in love with this book, how raw and unabashedly real it is. The amazing days, and then the awful ones, and how we are all able to get through them all, just like Aza.
Green delivered one of the most heartfelt and beautifully crafted stories I have ever read. It’s so raw and honest and Green has a way of depicting a mental illness like nothing I have ever seen. Even here, writing about his book, I can’t come up with words good enough to get to at least half of his level of description. It feels like he somehow gets the wildest of feelings, those we can never even dream of being able to explain, and manages to put them into such simple, raw and honest words.
The novel is this great right to its very end. In fact it couldn’t have ended any other way. In true John Green fashion he managed to make an ending so surprising and moving and true that made me burst into tears. You don’t need to be suffering like Aza to identify with it, you only need to be human. After all everyone, at some point, knows what it’s like to get lost in our own minds. And Green shows us how truly beautiful of a journey that is.