John Green's TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN: A Study of Character
by Sara Voigt (@meaningfulmadness)
Friends, first of all, I must say, I love John Green. I love some of his books more than others, but what I like about his writing is that he doesn't rush his characters. He develops them, and the story follows. Often his books aren't super plot driven, but instead are a study of how characters, many with quirks and oddities, relate to people, themselves, and their environment.
Green's most well-known work is probably The Fault In Our Stars, which is a good book. This is the book that sparked the ill-teenager love story phenomena. However, my favorites of his books are the ones that focus on the nuances of character that many of us have, but aren't explored as deeply (especially in the Young Adult arena) as Green does in his work. Examples of these include An Abundance of Katherines and Looking for Alaska. I will say that I had heard some buzz online that this was targeted more for an adult audience than a young adult audience, and I did not get that at all. This seemed right in Green's lane for a young adult book.
Turtles All the Way Down centers on a 16-year-old-girl named Aza who struggles with extreme anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. The book is somewhat touted as a mystery, and there is a mystery, but it played a distant second fiddle to Aza's struggle to deal with her own thoughts and to participate "normally" in interactions with her friends and in social situations. When I think of this book, I almost forget there was even a mystery at all. What sticks with me, and what I continue to think about, is the apt way that Green handles Aza's crippling anxiety and the care he takes in describing her spiraling thoughts.
Daisy, Aza's best friend, and Davis, Aza's love interest, are both strong secondary characters who complement Aza's journey throughout the narrative.
The mystery in the book centers on Davis's missing billionaire father, Russell, who has disappeared on the heels of a scandal within his multi-billion dollar company. When a $100,000 reward is offered for information leading to Russell's whereabouts, Daisy and Aza decide they will try to find him to collect the reward. I waited to mention this here because, to me, this is the least interesting part of this story.
What I appreciate so, so much is the time that John Green takes to develop his characters. Aza is one of my favorite characters I have ever encountered. She has had a traumatic experience in her life that contributes to the manifestation of her anxiety. The deft handling of the events in the story, and just the way that Aza tries to fight something that the people in her life don't understand, equals a character that I cannot forget.
What John Green brings to light in the pages of this book is that often, anxiety, depression, and mental illness as a whole are hard for people who are not experiencing these things to understand. However, it is very real to the person who is experiencing it. This is what Turtles All the Way Down relays so well. Aza provides a lens through which the reader can experience what it is like to be in this mental space. It is why I continue to think about Aza long after finishing the book.
If you can't tell, I really loved this book. Green's work isn't for everyone. If you are a reader who loves a nice, neat ending, Turtles All the Way Down probably won't be a satisfying read for you. This aspect is what I love about John Green, but I know not everyone likes endings like these.
Note: There is some language (Daisy has a potty-mouth.) and some alluding to sex, so I would be careful putting it in the lower middle grades. I think this would be a great read for high school students.
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