Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers on October 10th 2017
Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at 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.
As John Green books go I’d have to call TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN one of his best. When I think of a John Green novel I think of highly intelligent teenagers and tragic love stories, but that is not TURTLES, not at all. TURTLES has a depth to it than none of the other books he has written have. Whether that is because of its content or the 5 year gap between it and THE FAULT IN OUR STARS I don’t know.
Green has always had a tendency to slide towards the more “literary” pretentiousness of YA contemporary. His characters speak so intelligently that it sometimes seems ridiculous. They talk of the infinities and of oblivion, and while this kind of talk is still present in TURTLES the book itself takes on a much grittier tone without the humor to interrupt some of the darker bits. It’s as if Green decided that what his character is going through should be heard and understood without any interruption, no matter how uncomfortable that may be.
His main character, Aza, is a different kind of John Green heroine. She’s not romantic or capital Q quirky, she’s a girl dealing with the devastating effects of her OCD on her captive mind. Because of this a lot of the book takes place in her own head, the things that the characters around her cannot see affect her more than their actions. And while plenty of outside events play out, that doesn’t seem to be the point of the novel. It’s not the boy and his obsessions with poetry and the stars (a total John Green character) that the reader is rooting for, its Aza against her own mind, a struggle that is far more interesting and relatable than any romance.
Green captures the thought spirals of anxiety and OCD in a way I haven’t often seen before. It’s not the relentless handwashing or the counting, the repetitive actions that you see on TV and in movies. Its the inescapable thoughts, that noose that no one but someone who lives it can truly understand. And yet John puts it on the page with such skill that I think people can understand, at least a little bit, what that’s like. It’s some of the best OCD rep I’ve ever read.
I also enjoyed the friendship aspects of the novel. Aza’s friendship with Daisy is a tight bond with the same ups and downs that happen in many friendships. Even the closest ones. Daisy herself is a little irritating to me. She’s flippant and sometimes has a hard time understanding what Aza is going through, but she tries. She tries very hard. Even when Aza is being a bit of a crap friend herself.
The romance itself is actually very un-John Green to me. Which means its probably the most real and relatable of all the John Green romances. Sure theres the stereotypical looking up and the stars and the poetry that John so seems to love, but there’s so much more to it. To explain much further would mean spoiling the end, so I won’t but I actually found this to be really satisfying.
Overall TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN is a mystery, a story of mental health, with a bit of romance on the side. The facts that the romance wasn’t front and center made me very happy, as it’s really not what the book needed to be about. It is about Aza and her mind, an extension of John’s mind which seems like it was very therapeutic for him. It’s a more personal story and I think it showed.
I recommend this book for those who deal with their own mental health issues, for people who like John Green books but don’t expect a swoony romance, and for those who just want a really deep contemporary. This one is for you.
What is your favorite John Green novel? Share in the comments.
From my shelf to yours,