John Green’s first stand-alone contemporary novel since 2012 has finally arrived, and to no one’s surprise, it’s yet another terrific piece of fiction. Turtles All the Way Down is not only a delightful read, but it’s also a vital work for those of any age that feel separated, overwhelmed, misplaced or broken.
The novel follows 16-year-old Aza, a neurotic girl and obsessive germophobe with just a hint O.C.D tendencies. When a childhood friend’s father goes missing, Aza and her best friend are determined to find him and claim the $1 million reward that’s placed on him. As the novel unravels upon itself, Aza’s already spiraling thoughts entrap her, making her feel as if she’s at war with her own mind. Turtles has already received a great deal of praise from prestigious news outlets and fans alike.
Though admittedly the novel begins at a somewhat sluggish pace, Green’s familiar infectious writing style does not disappoint and pulls you under its spell before you’ve realized you’re halfway through the novel in one afternoon. Like Aza’s train of thought, the narrative flows naturally, weaving and winding through her raw, unflinching thoughts as she attempts to understand what it means to be alive and have free will. Green, unlike any other young adult writer, excels in his ability to humanize his characters, compelling you to become completely obsessed with Aza and co. even after you’ve flip that final page.
Like all of Green’s works, Turtles has a distinct ‘feel’ from his other novels; in that, this novel is easier to comprehend compared to some of his earlier works. Though, through this simplicity, it also loses the classic complexity and unique characteristics that we’ve come to associate with Green. Despite this, Green manages to appeal to readers through a variety of story- telling techniques that further display his narrative prowess.
The highlights of this novel definitely rest in the amount of times I related to and teared up at Aza’s self-imprisonment. At several times throughout the novel, you’re taken on a seemingly baseless journey through Aza’s thoughts as she obsesses over what truly makes up the essence of a human being. Are we simple organisms who lack all control and bend to the will and wishes to the bacteria that feasts on the nourishment that we feed it? Or are humans created to just live and die with a profound lack of meaning? These are the out- of-body questions that the novel tackles, and I was happy to see that Green knocks them out of the park, causing me to, willingly or not, delve into what I consider to be humanity and the purpose of my existence.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a John Green novel without a stellar love interest and eventual hook-up, which, honestly, was a bit disappointing, considering this is his most realistically depicted relationship. Unlike the gentlemanly, impossibly romantic, flawed Augustus and timid, hilariously mighty Hazel Grace, Aza’s and Davis’ relationship is…well, surprisingly dull, which in way, is a completely deliberate mirroring of relationships based in reality. Also, considering this novel is more focused on Aza and the human mind, a relationship is definitely not top priority, but this is where the bulk of my issues with the book stem from. The relationship itself is fine, but ultimately, it’s tough to nail down a coherent plot.
The novel begins with a chase for a lost billionaire, but once that storyline wraps for a bit, Green homes in on the dynamics between Davis and Aza, which makes up a huge part of the novel, but if the relationship is dreadfully dull, then there’s not much that’s keeping you reading. I’ll admit, while reading scenes solely relying on the awkward interactions of Aza and Davis, I couldn’t help but to yawn and feel the desire to insert my bookmark and focus on some other labor. Though, I realize this may be because I’ve become so disconnected from the oversaturated young adult genre and relate more to well-developed, flourishing relationships between 20-somethings. Essentially, the romance in this novel comes down to the reader’s tastes and preferences in fictional romance.
Despite these sparse, very minor gripes, it’s clear to me that this novel deserves to be read. Though not my favorite John Green novel, I found myself constantly entranced by how far he goes with this character. Aza may not have suffered any physical pain, but seeing the mental scars and psychological trauma was incredibly painful. When even her best friend eventually becomes fed up and lashes out because of Aza’s O.C.D, anxiety-strewn nature, I was crying at my desk. I cringed and hugged myself while pushing through Aza’s many therapy sessions where you see her attempt to give coherent descriptions to the unfiltered thoughts that intercept her mind and thrash at her on a daily basis.
I truly cannot put into words how connected I’ve become to this novel and how in the short time that I spent reading it, helped me through burdensome moments. I cannot recommend this novel enough, especially if you are a fan of John Green’s earlier works.
Turtles All the Way Down is available everywhere and is waiting for you to experience it.