Thursday, October 12, 2017
Book Review: "Turtles All the Way Down" by John Green
"It's so weird, to know you're crazy and not be able to do anything about it, you know? It's not like you believe yourself to be normal. You know there is a problem. But you can't figure a way through to fixing it. Because you can't be sure, you know?"
When Aza and her best friend Daisy learn about the disappearance of the town's notorious billionaire, Russell Pickett, the father of one of Aza's childhood friends, they are intrigued by the mystery. And when Daisy learns that there is a $100,000 reward for information leading to Pickett's capture, she convinces Aza to help her investigate. While Aza honestly doesn't care about the money, she's doesn't mind that she gets to be reunited with Davis Pickett, on whom she had a crush when she was younger.
As Davis and Aza grow closer, both struggle with questions about the meaning of life and the true nature of existence. Aza tries to help Davis deal with his feelings of abandonment, whether he even wants his father to return, and what it will mean for him and his younger brother, Noah, since their mother died several years earlier. Davis tries to help Aza by understanding the intensity of her thought spirals, and helping her have the type of relationship she can handle, but as her problems deepen, no one can provide her any comfort.
Turtles All the Way Down is an unblinking look at living with mental illness. There's no candy-coating Aza's feelings, and how helpless and frustrating her illness is for her family and friends. It's also a poignant look at just how much we need love, friendship, acceptance, and understanding, and how debilitating it can be to try and understand the challenges that life throws at us.
There's a point in the book when Daisy tells Aza that someone once said she was like mustard, "great in small quantities, but then a lot of you is...a lot." To be honest, while I believe this is an important book, I found it was a little like mustard, and almost relentless. In his quest to give readers a you-are-there feeling where mental illness is concerned, I felt as if John Green sacrificed the book's humor and much of its heart. While Aza and Davis are fascinating characters, I found Daisy tremendously unlikable, while many of the other characters aren't well drawn.
As always, Green's teenage characters are wiser and more erudite than most adults. But that aside, he really shows his storytelling skills when describing Aza's anxiety. Here this paragraph, for example:
"I don't know, like, I'll be at the cafeteria and I'll start thinking about how, like, there are all these things living inside of me that eat my food for me, and how I sort of am them, in a waylike, I'm not a human person as much as this disgusting, teeming blob of bacteria, and there's not really any getting myself clean, you know, because the dirtiness goes all the way through me. Like, I can't find the deep down part of me that's pure or unsullied or whatever, the part of me where my soul is supposed to be. Which means that I have maybe, like, no more of a soul than the bacteria do."
I loved loved loved The Fault in Our Stars and really enjoyed Paper Towns, and I would be lying if I said I didn't hype this book up in my mind. As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety in my life, and struggled to describe how they make me feel, this book is definitely helpful. I wish I liked it more, but I'm glad I read it. Now maybe I'll go back and read some of his older books.