Today I want to talk about the book I finished most recently, and cannot stop talking about.
In case you didn't already know, Turtles All the Way Down is John Green's newest book. Five years after The Fault in Our Stars, he's finally released another book, and it was well worth the wait.
A little background...
If you're not familiar with John Green, he's pretty open about having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I don't know much about OCD, except little bits here and there. In Turtles All the Way Down, the main character, Aza, has OCD, and it really dominates the narrative as it follows her in a particularly distinct period of her teenage life. The father of a childhood friend, Davis, has just disappeared (on his own terms), and her best friend, Daisy, is intrigued by the situation. While Aza's regular teenage life stuff - friendship, boyfriends, and trying to investigate the disappearance of her friend's millionaire dad - plays out around her, inside, she's dealing with intrusive thoughts and thought spirals that come with OCD.
Like I mentioned, I don't have OCD, but I do have a panic disorder, and the oppressive anxiety and panic that comes with OCD felt so familiar that I connected with Aza anyways. There's one moment on page 167 (no spoilers, promise) when Aza's mom is asking what's wrong and Aza replies, "there is no reason." I highlighted the crap out of it. Mental health disorders have no reason to be. They just are.
Aza actually knows Davis because they met at "sad camp," a camp for kids with a dead parent. Davis's mother died from illness, and Aza's father died suddenly due to heart problems. So while it happened a while ago, Davis and Aza are still dealing with the death of their relative parent. I really connected with the explanations and feelings of grief throughout the novel, as well.
It reminded me a bit of The Fault in Our Stars in a way that I wonder if I loved it so much because I connected with it. But so many other people seemed to be loving it, too, so it can't be just that.
John Green writes in an extremely poetic way. For a Young Adult writer, John Green knows that his audience isn't stupid. Sometimes I read (some) YA fiction and feel like the author has dumbed down the language just because they're writing for a teen audience. I'll be honest, I hate seeing this in writing that isn't adult fiction. It's extremely problematic that writers for younger audiences (even if the audience is 4 year-olds!) assume that their audience isn't as smart. But when you open the first page of Turtles All the Way Down, you know immediately that the author isn't dumbing it down.
I feel like every time I picked up this book, I started to get emotional. The way Aza has thought spirals felt so similar to the way panic attacks happen. The way thoughts and emotions build up until eventually it explodes - or in Aza's case, she acts on her intrusive thoughts. I found John Green's writing incredibly powerful in these cases. Probably because he knows exactly what it's like - the power of writing what you know (and ownvoices literature).
I also loved the characters. We're only given characters that are fully flushed out. There's Aza, Daisy, Davis, but there's also Noah (Davis's brother), Aza's mom, Mychael (her friend), and Dr. Singh. These are all full, true characters. The rest of them are brief, but are hardly introduced because they don't really matter. They have complex relationships with each other, as well. Aza and Daisy have the friendship of regular teenage girls. They have their struggles and get annoyed with each other sometimes, and they work together on their friendship. I appreciated this so much. There is representation of what it's like to try to be a good friend when you have a mental health disorder, and how to be a good friend to someone who has a mental health disorder. There's a definite learning curve, and as a twenty-something, sometimes I find that I'm still figuring it out. I loved Aza and Daisy's friendship a lot.
There is so much more that I could talk about, but I don't want to bore you with my english major tendencies, you'll just have to read the book and see for yourself.
And one last thing: I thank the heavens that John Green recognizes that teens dnt txt like this :).
Were you not planning on reading Turtles All the Way Down (like me) but thinking about doing it because of all the praise it's been getting? Consider this another push. You don't have to love it and connect with it like I did, but I still think it's worth a read.
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(I'd also really recommend listening to Ariel Bissett's podcast, Books Unbound, if you want to hear some more discussion!)