Turtles All The Way Down by John Green is about a teenage girl, Aza. It’s about her relationship with her friend Daisy – who has her own problems. It’s a mystery about the extremely rich Davis’ dad, who ups and disappears one day. It’s about Aza’s relationship with Davis and how her anxiety causes problems within that relationship. It’s about the relationship between Aza and her mother. It’s about lots of things, really, but mostly, it’s about normal teenage angst that has been twisted up and wrought tight by overwhelming anxiety and mental illness.
This book irritated the crap out of me, and let me tell you why.
This is the second John Green book I’ve read, the other being The Fault in our Stars, and I can’t help but notice some massive, sweeping similarities between these two books. Aza and Davis could quite easily be replicas of Hazel Grace and Augustus, albeit with slight relationship differences.
The books are both about illness and how that affects relationships, they are about the spiralling despair and fraught worry faced not only by those who are sick but by their loved ones too.
What’s more, both books are crammed to the brim with characters who are ridiculously open and honest and tremendously eloquent. Characters who can and will admit to how they feel without freaking out or hiding anything, and say it in such a beautiful way that sometimes it is breath-taking.
And of course, they have all memorised streams of quotations that they can recall and blurt out at a moment’s notice and at just the right time. And that’s more than a little unrealistic, isn’t it? I mean, I don’t know many adults who can honestly say how they feel like that, let alone 16 year old kids who are going through super tough times like Aza.
There are other things that are a little unrealistic too – that Davis’ dad doesn’t put anything in place to care for his kids, that Davis hasn’t thought about stock-piling those bundles of cash to prepare for the inevitable, that Daisy can cope with being Aza’s friend despite seemingly getting nothing from it (I know, I know, Aza is sick, Daisy is supportive, but God – sometimes I feel super sorry for Daisy, who’s problems are swept under the carpet like they are nothing, such as when she bares all to Aza only to have Aza switch it back to herself almost instantly).
Green characterises anxiety as having thoughts that are not your own – which may well be true, but isn’t that true of everyone? Is anyone truly in complete control of their thoughts? Of course not – thoughts just pop into everyone’s head randomly, don’t they?
And that whole thing about being *in* love but not being able to be *in* anything else – that quote that’s lauded as profound – to me is annoying. Of course you can be *in* other things. People live *in* hope or *in* peace or react *in* anger and so on.
So many things about this book are awesome. Let me tell you why…
John Green is super philosophical, and I do love me a bit of philosophy. He writes well too, with beautifully flowing sentences that are poetic and artistic and symbolic – sentences that you want to read out loud or read over and over again. The story is peppered with humour as well, leaving me gasping or giggling or whimpering in alternation.
His handling of mental illness is, of course, expertly done. He really gets in the mind of Aza and explains her illness in a simple and understandable way, all the while ensuring that her illness isn’t the only thing about her; Aza is a fully rounded character who you can’t help but fall in love with.
The same can be said of Davis too, and Daisy who is quite probably (no – definitely) my favourite of them all. She’s spunky and supportive but flawed too, and I probably felt more for her than Aza – Aza’s problems may have been more overwhelming but at least she had the support she needed. Daisy seemingly had nothing.
The story is page-turner and kept me awake most of the night. I flew through the book in two short sittings, and I’ve thought about Aza and Daisy a heck of a lot since I finished.
But the most impressive part of these book? How much it made me feel. Whether that was awe or irritation, whether it was happiness or sadness, whether it was annoyance or amusement, this book took me on a thought spiral of my very own and that’s got to be a good thing, right? Right.