After waiting 5 years for John Green to publish another young adult book, I can tell you with absolute certainty that the long wait was totally worth it!
Turtles All the Way Down is the story of Aza Holmes, a 16 year old high school student, and her daily struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder. The author also struggles daily with obsessive compulsive disorder, and in a sense Aza’s story has been and continues to be his story. Though the story is fictional, he also writes from a very personal perspective, as he has struggled with the same mental illness since his childhood. At first, I wondered and pondered where in the world the title and the fabulous stack of orange turtle shapes on the cover came from. But then I read a great interview/article about Green and the meaning of the book and it all made sense. About three-quarters of the way through the novel, Green reveals (through Aza) why turtles are used as a symbol for Aza’s OCD thought spirals. You can read the article here.
As with most John Green novels, there is a little bit of mystery and a little bit of romance to keep the story unique and oh so fun to read. Additionally, the novel takes place in Green’s hometown of Indianapolis, which I love. Born and raised a Hoosier, and having lived in Indianapolis for a number of years, I find it so cool to read about places I’ve been and roads that I’ve traveled on in a fictional story. Total fan girl moment!
Aza spends her days in class and many evenings hanging out at Applebees with her best friend Daisy. Daisy is a fun-loving character who writes Star Wars fan fiction, and certainly a friend I would like to have. Aza’s mom is a high school teacher, and her father passed away suddenly when Aza was younger. Aza dreads her required visits with her therapist, Dr. Singh, and doesn’t always take the prescribed medication, as she feels that a tiny white pill shouldn’t be in control of her decisions or her self. The story takes an interesting twist when Aza crosses paths with an old friend from “sad camp,” Davis Pickett. Davis lost his mother at a young age, so he and Aza share a common loss – that of a parent. Davis’s father, Russell, has mysteriously disappeared, and there is a $100,000 reward at stake for anyone who helps authorities locate him. Russell Pickett is extremely rich, but also a fugitive, who is wanted for a fraud and bribery. He disappears in order to avoid being arrested, a move which leaves Davis and his younger brother Noah to fend for themselves. Aza decides to investigate and drags Daisy into her plans. What else has she got to do? And it will give her a chance to get to know Davis a little better, now that he’s all grown up and stirs in Aza new feelings that she hasn’t felt before.
As Aza digs into Russell’s disappearance and tries to sort out what little clues there are, she also grows closer and closer to Davis. However, she is having more difficulty maintaining control of her thought spirals and OCD-induced behaviors. The story peaks and then ends on a bittersweet note, but not in an expected or predictable way, which is much appreciated.
Turtles All the Way Down is now my favorite John Green novel. Green’s personal experience with mental illness shines through in Aza’s character, causing the story to take a life of its own in such a beautiful direction. I would highly recommend this novel to teens and adults. The language is more of the adult nature, but there aren’t any explicit scenes as in some young adult books. As with all John Green novels, there are some memorable passages and quotes that will always stick with me.
Here are a few of my favorites:
When Aza sees Davis in the restaurant on date night, she notices his sleeves are exposing his forearms and notes, “I’m not sure why, but I’ve always been pretty keen on the male forearm.” I think this is perfectly quirky and lovable, just like Aza.
And my ultimate favorite is on the final page during a good-bye moment, “no one ever says good-bye unless they want to see you again.” Ending the book in that way leaves a hopeful outlook for Aza.
Read this book. You will love every page. Trust me. I read and I know things! (That’s on a t-shirt I saw, and I think I must have it.)