Turtles All the Way Down – Book Review
A new John Green Book? Now add a whole lot of exclamations to it and the excitement that should be familiar to you if you admire the guy. Like most of the people, I became a fan after reading, introspecting, pondering, crying and literally rewinding all the beautiful quotes of TFIOS (The Fault in Our Stars), and then eventually read all of his books and found him quite unique as an author. Turtles All the Way Down had his fans waiting for too long, but was it worth the wait?
The Plot of Turtles All the Way Down
In the backdrop, we have a fugitive billionaire and the promise of cash rewards. The book however stars Aza Holmes, a young-adult suffering from OCD and anxiety and struggling for her daily existence within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts. The book also showcases the true form and nature of a lifelong friendship.
It was not a reading experience, but a journey.
When I began reading the book, I had not read the blurb or the plot because I wanted it to be fresh in my mind right from the first page. The initial few pages were nice and pulled me into the book, but as it dived deeper into Aza’s life, her thoughts, her conflicts, her inner demons and the severity of her OCD and anxiety, the book became difficult to read.
I would really like to congratulate John Green on this because Turtles All the Way Down portrays the true nature of mental sickness from the viewpoint of a 16-year-old girl. “Whether it hurts is kind of irrelevant.” Was the first line that really made me ponder on the truthfulness of it. Paraphrasing the book, people always ask us how we are, but the real struggle is whether they are concerned about the same. How will they react if we actually told them that we are not? Will they listen to us?
It is hard to describe a fight with your own brain, but Green has done it efficiently. I think he has a penchant for doing so, but the way he does it makes it easier to fathom for readers.
Turtles All the Way Down also deals with loss. “And the thing is, when you lose someone, you realize you’ll eventually lose everyone.” Unlike many who did not like the book as much, I found the addition of a subplot necessary. May be, Green wanted to show how a person suffering from mental sickness is not exempted from other troubles, griefs and sorrows that a healthy person experiences. The subplots and the supporting characters did help in exploring the true nature in my opinion.
The characters are all very likeable and significant to the story.
In Aza’s mother, we have a woman who wishes only good for her daughter and is worried sick for her health. In Daisy, we have a true best friend who is there for Aza despite of her unusual nature. As her childhood friend, Davis Picket is an interesting character who unlike Aza is not mentally sick, but equally in pain due to his missing billionaire and fugitive father. They are all centered on Aza and have their own significance in her life.
“I guess at some point, you realize that whoever takes care of you is just a person, and that they have no superpowers and can’t actually protect you from getting hurt.” This is something you would realize to be quite true; and not just in Turtles All the Way Down, but also in your day to day life. We do have our own set of beloved people who are there for us whenever we need them, but we do get hurt. It’s a part of life.
The latter sections of the book talks about pain.
Aza is in pain, obviously, but so are the other people around her. John Green describes pain so elaborately that you can instantly connect with it. “Every loss is unprecedented. You can’t ever know someone else’s hurt, not really – just like touching someone else’s body isn’t the same as having someone else’s body.” Rightfully so, deep down, we all are broken by something or the other, but it’s almost impossible to be on the same level of understanding of the person who is experiencing it because pain is not singular.
I absolutely loved the sequence towards the end of Turtles All the Way Down in the tunnel, when Aza explains Daisy on how she feels repeatedly, every single day. “Imagine you’re trying to find someone, or even you’re trying to find yourself, but you have no senses, no way to know where the walls are, which way is forward or backward, what is water and what is air. You’re senseless and shapeless-you feel like you can only describe what you are by identifying what you’re not, and you’re floating around in a body with no control. You don’t get to decide who you like or where you live or when you eat or what you fear. You’re just stuck in there, totally alone, in this darkness. That’s scary. This.”
I would also like to quote another line that Aza’s mother says to her. “You know Sekou Sundiata, in a poem, he said the most important part of the body ‘ain’t the heart or the lungs or the brain. The biggest, most important part of the body is the part that hurts.'”
Turtles All the Way Down does have the young adult flavor neatly knitted into it.
The Picket boy definitely admires Aza. Their chemistry is innocent and you can certainly see a connection. It is however another subplot that helps Green in achieving the true motive of the book. Like any healthy person, Aza also experiences infatuation. It may be because in a way Picket is also experiencing loneliness and pain. But is it love? “Our hearts were broken in the same places. That’s something like love, but maybe not quite the thing itself.”
Picket definitely serves as an important part of the book and Aza experience several different emotions upon getting in touch with him, but their story together is just a way to highlight how a person without an anxiety or OCD would have been contented with it while Aza cannot let go of her thoughts that are suffocating her every time she goes intimate with him.
Then there is a quote that further clarifies on the mindset of Aza. “The problem with happy endings,” I said, “is that they’re either not really happy, or not really endings, you know? In real life, some things get better and some things get worse. And then eventually you die.”
The Climax of Turtles All the Way Down
If you were looking for a closure here, you might have missed several books of John Green he wrote before The Fault in Our Stars. The book ends with a hopeful vision. Throughout the book, you learn and live with Aza and then when you finish it, you can totally relate to several instances and leave the book with an undying hope that things will be bright someday.
Daisy explains to Aza, “You pick your endings, and your beginnings. You get to pick the frame, you know? Maybe you don’t choose what’s in the picture, but you decide on the frame.” When you think about it, it’s true. May be Aza’s action in the climax (I won’t spoil it for you) was her way of dealing with things and in a way, it was right (at least I felt so).
The quote that really touched my heart in the final act was – “You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.”
This book is love. John Green is Love.
I can’t really compare Turtles All the Way Down with any of his previous books, because it’s quite different. However, I absolutely loved it because of the way Green has written it, for all the quotes that I have mentioned with my review, for his seriousness about mental sickness and the great effort he has pulled with all the philosophical narration.
Just because you cannot see it, doesn’t make it less real.
Mental Sickness is quite common in present generation. Any person who suffers from it would appear to be the most normal person, but is growing hollow from the inside as you are reading this. They don’t talk because we often ignore the notion or even dare to laugh upon it. However, we need to be serious about it, listen to them and help them overcome it because just like us, they do deserve to be happy and flourish.
PS, If you are interested in the special edition jacket poster, here it is:
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