“This guy knows a lot about Tuatara.” That was one thought that ran through my head whilst reading his latest YA novel, “Turtles All the Way Down,” by John Green.
This caused me to, of course, Google Tuatara & discover that they are endemic to New Zealand, have three eyes, are known as “living fossils” & just generally freak me out a little bit. Still, let’s hope that John Green doesn’t leave his well-earned fortune to a descended-from-extinct-reptiles-that-were-around-at-the-time-of-the-dinosaurs creature. (See, I told you I’d googled them.)
Anyway, I digress…
(Note: Spoilers ahead. Turn away now or forever live in regret. You have been warned. No, seriously. Go away if you haven’t read the book yet, but intend to. Hey — I’m only thinking of you!)
To the book.
Aza Holmes is a 16 year old girl plagued by Obsessive-Compulsive-Disorder (OCD).
Her best friend is (Star Wars Fan Fiction writer) Daisy Ramirez.
Aza’s father is dead; her mother is coping.
Dr Singh is Aza’s shrink and she tells her that she will survive; Aza’s brain tells her that she won’t.
The backdrop to Aza’s life:
Russell Picket – billionaire, leaver of his fortune to a Tuatara (the first few sentences of this review make a little more sense now, huh?), and father to Aza’s old “sad camp” friend, Davis, is missing in the wake of a fraud investigation.
“…sad camp…this place down in Brown County for kids with dead parents.”
There is a $100,000 reward for info on his whereabouts and Daisy wants it for her and Aza.
Cue some teenage loitering, spying and getting caught out.
“A distressed Damsel has no companions.”
Lovely Davis (seriously, he is lovely!) gives Aza the reward money despite her and Daisy having done nothing to help find his dad. All of this is done in the hope that Aza will still remain his friend. His gamble obviously pays off and she does.
Their relationship blossoms, loving feelings alight, kisses are exchanged. In the midst of Aza’s OCD spirals however, she just can’t handle a relationship of that magnitude and so things come to a melancholic end.
John Green Gets Personal
John Green, 5 years since the release of Fault in Our Stars, comes back with a hard-hitting fictional story personal to his own struggles since childhood.
As well as explaining the outward effects of this mental illness, John endeavours to delve inside Aza’s psyche, giving us a running commentary on the inner workings of her mind. He does so brilliantly.
Long after I finished reading, I realised that Aza rarely speaks aloud. Everything we hear from her is an internal “monologue”, as though she is unable to articulate how she feels into words.
Did I Relate?
Prone to anxiety myself, I found Aza easy to empathise with at times, harder at others. She is, for example, entirely unable to apprehend the world outside of her own head. We most easily see this in an argument with Daisy where we discover that, despite being best friends, Aza knows barely anything about her. This leads to some parts of the book being frustrating. Some in the book club even went so far as to call her “annoying” and I can sort of see where they’re coming from.
A Hard Subject to Read About
This is a book about OCD and the relationships formed within and around that illness. Because of this, the book is often times painful, uncomfortable, unflinching and raw. It is so honest that at points I found my face set in a grimace of discomfort.
The audience is held entirely captive by Aza’s own obsessiveness. Paragraphs teem off into ranting inner monologues concerning microbiomes and the disgust and the fear that Aza can never escape (a plot device no doubt intentionally used by Green to show how debilitating OCD is).
A most disturbing part of the book concerns Aza opening and re-opening a callous on her finger. She injects hand-sanitizer into the cut to try flush out bacteria that she is convinced will kill her and it is horrible.
Later, she drinks it.
“This[…]scientist[…] gives this presentation about the history of the earth and life on it, and then at the end, he asks if there are any questions.
An old woman[…]raises her hand and says[…] ‘the earth is a flat plane resting on the back of a giant turtle.’
The scientist[…]responds, ‘[…]if that’s so, what is the giant turtle standing upon?’
‘[…]It is standing upon the shell of another giant turtle.’
[…]the scientist is frustrated, and he says, ‘Well, then what is that turtle standing upon?’
And the old woman says, ‘Sir, you don’t understand. It’s turtles all the way down.’
“Holmesy[…]you’re trying to find the turtle at the bottom of the pile, but that’s not how it works.”
“Because it’s turtles all the way down,” I (Aza) said[…], feeling something akin to a spiritual revelation.
I love that Aza gets a revelation and I love that it’s offered to her by the friend she so often dismissed.
Is this my Favourite John Green Book?
Honestly? No. And I think at this point, I’ve read them all.
The biggest (and probably my only) issue with the book is that I don’t really love any of the characters. I wanted to, but I just couldn’t. Anyone who’s read Fault in Our Stars knows that loving Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace Lancaster is as easy as reading one of John Green’s books. They know that, as awful as Margo Roth Speigelman is, Quentin “Q” Jacobson is as lovely. There is always a character you can love in one of John’s books, however here, I just didn’t feel it. Even as lovely as Davis is, more than anything, I pitied him. I wanted him to be stronger and to help him but I didn’t love him.
But do you know who I do love?
I Love John Green
I do. Not in a “ooh he makes my heart flutter and my knees tremble” kind of way. But in a “man, I respect this guy so much” way.
That more than makes top for not loving these characters as much as I probably should have.
John Green is funny, intelligent; he owns his own problems. He adores his family, writes about stuff that matters and in a way that millions of people can relate to. He is articulate, a super proud nerd and most definitely someone to look up to.
What would I rate it?
I think 4 stars is good – simply because John’s writing is just so damn beautiful at times that it has to be appreciated! The way he describes Aza’s thought-processes, the depth of emotion he is able to convey, the way he allows us a path in to empathise with someone who is going through something we never will. There’s some truly wonderful writing in this book.
What do you guys think? Drop me a comment below!
Our Next Book…
Click the link below to get our next months book, A Christmas Carol, which we’ll be reading while celebrating the Christmas season!
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Check out the book of the month page to see which book we’re currently reading!