What makes this book interesting is that John Green himself suffers from both anxiety and OCD
Hello everyone! Now that I’ve wrapped up reading The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, I’m reviewing some standalone novels from various authors.
This week, I picked ‘Turtles All the Way Down’ by John Green – who just so happens to be the first male author whose work I have reviewed on this website – no idea how that happened. No ‘in-depth, complex study of the young-adult genre’ that I like to call it, is complete without at least one John Green book.
Why, you might ask? Let’s time travel all the way back to the middle-and-late 2000s. The year is 2005. John Green has just released his debut novel, ‘Looking for Alaska’, and it is one of the pioneering books in the 21st century genre of YA. Green was one of the first authors to step into the YA market, before it became over-saturated with stories about “plain” girls who struggle to choose between their nerdy best friends, and the shiny new – and probably, regrettably self-proclaimed “bad boys” in hideous love triangles that the genre has become stereotyped for.
But I digress. The synopsis reads: “It all begins with a fugitive billionaire and the promise of a cash reward. Turtles All the Way Down is about lifelong friendship, the intimacy of an unexpected reunion, Star Wars fan fiction, and tuatara. But at its heart is Aza Holmes, a young woman navigating daily existence within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.
In his long-awaited return, John Green shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity.”
So, the thing about the plot is that *drumroll* there isn’t really one. Aza’s friendship with Daisy, the story behind Russell Pickett, the ‘fugitive billionaire’ and Aza’s reconciliation with his son Davis, a childhood friend – it’s all just a backdrop, to highlight and bring out the what’s in the foreground – Aza and her brain. Some have complained about the general, well, lack of plot in the story, but really, the focus is on Aza – she suffers from anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
What makes this book interesting is that John Green himself suffers from both anxiety and OCD, and so reading this book helped me understand what that means for a person, what goes through their heads when the spiral and overall, gave me a clearer picture of the two mental illnesses. This book is a #OwnVoices book – term coined by Corinne Duyvis– author of ‘Otherbound’. The term #OwnVoices refers to an author from an underrepresented and/or marginalised group, who narrates an experience from their own perspective, rather than writing as someone outside the marginalised group.
That is one of the factors, along with the “thing about the plot” that makes it a little difficult, a little tricky to review this book. I am in absolutely no position to critique John Green’s depiction of Aza Holmes’ anxiety and OCD however I will mention a bit about the other parts of the story.
Daisy Ramirez was Aza’s best friend – and despite that fact, she was portrayed as a character who didn’t understand Aza’s mental illness. In some cases, her comments seemed exaggerated, but perhaps that how an ordinary comment or question about someone’s mental illness is an interesting ordeal to them.
The breaking point, or climax of the book for Daisy seems to be when she and Aza are in the car crash. But for Aza, trapped in her own mind, her breaking point is in the hospital, where her thought spiral consumes and overtakes her to the point where she does something that could potentially have no return. For the sake of spoilers, I won’t mention the details.
One thing I disliked about this book, however, was the lack of diversity. Perhaps I’m now conditioned by Cassandra Clare’s books to expect more character diversity in terms of ethnicity, gender preference and personality. Yet, in ‘Turtles All the Way Down’, there isn’t much difference or special emphasis on Davis, Daisy, Mychal, or Aza’s mother’s characters. All the characters are assumed to be white – with the exception of Daisy Ramirez. However, as I just mentioned, Daisy doesn’t get much development except for being Aza’s sidekick best-friend.
Overall, Turtles All the Way Down by John Green makes for an interesting read – a must for those interested in learning more about mental illness and affected people’s own views on such, through terms such as #OwnVoices.
If you liked this book, I would recommend reading John Green’s debut novel – Looking for Alaska. The synopsis reads: “Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then. . . .
After. Nothing is ever the same.”
The story is told in two parts – before and after, and is meant for a teen audience, though several others might enjoy the heart-wrenching tale that Green writes as he wraps us gullible readers around his little finger. It is admittedly, a little heavy, and not suited to everyone’s tastes, but I would recommend at least giving this book a try.
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