When this book caught my eye, I realized that I had never read a John Green book — not one — which is strange considering that I enjoy contemporary YA books and I’ve faithfully watched John and Hank Green’s weekly vlog Brothers videos for several years now. Since Turtles All The Way Down is his most recent work, I decided to start with that one.
The blurb is as follows:
Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.
Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.
In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.
The Missing Billionaire
The story starts out when Russell Pickett, a billionaire goes missing just before his arrest, and there’s a $100,000 reward for information leading to his arrest. Aza and her best friend Daisy search for clues about his disappearance, hoping to collect the reward. It’s worth mentioning that Russell Pickett is no stranger to Aza — or at least, his son Davis isn’t.
As it turns out, Aza and Davis were at a summer camp together years ago (which they named “Sad camp” as it was for children who’ve lost one of their parents). Once Aza and Daisy stumble onto the Pickett property and subsequently get caught, they are taken by security to the billionaire’s son, resulting in Aza inadvertently rekindling her friendship with Davis.
Davis and Noah
Davis and Noah are Pickett’s two children who are now left to fend for themselves, supervised only by paid house employees while authorities search for their fugitive father. Davis figures out what Aza is up to, and pleads with her not to search for his father. He doesn’t want to put his brother Noah (who’s only 13 years old) through the agony of seeing their father arrested and the subsequent media circus that’s bound to follow. Aza is torn, especially once she begins to fall for Davis. She also discovers a protective instinct seems to surface within her whenever she’s around Noah.
Where’s the Mystery?
So as I’m reading along, I noticed that not all that much is really happening in regards to the search for Russell Pickett. Aza and Daisy seem to have given up their quest, and there’s not really any other action going on relating to the billionaire’s disappearance. That’s when it hit me: Turtles All The Way Down is not about the mystery of a fugitive billionaire: it’s something completely different. The book has very little to do with what’s going on in the physical reality — it’s really about what’s going on in Aza’s mind.
Into Aza’s Mind
Rather than a mystery, this novel is instead a powerful story about mental illness. The story is told from the first-person point of view of Aza, who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which manifests for her as thought spirals which grip her and refuse to let go. That is to say, once she grasps onto a thought, she cannot pull herself back up from it, no matter how hard she may try. She’s trapped in her own mind.
For Aza, one particularly disturbing spiraling revolves around a fear that potentially fatal bacteria has gotten into her body somehow and will lead to her passing away from C. Diff (Clostridium difficile).
The Main Story
In this way, the disappearance of the billionaire is secondly to the working of Aza’s mind and how her OCD affects her relationship with Daily, her mother, and Davis. The story is heartbreaking at times as Aza struggles with her desire to be a “good” daughter, friend and girlfriend, but her mind simply doesn’t allow it. It’s not surprising that this all leads to significant self-confidence issues and depression on Aza’s part as she fears that she’s making everyone around her miserable.
The book wasn’t always easy to read, and I think that was the point. This is a book that hurts your heart as we experience first-hand what it’s like to be in her mind and witness how anxiety can completely take over a person’s life.
Through Aza, we gain insight into what it might be like to live with constant runaway intrusive thoughts and how difficult it is to keep a grasp on reality. For me, this story provided an eye-opening and raw portrayal of what’s the struggle might be like — a struggle that others around you might not always understand. For example, Daisy considers Aza as kind of self-centered and selfish, obviously not fully understanding that Aza had no control over her thought spirals.
Though it dealt with serious subject matter, the book was also light, humorous and laugh-out-loud funny in places. Green did an excellent job of balancing the seriousness of the book’s theme with playfulness and lightheartedness, and in so doing, I couldn’t help but fall in love with all the characters in this book.
Turtle’s All The Way Down was about a young girl’s struggle to find her place in the world and figure out her part in the big picture of things, something that many of us struggle with from time to time.
This was a beautiful engaging book not just about OCD, but also about friendship, loyalty, about finding yourself and about sticking by and being there for one another throughout the thick and thin of life’s experiences. It was also a gentle reminder of the importance of stopping and putting ourselves in the shoes of our loved ones from time to time.
The book was a powerful character-driven and unique story that was heartbreaking in some places and funny in others. The ending was perfect and hopeful — overall, a brilliant story. Another excellent 5-star book for me. I look forward to reading more of Mr. Green’s work. Recommended!
You can check out Turtles All The Way Down HERE