“Anybody can look at you. It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see.”
2017 has been A Bloody Good Year for YA book releases, and yet I don’t think I’ve ever anticipated reading a novel as much as Turtles All the Way Down. John Green is without a doubt one of the most influential novelists of our generation, and as I’m sure they have for countless other people, his books have had a significant impact on my life. Both Looking For Alaska and The Fault In our Stars are on my mental ‘Books That Shaped Me’ list, and I could not WAIT to see whether Turtles would be joining them in my hypothetical hall of fame.
In short… I wasn’t convinced. I did have some reservations about the mystery investigative storyline (which isn’t usually something I’d go for), and initially felt slightly deflated at not getting sucked into the story straight away. However, by the halfway point, I was hooked. Not only did I need answers to what happened to fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, I needed to know that Aza was going to be alright before I could actually move on with my own life.
One thing that you can always rely on Green’s writing for are characters that stroll straight into your brain, latch on, and don’t let go. Aza Holmes is a complex character in every sense of the word, and yet by the end of the novel I felt like I knew her ‘self’ better than perhaps she did. I thought this nicely linked to one of the overarching themes of the novel: questioning our sense of ‘I’ and ‘self’ and whether these pronouns could ever really be separated from our thoughts and circumstances. Whilst the writing style did sometimes come across as a little too pretentious for my personal liking, this book did get you thinking.
Aza’s characterisation is a good capture of what it’s like to feel ‘different’ to everybody around you, and whilst her battle is with mental illness, a lot of the story felt (in a sense) relatable to me, as somebody with a physical illness. The complex strain that her condition has on her friendship with best friend Daisy sheds light on a situation that I can only assume many of us poorly folk have felt all too well ourselves, and yet I’ve never once heard a single person talk about or acknowledge. That’s the thing about Green’s writing: it would be hard to find anybody who reads his work and doesn’t find it to be of relevance to their own lives. It was the passage about chronic pain and language that got me:
“One of the challenges with pain…is that we can only approach it through a metaphor.[…] In some ways, pain is the opposite of language… And we’re such language-based creatures that to some extent we cannot know what we cannot name. And so we assume it isn’t real. We refer to it with catch-all terms, like crazy or chronic pain, terms that both ostracise and minimise. The term chronic pain captures nothing of the grinding, constant, ceaseless, inescapable hurt.”
Although I was mostly a fan of this book, I do have to admit a grievance I had. Whilst this novel was full of beautiful profound instances, the kind that you just know will make for an excellent movie moment in the future, they did sometimes feel forced to me. In The Fault In Our Stars, the most impactful moments seemed to occur naturally and stand out in their own right, yet still feel relevant to the story that set them up in the first place. In Turtles All The Way Down, I sometimes felt like the opposite was true: that the profound moments had come first, and the story shaped around them. And whilst there’s nothing definitively wrong about doing things that way, I just wasn’t a fan of that. But that’s me. I wonder if that even makes sense to anybody, or if you felt that too. I don’t know. My brain hurts. Let’s wrap this up.
Turtles All The Way Down, despite my critiques, did fulfil my expectations as a touching and insightful YA read. John Green has produced another cracker of a book that I have no doubt will resonate with countless young people all over the world, and I do recommend picking up a copy of your own and finding out whether it speaks to you too- I’d absolutely love to hear what you think.
How do you think Turtles compares to Green’s existing works? Let me know in the comments or tweet me, so we can have a proper chat!