Turtles all the Way Down the long awaited novel by John Green after his heavy success with The Fault in Our Stars. If you follow his vlogs like I do you will know that until a few months ago he had stayed very quiet about his work post The Fault in Our Stars. Many fans of his (some known as Nerdfighters) were very excited to see the release of Turtles all the Way Down, and since I have read most of John Green’s books I figured I’d read Turtles all the Way Down too.
Also fun fact, I had intended to grab the book at Target because Target dictates to me what is worth reading and what isn’t and to my surprise I got myself a signed copy of Turtles all the Way Down. It seems like something silly to gush over, but there’s just something nice about knowing a book you bought was in the same area as their ‘parent’.
Spoilers from this point Onward, can’t jedi mind trick this out of you. Hehe Star Wars reference in a book that has NOTHING to do with Star Wars. And maybe some discussion about John Green’s vlogs over the past few years.
Turtles all the Way Down follows a girl named Aza Holmsey, a girl who suffers from a form of OCD that involves the fear of Clostridium Difficile (C.diff) and other bacterias to the point where she’s always applying hand sanitizer to one of her fingers that has a perpetual cut due to always pushing her thumbnail into her middlefinger. Aza has only her mother due to her father dying when she was a child.
Aza also has her best friend Daisy who is a big Star Wars fan having knowledge of the current expanded universe, the Legends universe, and even writing her own Star Wars fanfiction. The story kicks off with Daisy taking interest in the disappearance Russell Pickett wanted by the police for a white collar crime due to a large reward being offered for the knowledge of the whereabouts of Russell Pickett. Because of this Aza runs into Davis a childhood friend of hers and son of Russell Pickett.
In all honesty I was a little worried reading the first quarter of the book; worried that this was another flavor of Looking for Alaska in the same way that Paper Towns was due to the mystery of the disappearance of Russell Pickett that our protagonists want to solve. After some bribe is involved the mystery is dropped down to mainly background noise in the novel with the bulk of the story involving Aza’s OCD and how it affects not only her, but her relationships and prevents her from experiencing life in the same way a normal person would.
I don’t have OCD, I’ve made jokes at the expense of individuals of OCD (mainly out of my lack of education on the disorder and inability to organize my living space), but TatWD gave what has been described by fans on the Facebook Nerdfighters page as a very accurate internal description of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It probably helps that John Green as admitted to having OCD and knowing the experience for it.
The way it affects Aza outside of the fear of C.diff is a constant fear of not being clean enough and losing the ability to do things that some people would enjoy doing and have no problem doing (such as French kissing) where the thoughts of another person’s bacteria inside of her make her unable to enjoy the sensation and her thoughts focusing primarily on the fact that something that isn’t hers is inside of her.
Aza also struggles with her relationship with Davis, who she does have feelings for, but the above side effects of her OCD prevent her from enjoying the more physical parts of their relationship. While both of them do have a unique form of communication via text message. Even though Davis does return the feelings towards Aza he does have physical desires (not sexual, but atleast some form of physical intimacy.
Aza does feel guilt for her choice t date Davis despite his dad missing because it distracts Davis from taking care of his little brother Noah who isn’t taking the disappearance of their father in the same way that Davis is.
There is some strong emphasis on parents in this novel, even stronger than Green’s previous work where parents are far from a obstacle in their stories as seen in some other YA books. Aza has only her mother who worries about Aza frequently because of her mental health and just because she’s a good mother. Davis’ father on the other hand abandoned both his sons, was never too close to them, had arguments with his wife before she passed away, had the staff of his house raise his sons, and left all his money to a tuatara named Tua in hopes that the research to discover the secrets to the long life of tuataras can be found and he’d get the credit for funding it. Daisy’s parents are mentioned, but never seen due to Aza never asking about them or ever going over to Daisy’s house.
My favorite character in the novel is Daisy, as I mentioned before she’s a huge Star Wars fan, but she was fun. There were moments of her being shallow and using Aza a bit (she did kick off the whole plot by making Aza not only trespass on Russell Pickett’s property but start a relationship with Davis Pickett for the sake of information on the whereabouts of Russell Pickett. Daisy also makes some points that Aza’s life isn’t as bad as she feels it is due to Daisy only having a smartphone as her only form of online entertainment which becomes very shocking and impressive when people remember that she has written lengthy Star Wars fanfiction on her smartphone. I felt myself siding with Daisy in one argument when Aza is concerned about her spending habits after they receive their hush money through buying not only a new car, but a new laptop. Daisy argues that Aza has a laptop and a car and lives in a house with her own room despite having only one working parent while she only has her smartphone, shares her room with her eight year old sister, and lives in an apartment complex even though she has both her parents and both of them being employed. Minor fun fact, but the paper BB-8 seen in the photo above was used as a bookmarker because I couldn’t find a bookmark that wasn’t currently being used, you can imagine how delightfully surprised I was discovering that Star Wars was mentioned frequently in this book and how appropriate it is.
As I mentioned before I don’t have OCD, but anxiety issues; there were parts of the book where I could relate to Aza’s mental health and constant moments of being a prisoner in her own mind and having internal conversations with herself. Some parts of the book were very eye opening at how OCD isn’t “a need to have everything perfectly tidy” as I’ve joked around about in the past, but something more that really does control how a person functions and can prevent them from having a normal life and in some cases making horrible decisions based on the mental argument they have with themselves.
I really enjoyed Turtles all the Way Down; it was a nice alternative to the usual John Green protagonist of teenage boys feeling the need to prove something about themselves, or being fixated on ‘the girl’. Aza and her friends were really fun and even the main conflict of Aza’s OCD causing problems in her life her friends and family still love and care for her.
I give Turtles all the Way Down by John Green four Star Wars fanfics out of five.