Thank you, John Green, you did it again. Thank you for writing another great novel for all ages—forget the YA catergory—that illuminates, entertains, and provokes in equal measure. Thank you for outdoing yourself by not making romance the center of the new book, and making the wait after The Fault in Our Stars worth it.
Every writer has a story that he/she has tried to tell all their lives but struggled to. When they, at last, slay all their demons and dragons and whatever that is in the way, the story that is the result of the lifelong struggle will be their most illuminating gift to the world. I believe that Turtles All the Way Down is that story for John Green. Despite my lack of knowledge of mental illnesses—in particular, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), the condition that John himself is burdened with his whole life, and the heart of the book’s subject matter—Aza’s journey is both incredibly relatable and realistic. From struggling with her mental “spirals”, to doubting her very existential identity because of feeling trapped inside her mind, to the immense pressure she experiences from every way of life, despite being well-loved and sort-of sheltered; to her friendship/romance with Davis Pickett, son of a missing fugitive billionaire, to her nuanced friendship with her best friend Daisy, I feel like I am with Aza every step of the way—that in itself is the essential merit of reading great novels.
John Green’s language in Turtles All the Way Down is as remarkable, if not more, as in The Fault in Our Stars. Throughout reading the book there is an itching desire for me to underline all the well-crafted lines but I restrain myself for fear that it will disrupt the lucid flow of the narrative and thus lessen the pleasure I get from being fully engaged with it. It is a very privileged struggle but I assure you it is also very real. Consider the opening paragraph:
At the time I first realized I might be fictional, my weekdays were spent at a publicly funded institution on the north side of Indianapolis called White River High School, where I was required to eat lunch at a particular time—between 12:37 P.M. and 1:14 P.M.—by forces so much larger than myself that I couldn’t even identify them. If those forces had given me a different lunch period, or if the tablemates who helped author my fate had chosen a different topic of conversation that September day, I would’ve met a different end—or at least a different middle. But I was beginning to learn that your life is a story told about you, not one that you tell.
It consists of a total of 121 words and only 3 sentences. In these 3 sentences you learn so much about the narrator already: she is the kind of mind that will entertain, if not seriously consider, the uncommon idea of being fictional; the vocabulary she uses— “forces”, “author my fate”— and the last line that introduces us to her concern and one of the of the book’s major subjects—determinism and free will. It is a very strong opening and I believe, a good example of the strength of John Green’s writing.
Turtles All the Way Down deserves all the hype that came with its publication, for its strong and relatable characters, mature and beautiful writing, its unique subject matters, and ultimately, a very good story that I believe will stay with the reader after who has the fortune to come upon it, pick it up and finish it.