“If only I were as good at life as I am at the internet.”
I was so overly eager for any new John Green book-related content that I made the mistake of reading the excerpt shared on Buzzfeed last month. I say mistake because when I opened up the book weeks after having read the first two chapters, I only had this vague recollection that certainly wouldn’t help to continue from where I’d started. Rereading was key.
To give you a bit more background on why I was so eager: Back in 2014, John Green was one of the first authors I’d read that introduced me to the magic of books. I owe a lot to his writing that sucked me in so completely, only to leave me craving for more by the last page, which then led me to look up what next book would satisfy that particular hunger. And here we are today.
Despite all the above, I still went into Turtles All the Way Down with little to no expectations as to what was to come. I knew that though I had history with TFIOS, when I look back on certain scenes, I can’t help but feel shivers of disgust (like when the “two very privileged caucasian Americans who have never known starvation, genocide, or physical abuse” kissed in the Anne Frank house, which Ariane tells like it is in this article). So if anything, I was apprehensive as to what this newest work would contain.
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.
I feel like the only way I can accurately describe the heart of the book is by borrowing this phrase: Captures the everyday moments of teens’ lives and then sets fire to those moments, heightening them until they become metaphor.
“True terror isn’t being scared; it’s not having a choice in the matter.”
I have so much my mind is eager to spit out, so I think a list is in order (mild spoilers ahead):
- Let’s start with Aza, who surprised me so much with her strong will and great depth of character. Her thought process and spirals gave me a keen insight into the works of the mind and expanding my view on things. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was having my own thoughts staring back at me from the page. From staring down the rabbit hole that is social media stalking your crush (#exposed), to vocalizing my exact fears on the reality of dating:
“I’m really not looking to date anyone.” I know people often say that when secretly looking for a romantic partner, but I meant it. I definitely felt attracted to some people, and I liked the idea of being with someone, but the actual mechanics of it didn’t much suit my talents. Like, parts of typical romantic relationships that made me anxious included 1. Kissing; 2. Having to say the right things to avoid hurt feelings; 3. Saying more wrong things while trying to apologize; 4. Being at a movie theater together and feeling obligated to hold hands even after your hands become sweaty and the sweat starts mixing together; and 5. The part where they say, “What are you thinking about?” And they want you to be, like, “I’m thinking about you, darling,” but you’re actually thinking about how cows literally could not survive if it weren’t for the bacteria in their guts, and how that sort of means that cows do not exist as independent life-forms, but that’s not really something you can say out loud, so you’re ultimately forced to choose between lying and seeming weird.”
- Green’s style has grown and matured a lot for me with his newest work. It’s equal parts dark, hilarious, and achingly real. Plus, the dialogue is amazing. Speaking of the latter, the main reason why is thanks to the effervescent Daisy, who’s a force to be reckoned with, from writing her own Rey/ Chewbacca fanfiction to her inspiring directness.
“Have you ever gotten a dick pic?” she asked in lieu of saying hello.
I feel like she and Ilana Wexler would get along perfectly. Actually, I’ve never been sure of something.
“I mean, how am I supposed to react to a semi-erect penis as fan mail? Am I supposed to feel intrigued?”
“He probably thinks it’ll end in marriage. You’ll meet IRL and fall in love and someday tell your kids that it all started with a picture of a disembodied penis.”John Green isn’t afraid to let loose with his newest work. And I’m digging it.
- Speaking of which, the direction the author took with Aza’s mental illness felt like the most honest portrayal I’d read in ages.
“I wanted to tell her that I was getting better, because that was supposed to be the narrative of illness: It was a hurdle you jumped over, or a battle you won. Illness is a story told in the past tense.”
“I would always be like this, always have this within me. There was no beating it. I would never slay the dragon, because the dragon was also me. My self and the disease were knotted together for life.”
- I got educated on such a vast array of topics, without ever feeling like I was lectured. The random history and science lessons really give away who the author of this novel is. From the history of Indianapolis (the setting of the book), to the genetically distinct creature called tuatara, to this weird parasite called Diplostomum pseudospathaceum. I can’t deny how utterly fascinating John Green made all of his swift lessons.
“What I love about science is that as you learn, you don’t really get answers. You just get better questions.”
- The bits of romance seemed slightly off-kilter with the flow of the story at first, but it just so happened that I was in the rare mood for a budding romance to indulge in. Actually, it turned out to be quite nice, since it first and foremost focused on two teens taking comfort in talking with someone that gets them to a whole new level.
“In the best conversations, you don’t even remember what you talked about, only how it felt.”
- The fact that we get to read inserts from Davis’s blog post & poetry entries, and Daisy’s successful fanfiction. The particular Davis piece below rang in my ear for a very long time.
“The next one stopped me cold:
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
I don’t know what superpower William James enjoyed, but I can no more choose my thoughts than choose my name.
The way he talked about thoughts was the way I experienced them—not as a choice but as a destiny. Not a catalog of my consciousness, but a refutation of it.
When I was little, I used to tell Mom about my invasives, and she would always say, “Just don’t think about that stuff, Aza.” But Davis got it. You can’t choose. That’s the problem.”
- On a totally separate note, I couldn’t help but think of Richard Campbell Gansey III from The Raven Boys when Davis was first introduced, thanks to his obscene amount of family money.
“You mean, when a movie comes out in theaters, it . . . also comes out at your house?”
I never thought we’d have someone upstage Gansey… And yet here we are.
- But what came quite unexpectedly was how connected I felt to Noah, who’s the 13-year-old brother. We see him truly struggle with the fact that his dad up-and-left with no clue of his whereabouts. But what hit most was the fact that Noah had no one to cry out to. Davis is barely getting by on his own, so his younger brother has to figure things out by himself. And reading that just took a piece right off me.
“It’s all right to be scared, Noah.” And then he turned his face away from me and started sobbing. “You’re okay,” I told him, lying. “You’re okay. He’ll come home.”
Though the premise is set to be about making “connections that crack open the long-dormant case of Russell Pickett’s disappearance,” Turtles All the Way Down is at its core a character-driven novel, favoring the development of the characters’ relationships with one another, which is how I like ’em. All this to say: I’m beyond eager to see what Green has next in store for us.