Book Review: Turtles All the Way Down

People always talk like there’s a bright line between imagination and memory, but there isn’t, at least not for me. I remember what I’ve imagined and imagine what I remember.

I imagine this book had to have been one of the hardest to write for author John Green, because much like the main character, 16-year-old Aza, he has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.  Prior to reading this book, much of what I knew about OCD centered around behaviors I’ve seen on TV and in movies (think Jack Nicholson in “As Good as it Gets” or the clean-freak Monica in “Friends”). Turtles All the Way Down gives you a first-hand look into the mind of a person with OCD, and how those instrusive thoughts can paralyze us in our everyday lives.

Thoughts are just a different type of bacteria, colonizing you. I thought about the gut-brain information axis. Maybe you’re already gone. The prisoners run the jail now. Not a person so much as a swarm. Not a bee, but the hive.

Synopsis:

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. 

This book is a much quicker read than The Fault in Our Stars but I’m not sure it’s any less painful. The characters are well drawn, except I still don’t know what Aza looked like–she never described herself nor did anyone else around her. Daisy is a wonderful comedic sidekick–tough when it’s warranted, zany in her world of Star Wars fan fiction, and forever loyal, even as frustrated as she gets with Aza. Daisy and Aza provide much of the light-hearted banter I remember from Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars. I couldn’t help but think of how much this story is the opposite of what most YA books represent. While other books have characters fussing about their parents and wanting distance, Aza and Davis both have voids in their lives in the parental department, and these voids deeply impact them.

Green also nails how isolating having a mental illness can be. When you’re in the throes of it, you don’t want to see or talk to anyone else lest you feel the pressure to appear “normal,” but there can also be a deep crushing sadness that hits you when you feel like your “weirdness” and idiosyncrasies keep others away.

There are many beautiful and complicated relationships in this book–Davis and his younger brother, Noah; their relationship with the missing enigmatic Russell Pickett, Daisy and Aza, Aza and Davis, Aza and her mother, etc. But, as Green writes:

You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in the world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.

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