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.
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.
Because I like to write young adult fiction, I also read a lot of it, too. I’m not crazy about dystopian literature or fantasy titles and gravitate more toward contemporary topics. I think this is what drew me to novelist John Green several years ago. I started hearing people talk about how great The Fault in Our Stars was, and then I saw it had been optioned for a movie. It was then that I picked up the book and starting reading the tale of Hazel Grace (cancer patient) and Augustus (cancer survivor). I cried for hours after finishing it and loved the movie just as much.
From there I read Looking for Alaska, which I believe has been banned from some schools. If you’re like me, if something is banned from a school, I definitely want to read it! From there I went on to An Abundance of Katherines, which was a great concept but I couldn’t really get into it. Then I heard Paper Towns was being made into a movie with scenes shot in the city I live in, so I read it next. I knew Green had been busy for several years working on the development of two films, which was exciting. Every author’s dream, right? But what I didn’t know was that he was also suffering from a case of writer’s block trying to produce his follow-up to The Fault in the Stars. I got to hear the backstory last night at the “Turtles All the Way Down with John and Hank Green” event last night here in Charlotte, N.C.
I feel fortunate that I even heard about the event. I happened to be scrolling through Facebook one day and saw Green post a tour schedule with the comment, “I’ve been told these events might sell out quickly.” I clicked on the schedule, saw Charlotte on it, and immediately went to buy tickets. I was also shocked when I saw the ticket price of $21 included a signed copy of his new book, Turtles All the Way Down. Talk about a deal! (The event did indeed sell out quickly.) The tour includes John and his brother Hank, who I have to admit is very lovable. Together, they join forces to produce the popular YouTube channel, Vlogbrothers.
First of all, the venue was beautiful. The theater at Spirit Square was intimate, with red upholstered seats and stained glass windows surrounding us. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house, which was good because our tickets were general admission. We chose a seat in the middle and had no problem seeing.
The evening started with us receiving swag tote bags that listed the 19 cities on this tour (I feel special), our signed copies of the book, a booklet with some letters from John Green, a bookmark, a cardboard poster of the tour, and some post-its.
I brought my 14-year-old daughter along and as a self-proclaimed nerd, I’m pretty sure she had more fun than I did. John began the evening with a reading from the book, and then in a slightly shaky voice, discussed his lifelong battle with OCD. The main character in the novel has OCD so this book is very near and dear to his heart. Then we got a science lecture on Phylogenetics and Taxonomy from Dr. Lawrence Turtleman, a comical turn from Hank Green. The two brothers also took questions from the audience members (you could fill out a form on the way in) and Hank performed a few songs—my daughter’s favorite was “The Universe was Weird.”
The event lasted an hour and a half, and time flew by. I can hardly wait to dig into Green’s new novel, which is already getting rave reviews from some of the major media outlets. Tonight, John and Hank are headed to Asheville to the UNC-Asheville, my old alma mater, and I’m sure they will be just as well received.
Hearing John’s personal story, learning about the book, and joining the cause to fight against the stigma of mental illness also made me itching to get back in front of my computer to write.
Thank you, John and Hank, for a fun and inspired evening.