Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Thoughts at a glance: ***** (It was amazing!)

Summary: I honestly don't know how to sum it up better in my own words, so here's the official copy:

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. 


Thoughts: As I'm sure is mentioned in every review and interview related to this book, Turtles is a look into John Green's own experiences as a person with OCD. Specifically, Aza suffers from invasive thoughts and thought spirals; in particular, she gets fixated on bacterial infections and illness, and her thoughts become more frantic and disconnected from her physical reality as she gets locked into her thoughts.

That's a very poor way of describing it, probably, but as someone who does not know what it feels like, that's probably the best I can do. But luckily, that's why there is this actual book, where John Green does an immensely better job than I could.

Yes, there is a solving-a-mystery part to the story, but of course, it's far more than that: it's about Aza's day-to-day life, her friendships, and her relationships, with a healthy dose of philosophical ruminations and literary quotes.Which is not to say that the missing billionaire is just a plot device to get her and Davis together--there is a great comparison to be drawn between Aza who lost her father, and Davis, whose father wanted to be lost--but that this story is definitely more of a "character story" than a "plot story."

In particular, I found myself really, really fascinated by Daisy, Aza's best friend. Daisy is whip-smart, sassy, and nerdy, and provides an interesting contrast to Aza. Daisy is not always likeable, but she is multi-faceted, and provides a different lens both on the events and on Aza herself, as a person whose loved one suffers from a mental illness.

This book is also an interesting look at privilege and intersectionality, with Davis (the billionaire's son) on one end of the spectrum, and Daisy (who works multiple days a week at Chuck E. Cheese) on the other end, and Aza solidly in the middle. And, just to point this out, Davis is to my knowledge male and white; Aza is female and white; and Daisy is female and Latina. So that alignment means something too. (But then again, solidly-middle Aza suffers from OCD, which adds another layer to examine as well.) It does sound annoying and cold-hearted sometimes when Daisy keeps fixating on the reward money, but as she points out to Aza, "Being poor doesn't purify you. It sucks."

I also want to point out that this is probably the MOST ethnically-diverse book John Green has written so far. Well, okay, this is only the 4th one I've read from him. I still haven't read An Abundance of Katherines or Will Grayson, Will Grayson, but he has been criticized before for having a fairly racially-homogenous cast of characters, and I was happy to see much more diversity in descriptions and names, like Daisy, who is Latina and writes Rey/Chewbacca fanfic; Mychal, who is black and a brilliant artist; Malik the zoologist; and even a VIETNAMESE ARCHITECT. I mean, I don't know if Tu-Quyen Pham actually is a famous architect or if John Green just made that name up, but if he DID, he did a good job making up a realistic-sounding Vietnamese name. I kinda squeed a little when I saw that.

TATWD is a sweet, touching story full of funny moments (like, a whole discussion on Wookiee personhood, and also, a tuatara) and really heart-wrenching glimpses into Aza's mind and how her illness affects her life. If you were looking for The Next TFIOS, I don't think this is it, though it does contain John Green's signature quirky intellect and lots of sciencey nerdiness, and also, yes, it made me cry. BUT, I would definitely say it's a must-read. I was worried that I wouldn't like Whatever John Green Wrote After TFIOS because I loved TFIOS so much, but dude, I think I absolutely love this one too, for totally different reasons.

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