John Green’s new novel Turtles All the Way Down: I don’t even know where to start. Maybe just start with what I want to say about this book. It is important. Aza, the narrator and main character, has anxiety. Even pleasurable things like kisses cause Aza’s thoughts to race and spiral. Because anxiety is rampant in American society today, especially among teens and pre-teens, Turtles will matter to those who live with a similar mental illness. Even those who are free from debilitating anxiety will gain understanding of it as John Green gives us Aza’s unfiltered inner monologue.
Or maybe I should start with what this book is about. There is a plot, for those who like plots. A billionaire has disappeared leaving his children and estate in a questionable status. The oldest son Davis was a childhood friend of Aza’s. When Aza’s best friend Daisy realizes the connection and the reward for finding Davis’s father, she forces Aza to seek out Davis. A relationship develops between the anxiety-ridden Aza and the boy who doesn’t really miss his missing father.
What if we just start at the beginning: “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 begin to identify them.” This sentence establishes Aza’s voice, and shows an understanding of how going to high school is a different experience from living in the rest of the world. In Aza’s mind, everything in her world is connected and beyond her control, and similarly, everything in Turtles All the Way Down is connected to something else. Stars in the sky and Star Wars. Technology and intimacy. Turtles and lizards. Shakespeare and blogs. Infinity and right now.
I almost forgot! This book is funny! Spending so much time in Aza’s head would be “exhausting,” as her friend Daisy says, without light moments and clever phrases throughout the book. The conversations, both spoken and text message, crackle with wit as these smart kids banter about big issues (mental health, abandonment), restaurants (Chuck E. Cheese, Applebee’s), and the status of their romances.
The Fault in Our Stars should have squelched those who see John Green as someone who writes within the definition of Young Adult Literature. That book was unquestionably far beyond any narrow conceptions of the YA genre. Turtles All the Way Down is out there too. John Green has written a narrator who draws us in and affects our understanding of how a mind works. We can either recognize something of ourselves in Aza, or we can better understand those like her. Either way, Aza will affect readers. Turtles All the Way Down may be YA lit, but it’s also just lit.
Be kind to yourself, and enjoy reading this new book.