"Turtles All The Way Down" by John Green
I've always been superstitious. Through college, I was certain that a Burger King kids’ meal toy - a small alien from the movie Toy Story - which I carried to every exam and set on the corner of my desk, was the reason I maintained my 4.0, not my intellectual skill.
I always laughed it off, though…these superstitions…the drive to do things that made no sense.
And, for a long time, it pretty much remained just that – some superstition and anxiety that would occur if I wasn’t able to do the things I felt I needed to do – if I left “Lucky Exam Guy” in my bag when I meant to put him in my jacket pocket.
This changed when I hit a point of extreme stress.
As I moved through a difficult time – a complicated second pregnancy – I started to feel these urges more acutely.
I felt like something would go wrong if I didn’t wear a certain pair of socks, use a particular hair tie…if I didn’t wash my hands using a special soap or pick up pennies I saw laying heads-up on the ground.
And, the thing is, it was easy to give in those urges – particularly given the severity of what I thought might happen if I didn’t.
Why not just wear those shoes, slip on that pair of socks…
Is it really worth the risk I’m taking if I don’t?
What if I don't and something does happen?
If you ask those closest to me about this time in my life, they would certainly recall repeated hospital trips, twice weekly ultrasounds and constantly failed non-stress tests, but they probably wouldn’t mention these…behaviors.
They wouldn’t mention them because I kept them to myself.
Because it’s really easy to keep them to yourself.
And because I kept it to myself as others keep it to themselves, I felt like I was the only person who had these thoughts…these drives.
It only took me 10 pages of Turtles All the Way Down to see that I wasn’t.
Aza, the protagonist in Turtles All The way Down, has similar, though decidedly more severe, drives that dictate how she does any and everything in her life. These drives – and her inability not to give in to them – also have a significant impact on her relationships.
From her Star-Wars-fan-fiction writing best friend, Daisy, to the childhood-friend-turned-romantic-interest-who-also-happens-to-be-the-son-of-a-missing-billionare, Davis, Aza’s relationships are put to the test by the stresses her mental health issues present.
Probably because of my personal experience – and because books, after all, do belong to their readers – I was immediately swept into Aza’s world. I fell in love with her, with her friends. I became invested in who they were and eager to see them succeed.
And I felt pain when it looked like the ending might not be a happy one.
Despite how completely I connected with the characters and how utterly stunning I found this book to be, writing the review is difficult.
In part, it’s difficult because Turtles All the Way Down was a deliberately difficult read.
In part, it’s difficult because I know what I should do next – describe the plot.
This is typically where I would give you a brief rundown of what happened, leaving it open-ended as not to spoil the novel for those who might be inspired to read it.
But, I can’t.
Because that’s not the point.
And this novel is too important for the point to be so supremely missed.
When people talk about books, the first things they inevitably ask is, “What’s it about?”
The thing is, that question doesn’t work for John Green books.
When asking about a John Green book, the appropriate interrogative pronoun is not what, but instead who.
Because John Green books are character studies. What makes them so significant is that, in them, he dissects the characters.
And, in doing so, he helps us understand them.
And, in doing so, he helps us understand ourselves.
As I close the back cover on Turtles All The Way Down, I can confidently say that I understand myself better than I did 304 pages ago.
And how often can you say that?
5 out of 5 cocktails.
Some of the most important reads aren’t easy. What’s the most powerful, yet difficult, novel you’ve ever read? Tell me about it in the comments, below.