Turtles All the Way Down is a strange title indeed, but for author John Green that’s nothing unusual. Like his 6 titles before it, there is a subliminal meaning behind the title, but I will get to that later.
Following a five-year hiatus, since the release of smash The Fault in Our Stars, Green released Turtles All the Way Down in October 2017. To say it was much anticipated would be an underestimation. In fact, Green had begun to create hype for the book in December 2016 by reading an excerpt during a live stream. He also posted cryptic clues in his ‘vlogbrothers’ videos. It wasn’t long before fans began to piece the clues together and thus, Turtles All the Way Down was anticipated.
To give you a brief run-down of the plot without spoiling too much, all I can say is: read this book with your mind open to mental illness. The story follows Aza Holmes, a 16 year-old school student in Indianapolis. Aza suffers from severe anxiety and believes that she suffers from an infection, Clostridium difficile (C-diff for short) as a result of a callused finger which hasn’t quite healed properly. Her best friend Daisy is a Star Wars fanfiction author and follows Aza on a hunt for a fugitive billionaire. Along the way, Aza finds herself getting closer to the fugitive’s son, Davis, than she anticipated. She also goes on a psychological journey to help find herself. As in all John Green novels, there are unexpected occurrences but, for the most part, a very witty and entertaining storyline.
John Green has always had a way of drawing the audience in, and this book is no exception. After reading the first few pages I wanted to know: who is Aza Holmes? What is going through her mind to make her so obsessed with C-diff? What will John Green write next? Indeed, it really is captivating.
Now most of you are probably under the impression that John Green only writes for teenagers so therefore his books can only be read by teenagers, right? Wrong! This book takes on a new maturity that even adults can either relate to or learn from. Like other Green book, there’s a strong theme throughout the whole book, from more than just one character- mental illness.
Mental illness is something that affects almost everybody in some way, whether it be yourself or a loved one, so I really like that John Green has taken such an important issue and has woven it throughout this story- with great talent might I add. John Green writes from experience though, having suffered from a mental illness himself from a young age. John Green told TIME “I still can’t really talk directly about my own obsessions. The word triggering has become so broadly used in popular culture, but anyone who has experienced an anxiety attack knows how badly they want to avoid it”. This comes across in the story as Aza goes through a journey of wanting to avoid her obsession with C-diff and avoid opening her callus that has ‘caused her C-diff’. She also craves the ability to avoid this anxiety when it comes to her relationship with Davis because every time she goes to kiss him, all she can think about is the eighty million microbes being exchanged in that kiss. I really think that John Green is almost using Aza to tell his experience with mental illness. No matter how attached or detached he might be from the main character’s specific mental illness, it is written about with knowledge and passion- to, in a way, educate the readers.
John Green has once again created a thoroughly entertaining novel that takes the reader on a journey with the characters, which is something I really admire in novels. I found myself feeling the same emotions that Aza did, whilst also feeling empathetic towards her. I found myself taking this journey with the protagonist as she discovered not only who she is, but how much friendship means. After a short falling out with Daisy over her fanfiction and, upon reading Daisy’s apology to Aza in her fan fiction, Aza realises that friendship is one of the true things in life and something that helps her get through the day.
The title of the book is obscure yes, but upon conclusion, it becomes clear what John Green is trying to portray throughout this whole book. It’s really an anecdote depicting the issues of infinite regression. The title Turtles All the Way Down comes from a story, which Green heard at college and it stuck with him. He told TIME “The point of the (original) story is that the scientist is right but the old woman saying that the world resets on a turtles all the way down situation, she’s also right”. What John Green is suggesting is that the world is the stories that we tell about it, which matter. “They shape the actual world and they shape our actual lives,” Green continues to tell TIME. I find this particularly relevant in the case of Aza because although her illness continues to regress, her life can reset. Her story is important and shapes who she is as a person and also shapes her relationships. I think that is a super powerful message.
Over all, John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down is an enjoyable read and is also a lot of fun. I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of Green’s other books or doesn’t mind a bit of witty teen fiction. With news of the book being adapted in the film, John Green has definitely produced yet another hit novel and a must-read.