A few days ago, John Green released his fifth solo novel: Turtles All the Way Down, starring Aza Holmes, an awkward girl with a dead father and crippling anxiety.
Based on Green’s reputation from his previous four novels, I had my expectations set high for his newest publication, and it fell a bit short.
Turtles All the Way Down begins when Aza Holmes, known affectionately as “Holmesy” by her best friend and partner in crime, Daisy, hears news of a $100,000 reward being offered to anyone with information about the whereabouts of billionaire Russell Pickett. She and Pickett’s son, Davis, knew each other briefly from a camp for children who lost a parent, and upon being reunited they hit it off almost immediately.
Of course, in typical John Green fashion, their romance has more than a few obstacles, the most prominent of which being Aza’s own mind. She struggles with anxiety, giving her uncontrollable “thought spirals” and inescapable fear of contracting a disease known as C. diff.
By experiencing this story through Aza’s head, Green allows the reader a rare glimpse of the thought process of a teenager struggling with anxiety and other mental illness, and highlights the inescapability of these invasive thoughts. Aza’s anxiety gets in the way of her friendships, her relationship, and even her ability to do most mundane tasks.
Once Holmesy is reunited with Davis, the story’s focus strays from the mystery of finding his father, and becomes more of a minor subplot compared to the events of their romance and Aza’s thoughts. I expected there would be more regarding the enigma of his father’s disappearance, but where the story lacks an abundance of crime-solving excitement, it makes up for in heartwarming romance and valuable life lessons.
The title Turtles All the Way Down refers to the idea that the Earth is flat and resting on the back of a giant turtle, who is standing on the back of a giant turtle, and so on: it’s turtles all the way down. The reference brings up questions of the existence of God, which is never directly mentioned in the book, but contemplation of the meaning of life is hardly new of John Green’s writing. His intended message with this title is left up to the interpretation of the reader, but it certainly bears some relation to mental illness and the “thought spirals” that Aza experiences.
Turtles All the Way Down is a short, easy read with a good bit of power. The characters are interesting but not very relatable, and are basically the same as those in every other John Green novel. Overall, the story has its ups and downs, but I do believe it has earned its spot alongside John Green’s other novels.