Turtles All the Way Down, a new book by John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars and known for his teenage angst and rom-com quirky love stories brings all of that and more in his latest novel. The book’s title is an old philosophical joke, which in brevity says this:
A well-known scientist once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called the galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientists gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!” Meaning, that the very core of existence rests on the back of turtles. It is the questions about human life, moral ambiguities and mental illness that Green toggles back and forth in the reader’s mind. Becoming apparent with the first line “At the time I first realized I might be fictional,” a suggestion that the reader has delved into a philosophical, meta-fiction style novel.
“John Green is perceived as ‘the sad teen book guy,’” Constance Grady, contributor for Vox, wrote. “[Turtles All the Way Down] is not a quirky-romance story it’s an existential scream.”
The narrator is Aza Holmes; a troubled, sixteen-year-old who has obsessive-compulsive disorder stemming from the fear of pathogens, is always opening the cut on her finger to drain it, instead of letting it heal properly. She brings the reader inside her head with a tennis match of anxieties going on all the while the reader is in the middle of it all. While living in Indianapolis, Aza begins the story with the disappearance of a billionaire tycoon and fugitive, Russell Pickett.The story is discovered by Daisy Ramirez, best friend of Aza and Star Wars fanfiction writer. Upon learning that there is a reward of one-hundred thousand dollars for any information leading to the arrest of Russell Prickett, Aza and Daisy decide to set out on an adventure in hopes of being awarded that money for themselves.
Daisy and Aza take Aza’s canoe across the White River and in a stealthy way, find their way onto the Pickett’s property. They are later caught by the security guards and taken to Davis Pickett, the teenage son of Richard Prickett. After that meeting Aza and Daisy had with Davis Pickett, he offers $100,000 for the girls to stop their search.
Aza tries to cope with her OCD but is unable to come to terms with it. In turn, this starts to deteriorate the relationships Aza has, for the time being. Throughout the novel, the reader feels the anxieties the characters go through and understands the stress and toll mental illness has on an individual and relationships.
“This is my first attempt to write directly about the kind of mental illness that has affected my life since childhood, so while the story is fictional, it is also quite personal,” Green said of his new novel. Green lives with severe anxiety and has since he was a teen. Turtles All the Way Down is much more than a mystery novel as it is a story about mental health and how one deals with it, while at the same time keeping relationships alive. It is a beautiful, dark novel that the reader won’t put down until they turn the last page.