“Turtles all the way down” by John Green, is my 3rd Readers Digest book and the one that ticks off the ‘book on your shelf you haven’t read yet’. Although technically, technically it’s on a virtual shelf as I only have it on kindle. That definitely counts.
The basic plot is that Aza is a teenaged girl who has issues with anxiety – far more so than the normal angst puberty brings. She lives with her Mum, a teacher at her school (awkward!) and has couple of close friends – Daisy and Mychal. On top of the struggle with her own thoughts, Aza discovers that local billionaire Russell Pickett has gone missing – the father of a boy she once met at camp, and had a connection with.
Aza is not a reliable narrator, but she is an interesting one. The description of her thought process around germs and hygiene and the number of microbes people have living on their skin, is a vivid one. It’s easy to see how all consuming that spiral can be, especially with such a good description.
The story, interwoven as a study in the complex and transitory relationships with people dead and alive, against a backdrop of investigative whodunit, is also an interesting one. Aza is a vivid character because she has ‘real’ reactions – she is self aware and she understands how odd, how unusual her behaviour is, and yet she cannot stop herself. That is one of the difficult things in the novel, which is that she cannot complete the actions which would help her manage her anxiety. One of these is to take her medication, which she refuses to do as she is anxious about losing her ‘self’ – what if the medication removes her personality? What if her brain and her aversion to germs is intrinsically linked to her identity, and without it, she loses the uniqueness of her?
The other characters around her are well drawn too – her Mum, who is doing all she can to help but aware that Aza is in the middle stage of child to adult, and her best friend, Daisy, who writes Chewbacca and Rey fan-fiction. Daisy’s inclusion of an Aza-like character, writ large and exaggerated, feels mean through Aza’s eyes, but also, her point is well made. Aza is selfish, by nature of her condition, she only thinks of herself and the impact the world has on her – not vice versa.
I enjoyed reading this and I can see how this, along with Fault in our Stars, would have been just what I wanted to read in my teens. I think now, twenty years later, I can stand from far off and acknowledge that it’s well written – I just can’t engage with the characters emotionally.