Today was the release of John Green’s long-awaited new novel: Turtles All The Way Down. I wouldn’t be a Frenzied Fangirl if I hadn’t immediately run to the nearest Waterstone’s to grab myself a copy, and I’ve just finished reading it. Here are some thoughts. Please be warned that this review contains SPOILERS. Although it does not go into the plot very much, if you want to approach this book without any prior knowledge of its subject matter, leave now.
Here’s a picture of our cat, the book, and the awesome t-shirt and bracelet I also got.
I thought Turtles was a great read. John Green is in my top-three favorite Young Adult authors of all time, and there is a reason for that. His style is always delightfully airy, even when dealing with the most difficult topics. His wit makes the terrors described in Turtles readable, but only just, because mental illness is and always will be a terrible thing. This book reminded me how gruesome it is to have your own mind turn against you. I am thankful every day that my mental health is currently stable, but I am especially thankful right at this moment. Turtles reminded me to be grateful.
Just like Green’s previous books, Turtles is somewhat overwrought with metaphors and philosophical musings. This bothers me, though perhaps it fits in this particular case. After all, the mentally ill are prone to over-thinking stuff, and none more so than those afflicted with anxiety disorders. Aza, the main character of Turtles, has a pretty nasty anxiety disorder so she is always thinking, thinking, thinking.
I’m never sure: is Green writing pretentious characters or is he himself pretentious? I tend to think it’s the latter because he never seems to critique his characters in any way; he lets them be themselves without judgement, he loves them. While of course sometimes characters have flaws, and these flaws can be annoying, that is exactly what people are like in real life. These characters may be ridiculous, pretentious and self-centered, but so are actual human beings. And we love them for it.
Green’s overuse of metaphors and similes is further redeemed in this book because it is so self-aware. The main character has a therapist, who at one point remarks: “You often try to understand your experience through metaphor. (…) One of the challenges with pain -physical or psychic- is that we can only really approach it through metaphor. It can’t be represented in the way a table or a body can. In some ways, pain is the opposite of language.”In order to communicate the pain she is feeling, Aza has no choice but to resort to metaphor. In order to describe the pain this book is about, John Green has no choice but to do the same.
For personal reasons I was dreading the inevitable romantic storyline. Every YA novel has one, and every John Green novel has one I find particularly appealing, because Green’s love interests are always clever, somewhat cocky adolescent boys, and I have a weakness for those (looking at you, Augustus Waters). I hesitate to say that this book is more mature than Green’s previous writing, because of course The Fault In Our Stars was heavy and mature in many ways. Yet it seems Green has lost his tendency to romanticize suffering, and that is refreshing to say the least. He has also ceased to romanticize romance, and the way this book dealt with romantic love was exactly what I needed right now: “You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.”
I really needed to hear that today. I needed a reminder to be grateful. I needed to remember that things change over time; sometimes they get better, sometimes they get worse. And while you’re waiting for change, you can always resort to fanfiction.