By DJ Shuman
New York Times bestseller and author of The Fault In Our Stars (2012) and Looking for Alaska (2005), John Green has written his first novel in a few years, Turtles All The Way Down. In his latest outing, Green presents his readers with an absorbing mix of mental health, teen romance, greed, crime-solving, and existentialism.
Turtles All The Way Down revolves around Aza Holmes, a teenager with a pretty average middle-class life. She goes to high school, drives a Toyota Corolla as old as she is, and hangs out at Applebee’s with her friends over some veggie burgers.
What isn’t ordinary about this story, however, is what is happening around her. A billionaire, Russell Pickett, with whom Aza has connections, is charged with fraud and bribery and goes missing before the authorities can find him. Aza and her best friend, Pickett’s son, together with a slew of other intriguing yet nerdy individuals, investigate a flurry of leads about the missing billionaire, a chase that takes them down a rabbit hole of crime and teenage angst.
Green has been captivating young readers for about a decade now with his novels, but this time he puts a personal spin on it. The main character, the shy and smart Aza, struggles with problems that have roots too dark for most young adult novels, problems familiar to young people today. Aza is suffering, and she knows that. She sees a therapist regularly, and she’s been diagnosed with serious anxieties and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Her thoughts are consumed by the complications of her mental health, and she is terribly afraid that small things, such as a cut on her finger, might lead to her untimely demise.
As in Green’s previous novels, Aza and her friends are dealing with deep internal thoughts. In the opening paragraphs, we meet our star, who is absorbed in her own mind. Though she is at a cafeteria table with her closest friends, she is distant and away. She cannot hear her friends over the subtle hum of the room and the pressing thoughts in her head.
At this moment, Aza is dealing with thoughts that are typically considered very complex for an individual her age: What makes ‘I’. That is: what makes you considered you. She goes on to say that “by cell count, humans are approximately 50 percent microbial.” By counting in the microbes, she means that you are essentially only half you. The inner workings of Aza’s body are integral to her personality, as she makes clear early on.
Her problems aren’t just deep down, though. As every teenager will agree, being in high school isn’t easy, and for these kids, life is no different. Aza wants to maintain grades, spend time with her friends, and surf the Internet. Y’know, kid things. Her concerns about her mental health are distracting, tearing her away from her lessons, and distancing her from her friends. There are tonnes of hints and quirks that remind you that this story is very much grounded in a reality that I think many younger readers will identify with.
Note: DJ Shuman is a senior at Eastern Shore District High.