I’ve read a lot of YA the last few weeks and constantly found myself comparing them to the YA master, John Green, so the natural next step was to reread some Green’s books. I really enjoyed Turtles All the Way Down when I read it the first go around during CBR9. Back in 2017 John Green hadn’t published anything in over five years so perhaps in my hunger for new J.G. YA I was not as critical as I could have been and posted an effusive five star review that, while I don’t regret it, would probably make some edits to today. I maintain that Turtles is an excellent book but this time I took off my rose colored glasses and can see why it did not make as much of an impact as some of his other books.
“No, it’s not, Holmesy. You pick your endings, and your beginnings. You get to pick the frame, you know? Maybe you don’t choose what’s in the picture, but you decide the frame.”
Aza suffers from anxiety that manifests itself as severe hypochondria; she is particularly concerned about contracting c.diff but is anxious about germs in general. Aza and her best friend, Star Wars enthusiast Daisy, discover that the father of Aza’s childhood camp mate, Davis Pickett, has gone missing and there is a $100,000 reward for information that leads to his return. Daisy suggests they leverage Aza’s connection to the Pickett family to get close enough to find clues and get the reward money. Davis realizes early on that the girls are hoping to get the money but despite this he and Aza grow close. To John Green’s immense credit Aza’s mental health does not automatically get better because the cute, rich boy likes her. This is such a refreshing change from some of the other YA books I’ve read recently and I wish more authors who tackle mental health issues would follow this more realistic lead.
Unfortunately, upon my second reading, I think Green tried to do too much with this one and the cracks show. I wish he had focused and fleshed out the missing billionaire aspect of the novel or kept a laser focus on Aza’s mental health journey and eliminated the whole mystery. Less than 300 pages was simply not enough time to let these characters breathe which is a shame because these characters were some of Green’s best. One of the reasons I think I like Turtles All the Way Down so much is that the story line of anxiety, OCD and self harm is more relatable to me on a personal level than the woes found in The Fault in Our Stars, An Abundance of Katharines, Paper Towns or Finding Alaska. Regardless Green continues to be a master at capturing the realities of being a teenager and Aza is one of the most relatable characters I’ve ever spent time with. I’d still highly recommend checking this one out.