what i'm reading: turtles all the way down, the new book by john green

I don't usually write about a book while I'm still under its spell, but there are always exceptions. John Green's Turtles All the Way Down is an exceptional book.

One reason Green's writing is so powerful is that he conjures both the specific and the universal at the same time.

The Fault in Our Stars, for example, is about two teens who have cancer, and how they fall in love and have a relationship, even with the awareness of their own looming mortality.

The Fault in Our Stars is also about how we all love, even with the awareness of our own mortality always looming, be it far or near. We humans must love and be loved, and we must lose our loves, and they us. That is the paradox of homo sapiens sapiens, the animal who knows it knows. TFIOS is about nothing less than the human condition.

Green masters both of these, at the same time, and wraps it in an accessible package that is easy to read, to understand, and to love. The specific lives are vibrant and authentic, and the universal truths are recognizable and powerful.

Green brings that same duality to his long-awaited new youth novel. Turtles All the Way Down is a book about a girl, Aza Holmes -- her struggles to cope with her mental illness, while trying to be a good friend, find love, and cope with life after the sudden death of her father some years back.

And it is also a book about mental illness -- how it might feel, what it might make us do, how it might be survived, how our society frames it, how it impacts everyone in its sphere.

And it is a book about all of us -- our doubts, our fears, our self-hate and, we hope, our acceptance of ourselves. Aza wants to know how anyone will ever love her, given her limitations. Don't we all.

When I count the people in my life, over the course of my lifetime, who have been affected by mental illness, it becomes a long list. I think most people could say the same. We are only just beginning to recognize the prevalence and reduce the stigma of mental illness. Turtles All the Way Down will stand as a soldier in that important and necessary battle.

You'll notice I haven't written at all about the plot of this book, only the themes. The plot is excellent -- strange enough to be unique and unpredictable, and authentic enough to be convincing. You should read it to find out.


James Redekop said...

I've been following John & Hank Green on their YouTube educational stuff since they started Crash Course, then on vlogbrothers, then on Dear Hank & John. If more people were like those two, the Internet would be a far better and healthier place -- even with taking OCD and ulcerative colitis into account.

laura k said...

James, I'm pretty sure you turned me on to the vlogbrothers, when I first wrote about one of JG's books -- probably TFIOS. They are pretty amazing.

My favourite book of Green's remains his first, Looking for Alaska. Turtles is now a close second, or maybe overtaking Alaska.

James Redekop said...

BTW, Hank has a novel coming out, "An Absolutely Remarkable Thing", in about a year.

James Redekop said...

Also BTW, Aza Holmes's obsession with the bacteria in her body is written from Green's own perspective. A few episodes of Dear Hank & John have him talking about the troubles he's had with the idea that a significant fraction of the cells that make up "you" aren't actually "you", they're a collection of bacteria only very distantly related to you. He apparently found the whole idea very unnerving.

James Redekop said...

In case you haven't seen it, this latest vlogbrothers video from John to Hank, about the Turtles tour is fun,and touching.