Sixteen-year-old Aza has suffered the sudden loss of her father and is battling inner demons of mental illness—unkind thoughts and words that threaten to consume and possibly kill her. Trapped in the darkness of her own mind, Aza must navigate the unforgiving halls of high school with her fan fiction writing best friend, Daisy. When the town billionaire disappears days before being arrested for corruption, Aza and Daisy decide to investigate. The case is important to Aza as she has a crush on and connection with the fugitive’s son, Davis Pickett—a link of souls dating back from a summer camp fling. Gaining momentum on the details of Mr. Pickett’s disappearance, Aza begins to see fault lines within her mental health. Overly concerned with her micro-biome, even kissing becomes a death-defying hazard, causing Aza to dig her nail deeper into her never-ending fingerprint callous. From a car accident and a breakdown to a best friend who carries multiple burdens as well as a potential boyfriend whose dirty wealth is destroying a family and town, Aza must pull herself forward or drown in her head and a pool of hand sanitizer. It’s turtles all the way down anyway; who is to say what we are, what narrative we are living, and how we control the story of our lives.
Once again, Green mindfully taps into the inner workings of the teenage psyche just as Lamb had successfully done in She’s Come Undone. Designed for YA with a faithful adult following, Turtles All The Way Down is reminiscent of Rowell’s Fangirl with characters and friends who struggle with love and emotions, the world’s almost no-win nonchalance, and of course, a fan fictional element. The narrative possesses a melancholy trance of everyday life that lures readers in through a connection to sincere and darkly real characters. The conclusion for Turtles All The Way Down invokes tears over Aza’s acceptance of her inner confinement and willingness to move backward and forward for the rest of her life. It is a vicious cycle. Rest assured Aza will be OK but OK in an Aza-kind-of-way. Genuine and heart wrenching, the title explores family relationships, excessive wealth, and mental illness with the backdrop of questioning how humans exist, sometimes by choice and sometimes at the pen of another.
Turtles All The Way Down by John Green [Dutton Penguin 2017]