September 20, 2020

‘Turtles’ is quick, poignant read

By Ariel Steinsaltz

If you’ve ever scrolled through YouTube, or have just searched through the internet absent-mindedly, there’s a decent chance you’ve seen the name John Green.

He’s the man behind several successful YouTube channels, and commands his own group of followers on the internet. What some of these people don’t know is that John Green also writes books — in fact, it was his popular novels, like “The Fault in our Stars,” and not his videos that first brought him into the public eye. On Oct. 10, Green released “Turtles all the Way Down,” his first book since 2012.

The plot of the book focuses on Aza Holmes, a high school junior with severe anxiety problems. When a story breaks about a billionaire’s disappearance right before being arrested for fraud, her best friend Daisy convinces her to investigate since she used to be friends with the billionaire’s son. What ensues is a tale of love and friendship while Aza battles with her own mind, as she attempts to solve the case and to navigate her life.

I started reading the book at about 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. I finished it at 11:30 p.m., with only a short break for dinner. The last time I read a book like this, straight through with no interruptions, I was seven years old. I’ve been reading less and less in the past few years, and “Turtles all the Way Down” reminded me why I love to read — because I care about the characters and what happens to them.

A book can have a fascinating concept, a well-plotted mystery, thrilling action and excellent command of language — “Turtles all the Way Down” has all of this, with the possible exception of a well-paced mystery. What often makes books flounder is bad characterization.

Conversely, I have found myself enjoying books with only semi-decent writing and plot if they made me care about the characters.

The characters in “Turtles all the Way Down,” from main characters Aza and Davis to the Pickett’s employees, feel real and the reader can’t help but care about what happens to them.

Green constructs relatable teenage characters. (Dutton Books)

My main criticism of the book is that for much of it, the mystery takes a backseat. By the end of the book, I had almost forgotten about it. The reason this is a minor concern is because ultimately, despite the mystery driving the plot, “Turtles all the Way Down” is a story about Aza and the relationships and struggles that define her life.

Aza, throughout the story, questions whether she is even real. Her thoughts drive much of the plot, and they are arguably the true plot of the story — even more than the mystery. Green himself has obsessive-compulsive disorder, and the thought spirals experienced by Aza are based on his own personal experiences.

One of the main purposes of the book is to reduce the social stigma faced by people with mental illnesses. Readers who do not suffer from the disease will still get a picture, though incomplete, of the feelings that Aza experiences.

The book grips the reader from start to finish.

Aza’s thoughts during each new turn and development lead to an ending that, like the endings of Green’s other books, is realistic.

Not necessarily disappointing, for life is not made only of disappointments, but as Aza herself notes, nobody walks off into the sunset.

The book is realistic from start to finish, and the reader will be captivated by a moving tale that may be one about teenagers and high school and romance, but is also about love and loss and identity and the meaning of life. Just don’t be too disappointed about the lack of actual turtles.

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