Book review: Green’s “Turtles” deals with the many stresses of being a teenager

October 30, 2017

In John Green’s latest novel, rich characters come together with his signature writing style to create a relatable, but introspective story about mental illness, friendship and the many stresses of being a teenager.

Author of such influential YA fiction as “Looking for Alaska” and “The Fault in Our Stars,” Green returns with the long-awaited “Turtles All the Way Down,” which revolves around 16-year-old Aza Holmes as she and her best friend Daisy Ramirez try to solve a local mystery.

Wealthy businessman Russell Pickett has gone missing the night before a police raid on his house, and there’s a $100,000 reward for anyone who can provide more information for the investigation.

Things get complicated when Aza and Daisy reunite with Aza’s childhood friend Davis Pickett, who is Russell’s son. All the while, Aza is also fighting her own battles as she tries to keep OCD and anxiety (which manifest themselves in the form of “thought spirals”) from ruling her life.

The one thing that I live for in young adult novels is great characterization, and Green nails it in “Turtles.” There’s something about his attention to detail and the specific quirks that he gives his characters that make each one so intensely lifelike.

Aza Holmes is not only one of Green’s best protagonists, but one of the best narrators that I have read in a long time. First-person books can sometimes get caught up in the action and the surroundings so much that the author forgets to give the characters any real personality. But Aza’s voice is clear, true — and totally hilarious.

She’s nerdy and relatable, awkward but pretentious, and Green does a great job of making sure her struggles with mental illness don’t alienate her from the reader.

Aza has that sort of angsty, exasperated, but wise vibe — like a teen who’s lived a thousand years — that reminds me of the characters from one of my all-time favorite book series, Maggie Stiefvater’s “The Raven Cycle.”

Reading about Davis and Daisy felt familiar, and in some ways reminded me of my own friends. Daisy is wonderfully stubborn and fiercely loyal, plus she writes Chewbacca/Rey fanfiction. What more could you want?

Davis has officially been added to my ever-growing list of “Fictional Characters I Wish I Was Dating,” despite breaking my heart about 74 times over the course of this book. He’s caring, earnest and isolated in a way that just makes you perpetually want to give him a hug.

Aza’s thought spirals are treated in a way that doesn’t romanticize mental illness; it feels real to the reader.

Even though that’s not something I’ve ever experienced with the intensity that Aza does, the way her thought spirals are described really make sense to me. There were a couple of times when I physically had to set down my book because her panic felt so real and terrifying. I don’t think you have to be going through or have gone through Aza’s struggles to empathize with her — Green’s portrayal of her emotions is enough.

“Turtles All the Way Down” made me remember why I love John Green so much. The writing style is fun, the characters are real, and I would recommend this book to anyone who is ready to feel every emotion three times over.

Hanah Shields is a junior at Alamo Heights High School.