Turtles All the Way Down

Written by John Green, reviewed by me. 

Hey, everyone, welcome to my first review!

Ouf, that looks a little funny… probably kinda weird to say welcome to a review. I mean, this isn’t, like, a physical space; I’m not opening my review’s front door and ushering you in to my review’s foyer, taking your coats and scarves and hats and all that. You didn’t bring me, like, a page-warming gift. No baked goods, or flowers, or edible arrangements. I mean, it’s not a physical space, I know, but wow, that would’ve been really rude of you to show up here empty-handed. It’s a good thing, I guess, that I’m not really welcoming you into anything other than, y’know,

Knowledge.

I’m still trying to figure out what kind of review we’re going to do here. Not really sure if I want it to be funny or serious. I definitely want to make you, the audience, think a little bit and, well, let you get a taste for whatever this book has to offer. Don’t really know how to write a review either… I guess we’ll just, you know, start this thing.

So, Turtles all the way Down. All in all, it’s pretty good. I’d say it’s definitely better than a terminal case of Clostridium Difficile, but worse than the first time you saw Orion pull back his bow on a clear summer’s night. This book is good, I’m not saying

Résultat de recherche d'images
Found a nice little cover shot on the interwebs. Got it off of Google Books, so don’t, like, sue me or anything. I thought this would be better than just a picture of my Kindle.

it isn’t, but I’m talking about a human experience here. Like the kind where you leave your apartment for once and actually go talk to human people. A book is still just, well, a book. I mean, it’s not like anyone’s gonna go and fight a war or kill anyone over a book. It’s all just pages and letters; the night sky is pretty much infinite.

I mean, listen, you’re sitting there, with your back against the grass, and you don’t have a care in the world. It’s summer, the weather’s nice, you’re enjoying this little vacation from life’s worries. Maybe there’s someone special there with you. You’re sitting there and then maybe you think about holding the hand of that special someone who’s fortuitously reclined next to you in the grass. It’s him or her, that boy or girl you’ve had your eye on for a little while now. You’ve never done it before and you know your hands might be sweaty, but perspiration be damned! You’re here, under the night sky, safe in that perfect moment you’re sharing with them. It’s rare, you know? To be sharing the exact same view as another human being. I mean it’s like Aza, the protagonist from this book I’m supposed to be reviewing, said:

“Anybody can look at you. It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see.”

And you’re not thinking about class. You’re not thinking about biology. Specifically, you’re not thinking about your intestines. You’re definitely not thinking about C. Diff, about how you could have a life-threatening colony of bacteria growing inside of you as we speak, usurping the aristocracy of your current micro-biome. Now C. Diff is standing on the tables of their lavish banquet halls, pulling down its pants, and defecating on the food prepared as a commemorative feast honoring the many years of peace and prosperity within the micro-biome pffftabaleacdasaepoiavh…

Oh, woah. I just dozed off for a second. Also looks like my cat just walked over the keyboard or something, I should probably go through and edit all that…

What are we doing? Where am I? It looks like… right, a review. I’m in a review.

Ok, so the drama here is that we’ve got a 16 year-old high school girl trying to solve a missing persons case while juggling her social life, a new relationship, and a crippling case of OCD. There’s a lot going on there for sure. Definitely a lot to unpack… Not sure how I’m gonna get started on this…

Let’s talk about the author.

John Green is an author and vlogger, among other things, and runs a Youtube channel with his brother, Hank, called vlogbrothers. He’s also one of the creators of CrashCourse, an educational channel that puts out videos talking about everything from World Mythology to explaining the Nature of Reality through DiCaprio’s Inception. The videos they’ve put out are wonderfully informative, well delivered, and accompanied by simple graphics and animations that help delineate their points and break up the monotony. They strike a similar vein to KurzgesagtA channel as helpful and inspirational as it is hard to pronounce, whose animated videos are well structured and deliver incredibly thought-provoking and intricate ideas in a logical, easy to follow fashion. Better yet, just think Khan Academy, but with animated ducks.

Um, yeah, that’s John Green. He’s done that stuff and some other things and then he wrote this book and published it pretty recently. Uh, I guess, let’s see, why did he write this book again?

So, right, OCD is a topic very near and dear to Green; its an experience that he shares in common with the story’s protagonist, Aza. On his vlog and in interviews, he’s spoken out against the romanticization of mental illness, noting examples from film and television in which a mentally ill protagonist uses their illness like a superpower. For Green, this has not been his experience with mental illness at all (as he states in his video What OCD is like (for me)), and this has in turn helped inspire Turtle’s all the way Down. Aza Holmes is constantly at war with her “invasive” thoughts, and often times feels like she’s miles away from the world going on around her. For her, OCD doesn’t give her a leg up on the detective game. It doesn’t make her a better friend or a better girlfriend—in fact, it often times leaves her feeling quite the opposite. She’s painfully aware of how self-involved her illness makes her seem, and this awareness juxtaposed with her inability to express her situation to friends and family produces some of the most provocative and sincerely moving moments of the novel. Ultimately, we feel as though we understand the futility of Aza’s struggle, and that compounds our frustration when we realize the shortcomings of language in dealing with matters of the head and heart.

Another fascinating subplot of the novel is Green wrestling with his own existential crises. The same video wherein he denounces Hollywood’s portrayal of OCD, he also goes on to mention that the illness poses certain problems with regards to how he constructs his personal identity:

“If I can’t choose my thoughts, and I am at least in part made out of those thoughts, then am I actually the captain of this ship I call myself?

Pretty hard line of internal questioning there. But this question is ubiquitous within Green’s narrative; Aza is constantly doubting her own agency. She starts off “her” story suspecting that she may indeed be a fictional character in a novel, muling over her lack of agency before sharing this revelation:

“But I was beginning to learn that your life is a story told about you, not one that you tell.”

I mean, unless you write an autobiography. There were probably, like, brackets or an editor’s note in the first draft saying something similar. I mean, if you write an autobiography, then it’s both. Anyway, I digress and Aza goes on to say in the next paragraph,

“Of course, you pretend to be the author. You have to. You think, I now choose to go to lunch, when that monotone beep rings for on high at 12:37. But really, the bell decides. You think you’re the painter, but you’re the canvas.”

It just goes to show, any thing or place can be a platform for discussing existentialism and your place in the universe, even a… Whoowee! Look at the time. And by time, I mean word count. This review is just all over the place. I’ll probably edit all this, take out that part about laying in the grass, put in some simpler allusions to the text, and omit that shameless plug about Kurzgesagt. By way of wrapping all this up, let’s give this book eight snowflakes for lending you a tremendous insight into the life of someone with OCD, a kind of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time meets John Green’s obsession with micro-biomes, plus some philosophical musing and teenage drama. If you liked this review, let me know. If you didn’t, cool, maybe I’ll hit the mark next time.

2 thoughts on “Turtles All the Way Down

  1. Okay, so it’s not like, a physical space. (Why did I suddenly think of MySpace?). You mention the inadequacy of language – internet space has become something people experience spatially, but also not?? Now you’ve got me thinking about stuff I probably shouldn’t think about.
    But also, I loved your review. The allusions were perfect, and your writing style is delightful.

    Like

    1. Thanks! I think those are definitely things you should think about. Construction of non-physical spaces is an interesting topic to explore, not just on the internet, but with regards to emotions, memories and relationships as well.
      I’m also glad you liked the review 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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