{Book Review} Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

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Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.*

(Yes, it’s been a while since I posted! Life, especially medical school, has proven itself to be a black hole for most of my time and energy, and I haven’t been able to read for pleasure as much as I would have liked. I still get to read books for fun, but only this one has compelled me to write a review this year so far. That, and it’s ASEAN week for us here in the Philippines, so I have no classes this week! We still have schoolwork to do, but yay, conditional freedom. Anyway, on to the review!)

Let it be known that I had no idea what this book was about when I started reading it, even though I’ve heard about it for a while now. I think that’s probably an amazing feat, actually, granting that I follow a lot of book bloggers in various social media sites, but med school blinders are pretty powerful. I’m glad I read this book, though. I thought I had John Green all figured out, and therefore could brace myself from emotional onslaught, but then Turtles All The Way Down prances into the picture and I end up getting all sorts of unwarranted feelings from a book again. 

I just read the book’s final page around 40 minutes ago, and the time it took reaching to typing this sentence was mostly spent trying to figure out how I really feel about this book. I had such a hard time reading this because of Aza’s obsessive-compulsiveness (she has OCD, even though it was never explicitly mentioned), or what she calls her “invasives”, but I flew by the pages anyway because I wanted to know what would happen to her. I didn’t find Aza likable at the beginning, but accompanying her in her journey to become a better version of herself has made me quite attached to her by the end. I suppose in a way, her psychiatrist Dr. Singh was correct in saying that your thoughts are not you. The book was narrated by Aza, yes, but beyond her warring thoughts, her personality just shines through.

It’s become so typical to read about teenagers who have meaningful conversations about science, philosophy, and life in a John Green novel, but I loved this nevertheless! Some people have mentioned how unrealistic the conversations portrayed teenagers, but I will argue that as a teenager not too long ago, I loved thinking about this sort of thing. I just never had the eloquence nor the courage to express those thoughts out loud. To be quite honest, between the conversations, the main character, and other aspects of the plot, I found the missing billionaire part the most forgettable. It wasn’t as fleshed out as I expected, but eventually, even as its loose ends were tied up, it wasn’t the reason I continued reading until the end.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The most fascinating part for me was Aza, her relationship with herself, and how she got along with the people around her. It felt really vulnerable and personal, and learning that this is but a foggy reflection of the John Green’s own struggles with OCD made more of an impact for me, because it helped me understand mental illness a bit better. That definitely makes this book important.

My favorite quotes (the whole thing is pretty quotable, really): 

Whether it hurts is kind of irrelevant.”

“At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough.”

And the thing is, when you lose someone, you realize you’ll eventually lose everyone.”

One of the challenges with pain—physical or psychic—is that we can really only approach it through metaphor. It can’t be represented the way a table or a body can. In some ways, pain is the opposite of language.”

And we’re such language-based creatures that to some extent we cannot know what we cannot name. And so we assume it isn’t real. We refer to it with catch-all terms, like crazy or chronic pain, terms that both ostracize and minimize. The term chronic pain captures nothing of the grinding, constant, ceaseless, inescapable hurt. And the term crazy arrives at us with none of the terror and worry you live with. Nor do either of those terms connote the courage people in such pains exemplify, which is why I’d ask you to frame your mental health around a word other than crazy.”

Your now is not your forever.”

Everyone always celebrates the easy attractiveness of green or blue eyes, but there was a depth to Davis’s brown eyes that you just don’t get from lighter colors, and the way he looked at me made me feel like there was something worthwhile in the brown of my eyes, too.”

It’s a weird phrase in English, in love, like it’s a sea you drown in or a town you live in. You don’t get to be in anything else—in friendship or in anger or in hope. All you can be in is love.”

Thoughts are only thoughts. They are not you. You do belong to yourself, even when your thoughts don’t.”

Every loss is unprecedented. You can’t ever know someone else’s hurt, not really—just like touching someone else’s body isn’t the same as having someone else’s body.”

Life is a series of choices between wonders.”

In the best conversations, you don’t even remember what you talked about, only how it felt.”

“…the world is also the stories we tell about it.”

People always talk like there’s a bright line between imagination and memory, but there isn’t, at least not for me. I remember what I’ve imagined and imagine what I remember.”

I missed everybody. To be alive is to be missing.”

You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.”

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4.5/5

286 pages
Author: John Green
Original Language: English
Published: 2017
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Fiction

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{Book Review} Looking for Alaska by John Green

Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words and tired of his safe life at home. He leaves for boarding school to seek what the dying poet Francois Rabelais called the “Great Perhaps.” Much awaits Miles at Culver Creek, including Alaska Young. Clever, funny, screwed-up, and dead sexy, Alaska will pull Miles into her labyrinth and catapult him into the Great Perhaps.

Looking for Alaska brilliantly chronicles the indelible impact one life can have on another. A stunning debut, it marks John Green‘s arrival as an important new voice in contemporary fiction.*

Looking for Alaska is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for years but never got around to doing it. It was published seven years ago (2005) and won the Michael L. Printz Award from the American Library Association the year after. I first heard of it through this magical microblogging website called Tumblr where I saw the powerful quote that made the book very memorable for me:

I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my hands around her and sleep. Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together, in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.

Right then and there I wanted to read the book. I never got to obtaining a copy, though, until last Christmas, when my friend Yong gave it to me as a present; when I unwrapped the book, all the excitement started flowing back. He told me it wasn’t the happiest book ever, so I tried putting off reading it until what I thought was ‘the right time’. I never knew if this was the right time, however, but I decided to just read it and see why everybody else loved it so much. 

Looking for Alaska is a coming-of-age story that deals with love, life, friendship, loyalty, and the uncertainties of “the Great Perhaps”. It is divided into two parts, Before and After, but I can’t tell you what the reference point is, lest the whole story is spoiled. All of its characters are very well-written. Miles “Pudge” Halter was very effective as the protagonist, existing most of his life as a general nobody before transferring to Culver Creek Preparatory School, collecting last words and looking for a change in his life, or at least something different from what his life before used to be. These changes come in the forms of Chip “the Colonel” Martin, his roommate, and his friends Alaska Young and Takumi Hikohito. Miles gets instantly smitten with Alaska, a bookworm-slash-prankster extraordinaire who also happens to be impulsive, daring, and bold, something I suppose he considered as a refreshing change.  

More than being a story about teenagers going through high school while living rebellious lives, Looking for Alaska presents thought-provoking questions that adds depth to the book. How will I get out of this labyrinth of suffering? I loved how, between the lines and layers of teenage angst and rebelliousness, John Green managed to insert wisdom and insight about life, and even though some of it is deep, his writing can make you understand and grasp the beauty of it.

Looking for Alaska is my first John Green book (I know, I’m so late!), and true to the testaments of several other readers, this is indeed a book you will never forget. Funny, witty, clever, and insightful, I highly recommend this book. 

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4/5
Paperback, 221 pages
Author: John Green
Publisher: Dutton Books
Published: March 3, 2005
Language: English
Genre: Young Adult, Teen, Coming of Age