Turtles All the Way Down

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.

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I am a huge John Green fan. I started watching Vlog Brothers, the Youtube channel he has with his brother, Hank, a little before Paper Towns came out (9 years ago. NINE YEARS AGO. Oh my god. I need to go recover from that realisation…), and at first I didn’t even realise he was a writer. Then Paper Towns blew my mind – I had the part where Radar tells Quentin that he has to stop expecting everybody in his life to behave as Quentin himself would tacked to my bedroom door throughout the rest of high school. I went to see John and Hank on book tour when they stopped in Swindon, of all places, to promote TFIOS. I have a Pizza John shirt. He is one of a very limited number of men whose opinions I have any interest in.

I’m a fan.

So it kind of figures that Turtles All the Way Down would be my kind of thing.

And oh, it was. Turtles All the Way Down is a stunning achievement. It’s a deeply introspective novel about living with a mental health problem that avoids all of the tropes and ‘fixes’ that so often plague stories on the subject. Aza struggles with OCD, which Green has himself, so that helps with the representation.

While the story did have what I have seen referred to as trademark John Green whimsy – his characters are super smart and definitely manipulate scientific fact to create metaphors about their lives (this time they are very into space) – it felt like a departure from his previous work. In Paper Towns, Looking for Alaska and TFIOS in particular the story is very much a vehicle for an idea, whereas Turtles All the Way Down is a deep exploration of Aza’s mental health, with her mental state functioning as the primary driver in the story.

While most stories about mental health incite some conversation about romanticising unhealthy behaviour – To the Bone, that Lily Collins movie about Anorexia springs to mind – there is nothing romantic about Aza’s situation – and not just because her OCD interferes with her love life. That’s not to say that the novel is hopeless, but it is engaged with the particular struggles of Aza’s life that at times make for hard reading – for example, Aza is plagued by the thought of getting an infection, and this thought that she can’t shake leads her to start drinking her hand sanitiser. She understands rationally that drinking pure alcohol is poisonous, and will seriously harm her body in the long run, but she can’t overcome the part of her brain telling her that drinking the hand sanitiser is the only way she will survive. The compassion and skill with which John Green navigates these especially difficult scenes of the novel means that as a reader you’re falling down the spiral of Aza’s anxiety with her even as you stand on the outside desperate to help pull her out.

One of the aspects of the novel that felt most important to me was the new challenges Aza faced when trying to have a romantic relationship, in particular the physical side of things. Physical relationships are really difficult for some people for a whole variety of different reasons from mental health issues to trauma to all of the nuances in between and don’t think I’ve ever read a book where I’ve seen that represented before. Sex positivity is absolutely wonderful, but it’s contributed to the taboo surrounding having any kind of sexual issues – which a lot of people have. Though Aza does not have sex in this book, she does find that her intrusive thoughts do mean that she can’t be physical with her boyfriend most of the time as making out with him makes her to anxious. Yet she and her boyfriend still have a very positive relationship in which he is understanding, kind, and never shames Aza or tries to push her into doing more than she is comfortable with. And he’s also still like, crazy into her. It’s such a positive view on a situation in which a lot of people feel a ton of shame, and I am so so happy that it exists.

Turtles All the Way Down is a difficult, painful and deeply compassionate novel that tears to shreds the romanticisation of mental health problems. In his typical style, John Green navigates Aza’s internal life in a way that never feels anything but emotionally true. It is a stunning novel about friendship, loss and surviving your own unique challenges, whether that be your OCD or your millionaire father leaving his entire fortune to a reptile.

It was totally worth the wait.

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Books I Read As An Actual Teen

In slightly under a month, I will be 23 years old. Despite this, I still pretty much exclusively read young adult fiction. The tumultuousness of it all appeals to me, I guess. My obsession with YA, however, began when I was still an actual teenager. I felt like it was time to celebrate some of the books that made me into the obsessive reader I am today.

In slightly under a month, I will be 23 years old. Despite this, I still pretty much exclusively read young adult fiction. The tumultuousness of it all appeals to me, I guess. My obsession with YA, however, began when I was still an actual teenager. I felt like it was time to celebrate some of the books that made me into the obsessive reader I am today.

The Princess Diaries – Meg Cabot

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I have been celebrating my love of this book series with my Rereading the Princess Diaries segment. Mia is an anxious nerd who’s bad at maths. She’s also very tall. She has to deal with the awkwardness of her mum’s dating life. This pretty much described my experience as a teenager. I latched on to Mia, and to this day I haven’t let her go.

Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal-Snogging – Louise Rennison

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These books are about as ridiculous as they sound. The whole series made me laugh harder than any others ever have. Georgia Nicholson does just about every embarrassing thing you can think of. She shaves off her eyebrows (this was pre Delevinge days, you have to understand. Big eyebrows used to be something we worried about) and fights a continuous battle with her fringe while attempting to make out with pretty much any hot guy she can get her hands on. When I read through my teenage diaries, (a hilarious exercise. I recommend it) it’s 90% about boys. The crucial difference between Georgia and I however, is that she actually managed to date, a feat I did not accomplish in high school. (anxious nerd, remember?)

Forever – Judy Bloom

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Surely everybody read this book as a teenager?  Forever is about a girl who meets a boy, falls in love, has sex, breaks up and nothing terrible happens. It’s just life. But in a market saturated (at the time) with books in which sex resulted in swift and brutal punishment (pregnancy/death/having to walk around with a big red A on your chest for the rest of your life), this was a pretty revolutionary book.

Looking For Alaska – John Green

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Also known as Blowjobs: The Complete Guide. I kid. That’s just one scene.

I became aware of John Green when I was about 15, and I can honestly say his books have changed the way that I read, write and operate as a person. I had never read a book like Looking for Alaska. It’s about love and growing up and grief. It’s about famous last words and the absence of last words. It’s about friendship.

I hope they find a girl as good at being Alaska as Cara Delevinge was at being Margo for the movie.

(Why do I keep talking about Cara Delevinge?)

(Why are you even asking me that?)

I wonder who Nat Wolff will play…

Digression: I resent Nat Wolff. I liked him in TFIOS, and during Paper Towns I decided that he was actually pretty cute. When I got home, I googled him, only to discover he is younger than me. That has never happened to me before. My own relative adulthood was suddenly thrust in my face. I don’t know whether I will ever be able to forgive him. Unfortunately the only person around at the time was my mother, who was not at all sympathetic.

Journey to the River Sea – Eva Ibbotson

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It was difficult for me to pick an Iva Ibbotson novel, but I knew I had to include her in this list. I spent a lot of time at our local library as a kid. We did not have much money and it was a place my mum could take my brother and I to hang out for free. They did not have the best children’s section in the world, but what they did have was an almost endless supply of Iva Ibbotson. So many of her novels shaped my reading life from when I was a kid to my teenage years. Journey to the River Sea however, has to be my favourite. Everybody loves a story about a plucky orphan who travels down the amazon. It also had a hint of romance in it. It never went anywhere because everybody was too young, but it used to make me crazy in a good way.

Where I hang out on the internet #1

Procrastination is vital to creativity, right? Here’s where I procrastinated best in the last week:

Procrastination is vital to creativity, right? Here’s where I procrastinated best in the last week:

To Read:

I just finished university, and I change my mind every week as to whether I should pursue writing or some job that has actual money in it. Should I go for the career or the dream? George Monbiot reckons dream.

‘Elsewhere, at this vulnerable, mutable, pivotal moment, undergraduates must rely on their own wavering resolve to resist peer pressure, the herd instinct, the allure of money, flattery, prestige and security. Students, rebel against these soul-suckers! Follow your dreams, however hard it may be, however uncertain success might seem.’

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/03/city-corporates-destroy-best-minds?CMP=share_btn_fb

To watch:

Roxane Gay is just so freaking on it.

‘…you’re all looking for the best ways to use your voice. You’re looking for the strength and the courage it requires to use that voice. You may not feel it yet, but you are going to find your way. As you do, there is one truth that you should not let go of. No one can narrate or examine this world that we live in the way that you can. That is the power of your voice. If you bring the full force of yourself to what you have to say, your voice is going to be powerful beyond measure, and how. And I look forward to hearing it.’

To listen:

dear hank and john

John and Hank Green started a podcast. It pretty much goes without saying that it’s going to be awesome. They are giving advice in the funny, considered and empathetic way they’ve been talking to us since vlogbrothers began.

https://soundcloud.com/dearhankandjohn

It’s also available on itunes. The first episode is called Do You Pee On Your Own Head?

I think that says it all.