Friday, October 20, 2017

Young Adult Fiction: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Feels a little unreal to say, but today's post is actually going to be about a new John Green book. Turtles All the Way Down came out a little over a week ago, but it has been five years since his previous novel, the incredibly popular and deeply moving The Fault in Our Stars. To say I was excited would be an understatement, and I know I am not alone.

The Situation: Ava and her friend Daisy have decided to take on the latest scandal to hit Indianapolis. Construction billionaire Russell Pickett has disappeared, shortly before he was to be arrested by authorities. The two teenagers are not usually so interested in white collar criminals, but there is a $100,000 reward for any information leading to his whereabouts, and Daisy has decided that they could be the ones to earn that money. Ava and Daisy are already thinking about college, which is expensive, and Ava actually knows the oldest Pickett son, Davis. Well, she went to camp with him once, years ago, but it is enough. 

The Problem: Ava decides to go along with Daisy's plan, and it kinda works. The two make in onto the Pickett property; Davis remembers Ava enough to invite her in and the two reconnect; and the two girls even manage to collect clues and find some interesting information on the infamous Russell Pickett. The things is, Ava has a different narrative going on in her head that may not be as exciting or interesting as the one Daisy is insisting they play out. It would be fun to focus on the mysterious whereabouts of a missing millionaire, if she could simply stop worrying about getting sick. Actually, that is putting it a bit too simply. What Ava is worried about is getting Clostridium difficile. And once the worrying starts, she has a hard time stopping it, no matter what else is going on. It is the reason she keeps band-aids in her jeans pockets; it is the reason she obsessively cracks open an ever-present cut on her finger to, in her mind, prevent infection (hence the band-aids); it is the reason the simple act of eating can gross her out; it is the reason she sometimes drinks hand sanitizer. Ava wonders if she is truly in control of her life, because if she was, this is not what she would have chosen.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel that takes place in modern-day Indianapolis, Indiana. There are several instances where Indianapolis is noted to be a decent city, though not a great one (I've never been so I really cannot argue for or against it), but the setting does play an important enough part so that the book would be a bit different if it were set somewhere else. The primary theme is certainly mental illness, and while Ava's diagnosis is never said outright, she seems to suffer from anxiety, with sides of obsessive compulsive disorder (or OCD) and mysophobia (commonly known as germaphobia). For most of the novel, Ava's focus is on not getting Clostridium difficile, or C. diff. However, once she thinks she has it, or is in danger of getting it, it is difficult for her to think of anything else. Ava is the first person narrator of the book, so the reader is allowed complete access to how these thoughts play out, but there is also considerable insight into how her behavior affects those around her. She has a mom who worries, and a friend who adores her, but as much as they care for her, sometimes it is not enough, for any of them.

My Verdict: We can never be inside of someone's mind so much so that we know exactly what it is like to be them. I will (maybe) never fully know what it is like to have have thoughts I cannot control and threaten to consume my everyday life. I do have OCD tendencies that mostly involve things like checking and rechecking doors that I know I closed and locked, and touching the knobs on the stove when I know they are off, and have been for hours. What Turtles All the Way Down has done is given me a glimpse of what it would be like if this was all I did and I could not fight through the thoughts enough to function in my everyday life. At first I found the way Ava thinks and talks to be jarring, then I found it despairing, and then, eventually, there was hope. In other words, I think Green has done it again. 

Favorite Moment: When Ava and Daisy actually take a canoe out to an island in order to have better access to the Pickett estate.

Favorite Character: Russell Pickett's son Davis has not had it easy, but manages to stay grounded enough that he can still be there for his younger brother. Also, it does not seem that he has let his access to incredible wealth make him spoiled or unable to appreciate the things money cannot buy.

Recommended Reading: Naturally I recommend both The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns. But I will also recommend Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton, A List of Cages by Robin Roe, and You Are Here by Jenny Lawson.     

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