By: Vee Glessner
John Green’s newest young adult novel, “Turtles All the Way Down,” had a lot of hype to live up to after the success of the author’s “Looking for Alaska,” “Paper Towns,” and especially “The Fault in Our Stars.”
Unfortunately, the new release is something of a let down after all the momentum that Green built up with his previous novels.
“Turtles” is the realistic fictional story of a sixteen-year-old Aza, who struggles with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders in the midst of a national mystery that’s local to her hometown: the father of her childhood friend Davis has gone missing.
Aza and her best friend Daisy are eager to close the gap between themselves, Davis, and, of course, the $100,000 reward for the whereabouts of Davis’ father.
Unfortunately, Aza’s character is too far out of the ordinary for most readers to relate. She is obsessed with bacteria, microorganisms, and a disease known as Clostridium difficile (C. diff).
Aza describes her anxious thought processes as spirals, which tighten around her and push her to outrageous actions, such as breaking open a wound on her hand that never heals and obsessively changing her band-aids.
She goes as far as to drink hand sanitizer repeatedly in an attempt to cleanse herself of the bacteria that make up her body.
Although Green thoughtfully explores the world of mental illness in Aza’s character, he also makes it hard to sympathize with her.
Aza’s best friend, Daisy, writes fan fiction and caricatures Aza in an annoying, disruptive, selfish character that her readers “love to hate.”
Even Daisy, who should have been Aza’s closest friend, reveals the main character’s flaws and many shortcomings to an audience, which makes a reader feel like Aza’s sickness is just an inconvenience and not something to be understood.
The book does have an enjoyable plot arc, but it’s watered down the entire time by the way the Aza behaves and the way the reader is taught to react to that behavior.
Truth be told, Aza is selfish, obsessive, and annoying, and her budding romance with Davis, as she explains to him, will never be free of her aforementioned personality traits.
She is negative, doesn’t take her medication, and isn’t honest with her therapist, yet Green romanticizes her and sets her up with the son of a multimillionaire who treats her like a princess.
Aza is a poor role model for those that struggle with mental illness and a turn-off from the book for those who can’t relate to her.
Overall, Aza’s obsessive personality and anxiety are extreme to the point that most readers have a hard time relating to her in the first place.
Those who might be able to relate or struggle with mental illness might idolize her because of the way she’s portrayed, which presents another problem: Aza doesn’t take the steps or have the attitude to heal.
“Turtles” is a great read technically, but as John Green has shown before, one of his skills is creating characters readers just don’t like.