Famed writer of Fault in Our Stars (I haven’t read it yet), author John Green wrote Turtles All The Way Down through the lens of a teen protagonist named Aza Holmes.
Aza suffers from terrible anxiety and OCD (germaphobe — in particular, bacteria). So reading her thought process throughout the book has been tiring at times. I can’t imagine being so trapped in my mind regarding microbes, but anxiety, I can relate to it. The story revolves around Aza, her friend Daisy and two boys Davis and Mychal. It begins when Aza and Daisy set out to find information leading to the disappearance of Indianapolis based Pickett Engineering CEO, Russell Pickett, for one hundred thousand dollars.
But hold on! This is no adventure. This is Aza Holmes, aka, Holmesy. As much as I sympathize with the character, I feel more like her friend Daisy. Green keeps the story real. Aza’s questions are complex. Her inner monologue keeps spiraling with no end until she gives in to her thoughts. She keeps thinking about her real physical self; if that self is ever under her control. In coping with her anxiety she developed the tendency to press her right thumbnail on the finger pad of her middle finger, which has developed a callus over the years. She keeps pressing the callus, makes it bleed, applies hand sanitizer and wraps it with a band-aid. Again and again and again.
But what I want to know is, is there a you independent of circumstances? Is there a way-down-deep me who is an actual, real person, the same person if she has money or not, the same person if she has boyfriend or not, the same if she goes to this school or not? Or am I only a set of circumstances? — Aza
I don’t follow how that would make you fictional. — Daisy
I mean, I don’t control my thoughts, so they’re not really mine. I don’t decide if I’m seating or get cancer or C. diff or whatever, so my body isn’t really mine. I don’t decide any of that-outside forces do . I’m a story they’re telling. I am circumstances. — Aza
Along the way, you meet Davis and Noah (sons of billionaire Russell Pickett), who struggle to come to terms with their father’s disappearance. Davis finds his solace with introverted Aza and she finds his companionship endearing, from a distance. He also blogs what he feels anonymously with quotes that suit his sentiments. But they tend to reveal their intimate thoughts behind their phone screens rather than facing each other. Also, most of their conversations are about stars, planets and galaxies while they lay down and gaze at the sky with doses of personal talks in between. Noah, an eighth-grade boy tries to escape reality by playing video games all day long. He once gets into trouble at school for possessing pot. Davis believes that Noah deliberately wants to get into trouble in hopes that their father may contact them soon.
Meanwhile, there are glimpses of Daisy and Mychal developing a relationship and friendship. Be prepared to face a lot of fanfic stories that Daisy writes online about Chewbacca (may not be a human but definitely is a person with feelings) and Rey; a die-hard Star Wars fan. Aza and Daisy are two characters with opposite personalities. Their friendship keeps transitioning through obstacles but they hang on solid until the end.
At times, you are left baffled with gross facts about bacteria; when Aza keeps obsessively thinking if she has been infected by any of the microbes while touching, eating, sweating, kissing etc., ultimately making her think about death. But her perspective gets a little better eventually, though she knows she can never completely recover from the illness.
This book throws light on how people with anxiety and/or OCD suffer; how their mental illness affects the people around them and how they are in constant need of positive reassurance, not ignorance.
Overall, this book was a good read but its popularity is exaggerated.