Posted by: Jeanie F | May 7, 2018

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Book Review :: Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green

I have to admit that it took me a little while to really appreciate the beauty of this book. I was initially put off by what seemed like, on one hand, an overly precocious narrator (“I was eating a peanut butter and honey sandwich and drinking a Dr Pepper. To be honest, I find the whole process of masticating plants and animals and then shoving them down my esophagus kind of disgusting…) and, at the same time, an overly adolescent voice and consciousness. I know this sounds contradictory but, the point is, it took me some time to break through the superficial to get to the heart of a touching story. I almost missed it, but a friend assured me it would get better, so I kept going. Glad I did.

The first thing you need to know is that this is not an easy read. It is the story of Aza, a teenage girl, who is trying to manage her life while suffering debilitating Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Her disorder (from which, by the way, the author John Green also suffers) forces her to spend enormous amounts of energy dealing with her fear of contracting “C. diff”, clostridium difficile, a type of bacteria that causes severe colitis. She obsesses over the myriad bacteria that thrive inside of her, the microbes breeding, and the levels of sanitation she can – or can’t – control. At times her concern about the ecosystem thriving within her body is so severe that she resorts to drinking hand sanitizer to try to control it.

Against this background, Aza is trying to live a teenage life. She hangs out with her BFF, Daisy, who shows very un-adolescent tolerance for Aza’s idiosyncrasies. She begins a sweet romance with Davis, a wealthy boy whose father has mysteriously vanished from his life, leaving Davis and his brother to cope alone. Except for the servants. She experiences the usual adolescent traumas (a friend’s perfidy, uncertainty about her growing relationship with Davis, the Internet), but it is all colored and complicated by the OCD, which makes what should be normal adolescent angst far more difficult.

In one of the more poignant moments, Aza finds that she can’t kiss Davis because of her paralyzing fear of what his microbes might do to her when they enter her body. Davis, a sweet and patient young man, is willing to wait, thinking she’ll be ready when she knows him better. But Aza knows time isn’t the issue. “I’m not gonna un-have this,” she tells him and we, the readers, are hit in the face with her future.

I’m not going to spoil the ending for you except to say it’s pretty perfect for the story. Not in an unrealistic happy-ever-after way, also not in a dark and terrible way. In just the right way.

And you’ll have to read the book to figure out what the title means.

Grade: A


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