I have finished the new John Green book today, it makes me happy and melancholic. I am always sad to finish a book, because I am leaving the story and its characters. This is why I like John Green so much, he is very good at creating characters that I don’t want to leave. Although I like The Fault In Our Stars, my favourite John Green book is An Abundance Of Katherines. It is not as tragic, deep and complicated as the other ones, but I like the main character the most. He is weird and complicated and occupied with his thoughts, which is not that innovative anymore for a young adult book. However, John Green is very good at creating him, making him realistic and loveable.
Aza in Turtles All The Way Down is similar. Although it is a girl, which I found interesting. I feel that most of the time characters like her are boys, as if a social awkwardness would go along with interest in logic and science, and that would go along with boys, not girls. The story is not that spectacular. There is a case about a missing man that Aza and her friend try to solve, but it doesn’t play a big role. The book is about how Aza lives, and – more importantly – how she thinks.
It is not specifically named what Aza struggles with. She is anxious and neurotic and trapped in her own mind in a way that sometimes makes normal situations unbearable for her. Often, she is scared of infections, thinks about bacteria and the symptoms of rare diseases. What I liked about the story and the depiction of Aza is that is doesn’t try to put a label on mental illness. It is not one of those books that deals more with the condition itself than with the person that lives with it. It is not a representation of ‘the life of someone with cancer’ or ‘someone with the Asperger’s syndrome’, which, as well, has its own quality. But this book is really about Aza. It doesn’t describe her mental condition in a representative way, it shows how it feels for Aza to live with her anxiousness, her thoughts and her complicated mind.
Her thoughts are compared to spirals. They start little and unimportant in the back of Aza’s head, then she lets herself be occupied by them more and more, until she is not able to think of anything else. Like a spiral that focuses and tightens more and more towards the centre. Although I am not concerned about infections as Aza, I recognized those spirals very well. This little mean, irrational voice in the back of my head that tells me to worry, although I know I shouldn’t. Because sometimes, as Aza says all the time, thoughts are not a choice. She says they just arrive in her mind and don’t feel like they belong to her. And then she has to cope with them, she cannot not think about them.
The novel starts with “At the time I first realized I might be fictional, my weekdays were spent at a publicity funded institution on the north side of Indianapolis called White River High School, where I was required to eat lunch at a particular time […] by forces so much larger than myself that I couldn’t even begin to identify them.” Of course the thing about being fictional is this funny meta-comment, because, well, Aza actually is fictional, but it is more. Aza thinks about how her unwanted thoughts make her into a person she doesn’t want to be. If there even is a ‘true’ self behind her thoughts, or if she is only a representation of the life and circumstances and people around her.
At one point she says that “imagining all the futures I might have, all the Azas I might become, was a glorious and welcome vacation from living with the me I currently was.” What a nice sentence. I thought the same, when I was living abroad for example, or when I finished school and started university. The new life changes me into someone else.
Aza is scared that there might not be part of her that never changes, no matter what happens in her life. That she is only created by her outside, because also her thoughts don’t belong to her. The book doesn’t give a definite answer to that theory of course. But it left me being ok with the idea. Being created by the situations and people around me, being different versions of myself, because it is exciting and important.