I simultaneously love and hate ‘Turtles all the Way Down” It’s a masterpiece built up of poetic language and intricately created characters. It’s also my new favourite Green book and thus I forgive him for the extended absence. For a minute there was a worry that his words wouldn’t imbed themselves quite so deeply as they had done during my lonely, self discovering, teen years but I needn’t have worried because the soul he’s so evidently woven through passages of unfaltering craftsmanship could appease the readership of any age. There is a philosophical tone throughout that wriggles in the brain as Green presents us with common Greeny themes: Growth, identity, relationships. There was no slow building, no half there chapters or quick fix sentences to bring down the tone of the words, every thing was carefully structured. And this is why I hate it.
I write often, I have to write often, it’s how I deal with a whole host of rubbish catapulting through my head. But nothing I write matches the brilliance of this. And it’s this book that hits my creative self the hardest because it’s always the characters that I give my devotion too. Building them through mood boards and poems, quotes and photographs and art and cities. Every person I write will have a whole background, pages in my scribble notebook dedicated to different elements that make up a personality. But Holmesy is just so solidly presented, such a relatable dialogue, that I lost myself so purely in the narrative of the novel.
‘”I was so good at being a kid, and so terrible at being whatever I was now.”‘ TATWD
Before, I’d marvelled at the mystery surrounding the women in Green’s books. My favourite novel of his has always been Paper Town’s and I’ve read everything he’s written. Margo was this marvellous enigma that I intended to be when I was fifteen and reading the book for the first time. It was when my longing for escape truly started. I re read it so often but never wore it out. I loved that ‘unfulfilling’ ending everyone got so hung up on, actually I thought it was perfect. A long road trip, a long journey and then? A mundane destination. Brilliant. In a lot of my earlier journal entries you can tell in the try hard quirk of my writing that I was trying to become this figure of unattainment and attraction, just like Alaska and Margo. I was encouraging myself to be poetry without really taking into consideration that the narrators were male teens, a perspective I was always going to be detached from. There was this brutality to the female figures, one that reminded me of the boys in The Virgin Suicides, peeping in on the lives of these girls and creating their identities for them based on the fragile grasp they held on their own identity, based on that awkward stage when puberty hits and everyone’s giving into that new urge, driven by the idea of sex and the new appeal of their once completely neutral peers.
“Margo always loved mysteries. And in everything that came afterward, I could never stop thinking that maybe she loved mysteries so much that she became one.” PT
So Turtles impressed me more in that the narrative is female. And not only female but a teen female suffering at the expense of her mental health. There were passages that broke me, where I had to step back and just breathe for a minute. As difficult as The Fault in Our Stars often became to read and as distraught as Looking for Alaska may have made me, the hurt reading this novel was on a new scale. When Holmesy battles with herself and asks to be free of her torment? That was troubling. If you’ve ever lived as the victim, at the hands of yourself, whatever category of illness that might be, then the punch is there in these raw lines. It’s such an important topic to explore, especially in young adult fiction.
“You just, like, hate yourself? You hate being yourself?”
“There’s no self to hate. It’s like, when I look into myself, there’s no actual me—just a bunch of thoughts and behaviors and circumstances. And a lot of them just don’t feel like they’re mine. They’re not things I want to think or do or whatever. And when I do look for the, like, Real Me, I never find it. It’s like those nesting dolls, you know? The ones that are hollow, and then when you open them up, there’s a smaller doll inside, and you keep opening hollow dolls until eventually you get to the smallest one, and it’s solid all the way through. But with me, I don’t think there is one that is solid. They just keep getting smaller.” TATWD
I’m not sure, however, what it says about Green, that all of his female characters seem to be suffering. Perhaps that’s the analyse-everything-in-the-book-and-tear-it-apart mentality I developed studying literature but it’s still on my mind writing this a week after finishing the book and I feel like maybe I might want to look into it a little more closely. Or maybe just the representation of females in young adult fiction in general.
Regardless there is power in the writing here, there is power in expressing the many faces of teen mental health, and there is power in taking six years to make sure you perfectly do your creative pursuits justice. Kudos to Green and his new modern classic, ay?
Let me know your own opinions on the book! I know I read heaps of differing perspectives on goodreads and I’m always keen to hear new opinions.
What should I read next?
All the love and blissful vibes, N x