John Green’s new novel is more semi-autobiographical than any of us could have imagined. Although most of his major releases have delved into the things that he knows best- drab boarding schools, the autumnal suburbs of Indianapolis and puppy-eyed heartbreaks- never before has he overtly written a book that rings so true to his life, the autobiographical nature of which he has revealed both through his interview statements and the text of the book itself.
“Any novel that speaks up, and not down, to teenagers is sure to be a winner, and this is another gem of his [Green’s] particular genre.”
The book follows an anxiety plagued young student, Aza, on her quest to find the truth behind the disappearance of a billionaire from her hometown- or is she actually on a quest for love? Or is she on a journey to improve her spiralling mental health? No one really knows. Where before, John Green’s books were a mismatch of tropes, probably chosen from slips of paper jumbled together in a top hat, this addition to his canon is often a tangle of completely different genres. Instead of mashing these together to form great, and snappily titled sub-genres such as ‘docu-drama’ or ‘rom-com’, Green has just left originality at the door. Instead, he explores a mirage of cliché, from the happy-go-lucky adventures of children’s fantasy in books such as The Famous Five, in a scene where Aza and her friend Daisy go canoeing down a river, to the trauma and angst of a teen romance, circa Twilight.
Yet, for all that, we love Green. Even though all his dialogue delves into the murky remains of philosophy, evading any realism, it hits the mark every time. It bigs teenagers up into what they think they sound like, rather than what they really do, which, in five years time, they will look back on with disgust through numerous Facebook posts, or whatever social media we have then. Any novel that speaks up, and not down, to teenagers is sure to be a winner, and this is another gem of his particular genre.
“In this novel, Green has intelligently and poignantly sculpted his own experiences with OCD and anxiety- and his experiences with the illnesses are obvious.”
The gem is even more important for the fact that it loud-speakers discussion of mental health in young people, and so has managed to avoid any overt or heavy criticism. In this novel, Green has intelligently and poignantly sculpted his own experiences with OCD and anxiety- and his experiences with the illnesses are obvious. Although it would be impossible to describe everyone’s individual experience with mental health, Green manages to narrow it down to a singular experience, without worrying about pleasing everyone. By doing so, Green has formed a heavy and realistic portrayal of Aza, through her repetitive, and sometimes unsettling, thoughts regarding the bacterial infection C. diff and the titular metaphor of “Turtles all the way down”. This metaphor is based on a creation philosophy where the world was made from stacked turtles, much like Russian dolls, one placed on the other and then ‘all the way down’. Aza uses this to describe her experiences with thought spirals.
However, although this novel does tick the box of issue novel, light-hearted teen romance fans should not be frightened off. After the success of The Fault in our Stars, which centred around two cancer sufferers and their ensuing romance, Green is not tired of providing our tortured protagonists with a love interest. This time, it takes the form of Davis, the missing billionaire’s son. But, however sweet this romance is, it does not live up to the tear-inducing straits that TFIOS took us down, and Davis is a poor second to Augustus.
Whilst this book will satisfy the salivating of devoted Green fans, and is a stead-fast addition by a high-profile author to the recent range of media that intends to speak more about mental health, if you are a Green newcomer (and by this point, who hasn’t been untouched by Green’s Veil of Tears), you probably won’t be any more enticed into Green’s world of quiet, voyeuristic protagonists and pretentious love interests. I mean, who calls their stomach rumble ‘the cacophony of my digestive tract’ anyway?