Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
I read everything John Green* writes. Not because I’m drawn to young adult (YA) fiction, but because I think Green is the best American writer going right now, bar none.
Okay, let me dial it back. When I say “best,” I of course mean that I enjoy reading his books, but I also mean that he does something better than any writer I’ve read this side of JD Salinger: from the first sentence you are as comfortable, as in tune with his style, as lost in the prose, as you will be in 100 or 200 pages (unfortunately few of his books are longer than 300 pages).
Since first reading his work (I grabbed Looking for Alaska* at the Hong Kong Airport in a panic — down to one book with a 15+ hour flight ahead of me), I’ve tried to write books that are as effortless to fall into as Green’s. Combining that crucial first impression/hook that grabs the reader while also making the opening so relaxed that the reader can glide into the prose and ‘get’ the narrative voice from the first sentence is a whole lot harder than it looks. I think I got close in Too Rich to Die*, and by a combination of coincidence and massive workshopping, I wasn’t too far off in The God Patent*. But in The Sensory Deception* I plunged the reader in without net in an unsettling way, intentionally; if I’d read Green before I wrote The Sensory Deception, I probably would have opened that book differently.
In Turtles All the Way Down, Green exemplifies the purpose of literature. It took Green several years to write Turtles because it covers a deeply personal subject, an obsessive compulsive disorder that he experiences: fear of infection coupled with self-abuse (no, not like that) like washing your hands until they bleed.
The core strength of literature, what makes it more powerful than essay, is that by putting the reader into the heart and mind of characters, we experience what they experience. Our brains mirror the response of those characters and we semi-literally share the experience and that affords us the ability to learn the lessons learned by the characters. Heady stuff! The very reason that I never tried to describe Katarina’s model of the soul in The God Patent. First, it would be a long, complicated explanation, but second, it wouldn’t have any impact. You have to ride along with Katarina, Ryan, and Emmy and figure it out for yourself to taste any magic.
We can say a lot about Turtles — touching story of a teenage girl living an average life, trying to rescue a wealthy but neglected boy and be the best friend of a generous artist who accommodates her self-absorption, all delivered perfectly — but a year after you read this book, you’ll be thinking about it every time you put a Band Aid on your finger.
< Frammice all the way down, from here >
*Links to books in this article are “affiliate links” which means that I get a small commission from Amazon if you choose to buy the book from them (it doesn’t affect the price you pay). I do not consider the links an endorsement of Amazon — shop according to your principles! That said, I recognize irony when I implement it, but without the tiny extra income generated by affiliate links these reviews would not be produced because when I dove into this racket that we call being a novelist, I vowed that I would never write for free. Damn it!
And finally, if you’d like to receive my famous** Ransom’s Notes, sign up here and, if you ask, I will provide you a free copy of my novel The 99% Solution* because, in the spirit of The 99%, no one will be denied their right to read it for lack of material wealth! (**they’re not really famous).