Posted in 2018, Fiction, John Green

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

In my personal opinion, this book didn’t pick up momentum till a little after the middle. I picked to read this book because I heard it was sad and that it was John Green’s greatest book yet. Sadly, it did not live up to the hype. (My fault, really, for submitting to the hype.)

But let’s talk about what the book did get right. It introduced a character, Aza Homes, that has a mental illness. She has a strong case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder mixed with anxiety over germs. She has a callus on the fingerprint of her middle finger that she keeps bandaging throughout the book. She opens the wound, thinks it’s infected, cleans it and wraps it up again. She developed the callus because once upon a time, her mom told her that she knows she’s real if pinching herself hurts. That turned into a bad habit. Being inside Aza’s head is difficult if you’re not used to overthinking. She has thought spirals and constantly thinks she’s dying. Reading this book in the waiting room of a doctor’s office was strangely comforting.

The storyline was not interesting at all. Russel Pickett is a billionaire fugitive CEO that goes missing on a day of a search warrant. There is a hundred thousand dollar reward for any information that will lead to his capture. Daisy, Aza’s best friend, wants to get that reward so she convinces Aza to help her since she know’s Russel’s son Davis. Daisy and Aza are high schoolers, mind you. This is not a detective story. It’s just two girls trying to solve a crime police officers can’t. They try to put the pieces together until love gets in the way.

The relationship between Daisy and Aza was great. They are uncommon best friends and when they argue, it’s very developing. My favorite parts where with them actually talking through their feelings instead of pretending everything is okay. They are both selfish in their own way.

The relationship with Davis and Aza is sad. Mostly because of all they’ve lost and how, based on those circumstances, they have a silently strong connection with each other.

The relationship with Aza and her mom is, well, typical. It’s not that different from other single mom stories. The mom is worried about her teenage daughter, the daughter is trying to conceal her mom from worry.

This book is very monotone (well, up until the intersting part in the middle of the book). At least that’s how it felt like.

Favorite Quotes (Contains spoilers)

Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.
-Arthur Schopenhauer

This is at the beginning of the book. I just think it’s a good quote. It basically means that just wanting something is not enough. Something that most people don’t understand. Especially if you have a disorder of some kind.

At the time I first realized I might be fictional, my weekdays were spent at a publicly funded institution on the north side of Indianapolis called White River High School, where I was required to eat lunch at a particular time–between 12:73 pm and 1:14 pm–by forces so much larger than myself that I couldn’t even begin to identify them. If those forces had given me a different lunch period, or if the tablemates who helped author my fate had chosen a different topic of conversation that September day, I would’ve met a different end–or at least a different middle But I was beginning to learn that your life is a story told about you, not one that you tell.
Of course, you pretend to be the author. You think, I now choose to go to lunch, when the monotone beep rings from on high at 12:37. But really, the bell decides. You think you’re the painter, but you’re the canvas.

This is a long quote. Well, this is actually the first page of the book. Aza, herself is an interesting character to venture on such an uncommon story. If you’ve ever had an out of body experience, this is pretty much the feeling. You don’t necessarily feel in control of your life. It feels like you are just a victim of the circumstances rather than a human being. Already, I fell in love with Aza’s thought process. What this book lacked in storytelling, it made up with fantastic thoughts. It’s possible that the storytelling would have been better if it were in the mind of Daisy, Aza’s StarWars Fan Fiction blogging best friend.

The thing about a spiral is, if you follow it inward, it never actually ends. It just keeps tightening, infinitely.

Not to mention, the deeper you go, the harder it is to see the light to find your way out. One of my favorite quotes is “My mind is dangerous neighborhood, I have to remember to bring a friend.” Although friend’s aren’t quialified professionals, sometimes their mere company alone helps. Aza admitted that it was easier to get distracted when Daisy was around. However, depending on your friends who do not understand your situation is not a full proof method. John Green wrote instances about that as well.

I would’ve told her that Davis and I never talked much, or even looked at each other, but it didn’t matter, because we were looking at the same sky together, which is maybe more intimate than eye contact anyway. Anybody can look at you. It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see.

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“Your brain seems like a very intense place,” Mom answered.
“It’s just weird, how this is decided by someone I don’t know and then I have to live by it. Like, I live on someone else’s schedule. And I’ve never even met them.”
“Yes, well, in that respect and many others, American high schools do rather resemble prisons.”

True…and hilarious. The only difference is that in high schools, thinking won’t get you killed…maybe bullied…but not killed. But that’s not the point. Our justice system since that incarceration is the only way to teach discipline.

“I’ve got a theory about uniforms. I think they design them so that you become, like, a nonperson, so that you’re not Daisy Ramirez, a Human Being, but instead a thing that brings people pizza and exchanges their ticket for plastic dinosaurs. It’s like the uniform is designed to hide me.”

Daisy is correct about uniforms. It’s to make you into one entity and not into a being. It why they are called uniforms and not costumes.

I remembered Daisy throwing daddy longlegs at me because she knew I hated them, and I’d scream and run away, flailing my arms but not actually scared, because back then all emotions felt like play, like I was experimenting with feelings rather than stuck with it. True terror isn’t being scared; it’s not having a choice in the matter.

It’s why we are afraid of situations we feel powerless in. But still, let’s take a moment to digest that. Also, I like how she ackowledged that she was experimenting on feelings. I had to go through a phase like that where I thought I was supposed to find certain things scary, or gross or whatever just because that’s what “girls” do. I feel like, regardless of gender, a few of us experiment on acting the way our family excpects us to act than how we really want to act. Of course, that might be a good thing when teaching about values and filters…but it’s counterproductive when teaching about personalities.

“Our destiny is coming into focus. We are about to live the American Dream, which is, of course, to benefit from someone else’s misfortune.”

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“Whether it hurts is kind of irrelevant.”

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I have these thoughts that Dr. Karen Singh calls “intrusives,” but the first time she said it, I heard “invasives,” which I like better, because, like invasive weeds, these thoughts seem to arrive at my biosphere from some faraway land, and then they spread out of control.
Supposedly everyone has them–you look out from over a bridge or whatever and it occurs to you out of nowhere that you could just jump. And then if you’re most people, you think, Well, that was a weird thought, and move on with your life. But for some people, the invasive can kind of take over, crowding out all of the other thoughts until it’s the only one you’re able to have, the thought you’re perpetually either thinking or distracting yourself from.

Ladies and gentlement….thought spirals!

If I die weep at my grave every day until a seedling appears in the dirt, then cry on it to make it grow until it becomes a beautiful tree whose roots surround my body.

This is just funny. Daisy is such a drama queen.

“I don’t mind worriers,” I said. “Worrying is the correct worldview. Life is worrisome.”

YES! AGREED!!! I want a t-shirt with this saying.

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
-William James

Aza later complains that one can’t always just simply chose a thought. I agree with Aza on this one. But it’s a powerful quote nevertheless.

Me: I is the hardest word to define.

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“I’ve noticed you use that word a lot, crazy. And you sound angry when you say it almost like you’re calling yourself a name.”
“Well, everyone’s crazy these days, Dr. Singh Adolescent sanity is so twentieth century.”
“It sounds to me like you’re being cruel to yourself.”
After a moment, I said, “How can you be anything to your self? I mean, if you can be something to your self, then your self isn’t, like, singular.”
“You’re deflecting.” I just stared at her. “You’re right that self isn’t simple, Aza. Maybe it’s not even singular. Self is a plurality, but pluralities can also be integrated, right? Think of a rainbow. It’s one arc of light, but also seven differently colored arcs of light.”

I really liked the conversations with her therapist…especially because her therapist was witty too.

“If taking a pill makes you different, like if it changes the way-down you…that’s just a screwed-up idea, you know? Who’s deciding what me means–me or the employees of the factory that makes Lexapro? It’s like I have this demon inside of me, and I want it gone, but the idea of removing it via pill is…I don’t know…weird. But a lot of days I get over that, because I do really hate the demon.”

The struggle with accepting mental disorders.

“I guess I just don’t like having to live inside of a body? If that makes sense. And I think maybe deep down I am just an instrument that exists to turn oxygen into carbon dioxide, just like merely an organism in this…vastness. And it’s kind of terrifying to me that what I think of as, like, my quote unquote self isn’t really under my control?”

I remember having similar thoughts, although not so detailed, when they taught me about the cognitive functions and all that jazz. How is it that the most important thing for us to do to live, we have no power over?

“Nobody ever says anything is too bad to be true.”

Ha! Guys, let’s start saying this! Actually…I’ve said something similar to this. One of my friend’s used LOL in a depressing text and I asked her why. She said because it was hard to fathom that it was real. That’s when I said “yeah, it sounds too horrible to be real.”

It’s a weird phrase in English, in love, like it’s a sea you drown in or a town you live in. You don’t get to be in anything else–in friendship or in anger or in hope. All you can be in is love. And I wanted to tell him that even though I’d never been in love, I knew what it was like to be in a feeling, to be not just surrounded by it but also permeated by it, the way my grandmother talked about God being everywhere. When my thoughts spiraled, I was in the spiral, and of it. And I wanted to tell him that the idea of being in a feeling gave language to something I couldn’t describe before, created a form for it, but I couldn’t figure out how to say any of that out loud.

False. You can be in fear, lust, depression, denial…there’s a lot of emotions you can inhabit. Love just happens to be the most song-inspiring.

“I like short poems with weird rhyme schemes, because that’s what life is like.”

I don’t….because that’s what life is like. I want poetry to take me to a new place. However, every now and then, I do appreciate realism.

I could feel the tension in the air, and I knew he was trying to figure out how to make me happy again. His brain was spinning right alongside mine. I couldn’t make myself happy, but I could make people around me miserable.

That last sentence is one of my biggest fears. As the youngin of the family, I grew up with the feeling of being a burden. So that particular sentence hit me hard.

“There’s a moment,” she said, “near the end of Ulysses when the character Molly Bloom appears to speak directly to the author. She says, ‘O Jamesy let me out of this.’ You’re imprisoned within a self that doesn’t feel wholly yours, like Molly Bloom. But also, to you that self often feels deeply contaminated.”
I nodded.
“But you give your thoughts too much power, Aza. Thoughts are only thoughts. They are not you. You do belong to yourself, even when your thoughts don’t.”
“But your thoughts are you. I think therefore I am, right.”
“No, not really. A fuller formation of Descarte’s philosophy would be Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum. ‘I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.’ Descarted wanted to know if you could really know that anything was real, but he believed his ability to doubt reality proed that, while it might not be real, he was. You are as real as anyone, and your doubts make you more real, not less.”

I never knew this about Descartes and his philosphy. I like it!

Every loss is unprecedented. You can’t ever know someone else’s hurt, not really–just like touching someone else’s body isn’t the same as having someone else’s body.

Thank you! This is true!

“What I love about science is that as you learn, you don’t really get answers. You just get better questions.”

Never thought about it like that. Reminds me of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

Chewie and Rey are accompanied by a blue-haired girl named Ayala, whom Rey describes as “my best friend and greatest burden.”

So….burden issue…re-triggered.

I expected the sight of Daisy to piss me off, but when I actually saw her, sitting on the steps outside school, bundled up against the cold, a gloved hand waving at me, I felt like–well, like I deserved it, really. Like Ayala was the thing Daisy had to do to live with me.

I have conflicting emotions with this.

“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 look for the, like, Real Me, I never find it.

Identity issues. I can relate.

So you would, and in writing it down you realize, love is not a tragedy or failure, but a gift.
You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.

The “why” part struck me as unusual. What are your opinions on that? I disagree but I don’t know why. Maybe because I don’t believe that love should define your why’s. Maybe because the love I’ve known in my life was never explanatory. Or maybe because I was thought love was a tool to help-build your character, but never the answer.

 

Featured Image taken from: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35504431-turtles-all-the-way-down

Author:

My name is Griselda (I also go by Gray or Gris…they’re easier to pronounce). I am a book reader with a lot of opinions and need for discussions. My hope is that I will be able to have interesting conversations based on the passages I’m reading, and if possible, book recommendations on what to read next.

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