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Literature / Turtles All the Way Down

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"Your now is not your forever."
"The thing about a spiral is, if you follow it inward, it never actually ends. It just keeps tightening, infinitely."
Aza Holmes

Turtles All the Way Down is the fifth solo novel written by John Green, released on October 10, 2017. The book follows 16-year-old Aza Holmes, who has OCD and anxiety, as she and her best friend Daisy Ramirez investigate the disappearance of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett.

While embarking on this journey, Aza additionally deals with grief from the loss of her father and a budding relationship between her and the billionaire's son. The only other plot details from the novel revealed to the public before its release were that it was to contain, either literally or figuratively, "lifelong friendship, the intimacy of an unexpected reunion, Star Wars fan fiction, and tuatara."

The novel is Green's first published work since 2012's The Fault in Our Stars. He described it as "my first attempt to write directly about the kind of mental illness that has affected my life since childhood", as he also has OCD and anxiety which informed the story and Aza's character.

In December 2017, Green announced that a film adaptation of the novel was in the works. After years in Development Hell, filming began in April 2022. Hannah Marks is attached to direct, and Isabela Merced will star as Aza. The film is slated to be released on Max.

The first chapter, narrated by Green, can be heard here.

Not to be confused with the trope Recursive Reality.

This book contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Pickett was never physically abusive, but he clearly didn't care about his sons one whit, emotionally neglecting them and not leaving them any money. He probably didn't expect to die when they were still so young, but still, that's cold. Notably, Davis doesn't seem to care whether he's alive or dead; he's mostly worried about how the whole thing is affecting his brother, and bribes Aza to not look into it.
  • Ambiguously Brown: Daisy. She could be coded as Latina, seeing as she's a dark-haired girl whose last name is Ramirez.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Daisy asks Aza to read her fanfics. Aza does eventually, and finds an insert of her portrayed as The Millstone and a Jerkass. Thanks to the ensuing fight, Aza ends up in the hospital.
  • Be Gone Bribe: Davis pays Aza and Daisy to stop looking into his father's disappearance.
  • Big Bad: Russell Pickett Sr., who stands out as the first Green antagonist to actually drive the entire plot rather than simply being a Hate Sink side character. Even so, his physical presence is minimal and by the time the protagonists personally encounter him, he's a rotting corpse in a sewer drain.
  • Big "NO!": When Aza has to go to the hospital.
  • Body Horror: Aza's middle finger wound is a small albeit significant example of this, especially in the realistic context of the book.
  • Bittersweet Ending: As is Green's signature. Aza and Daisy discover that Mr. Pickett was Dead All Along. Aza tells Davis in private, leaving the decision of whether to inform the police up to him. He decides to do so to give his brother closure, but this means forfeiting the entire Pickett fortune to the tuatara and having to move to Colorado. Though to be fair, Davis really hates the money and how it isolates him, so it's more the eventual acceptance that his father doesn't love him or his brother. On the plus side, Aza and Daisy mend fences and understand each other much better now, Aza decides to become more dedicated to keeping her OCD under control, and she and Davis promise to keep in touch.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Aza and Daisy both have legitimate reasons for being angry with each other. Daisy writing Aza into her fanfic as a thoroughly unsympathetic character simply isn't very nice, and she's not always the most understanding in regards to her friend's OCD. On the other hand, Aza doesn't always put forth very much effort into being a good friend, to the point where she doesn't even know the names of Daisy's parents, despite the fact that they've known each other since childhood, and Daisy is not wrong when she points out Aza can be extremely judgemental. And they were both equally stupid for getting into this while Aza is driving.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Aza and Davis.
  • Companion Cube: Aza is very devoted to her late father's Toyota Corolla, which he had named Harold, as well as her father's old phone. Likewise Davis has an old Iron Man figurine, which is the only possession he cares about.
  • Defective Detective: Deconstructed. Aza's illness does not help her to solve the mystery of Davis's missing dad, it just makes her life harder.
  • Dead All Along: Pickett Senior turns out to have died mere days after he fled his house, catching some unknown disease because his hiding place was an open sewer.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Aza and Davis don't stay together due to him moving to Colorado. They both accept it's for the best.
  • Disability Superpower: Deconstructed hard. Aza is the protagonist of a mystery novel, but unlike detective protagonists such as Monk, whose OCD makes them precise and thorough observers, she's so busy dealing with internal anxiety that she fails to notice even obvious things, such as her best friend getting a dye job.
  • Disabled Love Interest: Aza is this for Davis.
  • I'm Having Soul Pains: Aza, all the time.
  • Implausible Deniability: Daisy claims that her character Ayala has become too different from Aza. Except that, as Aza points out, the prose reveals it may as well be Aza in a Star Wars realm and there's little to no difference in the names.
  • Jerkass: Russell Pickett was a neglectful parent even before he went on the run for being caught engaging in bribery and embezzlement. That, and he apparently left all of his money and assets to his pet tuatara, because he believed research on tuataras would eventually lead to life-lengthening technology.
  • Jerkass Realization: Aza and Daisy have a mutual one when Aza confronts Daisy about venting about her through fanfic. In the ensuing fight, Daisy at first is in Never My Fault and calls out Aza for not paying attention to any aspect of her life, and for judging her when Daisy is poor and thus must be "pure". Aza in the meantime calls out Daisy for being an Ungrateful Bastard about her 50K bribe that Aza got for her, ignoring that Aza has a crippling mental illness and for always prattling on and trying to justify their actions. The problem is they're fighting while Aza is driving, and Aza ends up front ended into an SUV. Daisy only has a bruise, but Aza needs to be seriously hospitalized. Afterward, Aza makes an effort to be a part of Daisy's life, and Daisy admits that she was holding too much unreasonable anger and tries to treat the fictional insert more fairly.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: An earlier reference to a line in James Joyce's Ulysses provides the pretext for this line during Aza's inner monologue as she breaks down while in the hospital:
    Whoever is authoring me, let me up out of this.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Davis. His mother is dead, his father has disappeared, and all he has left is a house manager who leaves everyday at 6pm and a younger brother that he has to look after. His wealth only serves to make it hard to trust anyone is actually interested in him.
  • Meaningful Name: Aza Holmes.
  • Men Don't Cry: Averted with Davis.
  • Mood Whiplash: After Mychal's very successful show and party, Aza and Daisy discover the meaning of "the jogger's mouth."
  • Most Fanfic Writers Are Girls: Daisy is a very prolific writer of Star Wars fanfiction.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Daisy after she accidentally gets Aza into a nearly fatal car crash and sends Aza to the hospital.
  • Never My Fault: When Aza confronts her about inserting her as a fanfic Jerkass, at first Daisy tries to claim she did it to vent about how difficult it is to be friends with Aza. She backtracks on it after the accident.
  • No Medication for Me: Aza struggles to take her Lexapro daily, managing about thrice weekly, partly due to forgetfulness, but mainly from thinking "that there is something intensely weird and upsetting about the notion that you can only become yourself by ingesting a medication that changes your self." Her condition begins to improve after she starts taking a new pill every day - but Aza is still unsure if it is a result of the medication or not.
  • Parental Abandonment: Davis and and Noah's dad is never in the picture, and then he up and leaves them without a word.
  • Pet Heir: Pickett Senior left his entire estate of more than a billion dollars to his pet tuatara, or more properly to a shell corporation he set up specifically to care for the tuatara after his death. His own sons will never see a cent of it; he justified this by saying that his tuatara will be used as an experimental subject in researching the creatures' extreme longevity, which could in turn lead to medical breakthroughs for humans.
  • Phoneaholic Teenager: Aza constantly reaches for her phone to read about C. diff when she is in the middle of a thought spiral. She's also extremely attached to her late father's old phone which she keeps hidden in the trunk of her car.
  • Promotion to Parent: Davis became his thirteen year old brother's legal guardian as soon as his father vanished.
  • Talking to the Dead: Aza occasionally talks to her dead father.
  • Terrified of Germs: Aza. She is terrified of becoming fatally ill from foreign germs, and is constantly plagued by existential questions arising from the fact that 50% of the cells in the human body are bacteria.
  • Title Drop: In chapter 21, while Daisy was sharing a story that her mom used to tell her.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Aza and Davis. They do, for awhile, and then they don't.
  • Wham Line: "Holy shit, Holmsey. We're in the jogger's mouth."
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Discussed with regard to Daisy's preferred Star Wars ship, Rey/Chewbacca.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Aza tells Davis where his father may be hiding, and probably that Mr. Pickett is dead. She tells him the choice is up to him whether or not to tell Noah or the police, since keeping it mum would give the boys seven years of their father's fortune until Noah turns eighteen. The brothers talk, and they decide to send a tip to the cops. Davis goes with Noah to Colorado, to a boarding school. As Mom puts it, it wasn't the money that was the problem.
  • Write Who You Know: An in-universe example. Daisy's fanfiction includes the original character, Ayala, who is main character Rey's "best friend and greatest burden." She is extremely anxious, privileged and always ruining things for everyone else. Aza is simultaneously offended and worried that Daisy might be right.