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Book Review: Mil veces hasta siempre (Turtles All the Way Down) by John Green (4/5)

22 Apr

I’d been meaning to read this book since it came out but never got around to it. When I was visiting bookshops in Atlanta, I found this Spanish copy and thought it was perfect. John Green is about my reading level in Spanish and I’d enjoyed translations of his work before. This is the last Spanish read on my shelf so it looks like I’m going to have to go looking for more soon.

Cover image via Amazon

Mil veces hasta siempre (Turtles All the Way Down) by John Green

Other books by Green reviewed on this blog:

Will Grayson, Will Grayson (with David Levithan)
Paper Towns
Looking for Alaska

Summary from Amazon:

Aza Holmes never intended to pursue the disappearance of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Pickett’s son Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

There were parts of this book that I wasn’t expecting. I wasn’t expecting Aza’s illness to come into the story the way it did. From the summary, I thought the plot was going to focus on the Picketts more. I like that Green found a way to balance this. I also didn’t expect Daisy to play as big a role as she did. It seems like Green can have major-secondary characters and minor-secondary characters and I’d expected Daisy to land in the latter category at first. Again, I’m not angry at how it turned out, it was just different than I expected. I think a lot of these expectations came from reading the first two chapters and then putting the book on hold for a while. Both of these items become stronger later in the book and the first two chapters set my idea for the book before I was able to get into them.

A note about the translation: I haven’t read the English version but there weren’t a lot of times in this one where I could tell the translation had to be altered to deal with the language barrier. This happens a lot with colloquialisms or puns that don’t translate. However, the title is quite different. It roughly translates to ‘A thousand times until forever.’ I figured the turtle metaphor didn’t translate well, but when it came up in the book, it seemed fine to me. ‘Tortugas hasta el infinito’ or ‘turtles until infinity.’ I’m not sure why this wasn’t used for a title unless the selected title is a colloquialism or common phrase I’m not familiar with.

The portrayal of Aza was amazing. As someone who has anxiety from time to time, I related to the spiraling thoughts. I thought the way she talked about them and detailed her spirals were relatable and very real. I’ve spent sleepless nights Googling things and been disengaged from conversations because I can’t focus. I’ve never had it to a degree like Aza does but I could see how these things happen and how damaging they can be and how much they affected Aza. The scenes with her and her mother were the most difficult for me. I’ve tried to talk to my mother about how I feel as well and it’s hard to describe, the way Aza feels. As someone who’s about to become a mother, it’s heartbreaking to see a mother who can’t understand her child even as she tries very hard.

Davis was my favorite character. I liked how down-to-earth he was despite the immense privilege he came from. I think he always felt alone because he was very different from his peers due to the early loss he suffered. It felt real to me that he would reconnect with Aza so quickly because he felt she shared his background and very few others did. He was very understanding of Aza’s qualms about being intimate with him and I think it was a great demonstration of consent.

As I’ve said, I related to Aza and her spirals. I’ve had nights where I can’t sleep because of spiraling thoughts. It’s hard to articulate what that’s like and I think Green did a great job of illustrating how exhausting it can be and how much it can take over someone’s life.

John Green
Image via Twitter

Daisy’s story was one of my favorite parts of the book. I respected the work she did to earn enough money to pay for night school. And when she came into money, I respected her ultimate decision to save it and to help pay for her sister’s education, even if that’s not what she originally wanted. I thought it was really great to see a character who didn’t have a comfortable middle-class life and what that could look like. Most of Green’s characters before had been more well-off and Daisy was a great way to introduce someone who had some struggle.

Mixing in the disappearance case seemed like a bit of a stretch to me. Russell Pickett could have been in the book and very little would have changed. I think it muddled the message Green was trying to share and added parts to the plot that weren’t needed. It made me think the book was going in a completely different direction than where it ended up and I felt a little hoodwinked.

Aza has a hard time loving herself because of her illness and thus struggles to see how others could love her. She pushes her mother, Davis, and Daisy away when she’s in the hospital and doesn’t feel she’s worthy of forgiveness for what she’s done when all assure her she’s forgiven. It must be hard for someone battling with such a strong mental illness to find peace. I hope that Aza and people like her can find the help that they need like Aza did.

Writer’s Takeaway: Green found a way to write about a lot of diverse characters without making it seem forced or unnatural which I really liked. Davis seems to be the only one who doesn’t squarely fit in a minority, but he’s lost a mother and that’s affected him in ways that aren’t easy to define. When I write, it’s hard for me to imagine the lives of people who are really different from me and feel like I’m empowered to write about their lives so I really applaud him for bringing in so many diverse characters.

An enjoyable book but not a grand slam for me. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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