Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
Published by: Dutton Books
Genres: Young Adult
Description (Amazon): Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery 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 Russell 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.
“Turtles” offers a stark yet hopeful perspective on mental illness. Green is diagnosed with OCD, which his main character, Aza, also suffers from. In the beginning of the novel Aza has a relatively narrow perceptive of her illness—she thinks it is something she needs to conquer.
“I wanted to tell her that I was getting better, because that was suppose to be the narrative of illness: It was a hurdle you jumped over, or a battle you won. Illness is a story told in the past tense”
Green allows readers to look into Aza’s mind, specifically her thought-spirals. Because I knew these descriptions stem from a place of authenticity, they were even more terrifying; while reading these passages, I imagined Green and many others going through similar experiences.
“I felt these little jolts through my arms and legs as my brain whirred through thoughts, trying to figure out how to make this okay…I knew I was being selfish by even making a big deal out of it, making other people’s real C. diff infections about my hypothetical one. Reprehensible. Pinched my finger with my thumbnail to attest to this moment’s reality but can’t escape myself.”
I hope that more YA and Adult novels will bring spotlight to more mental illnesses. I hope that efforts in literature will refine soceity’s perspective of OCD and other mental illnesses. Because mental disorder isn’t a hurdle or a battle—it’s an continuous struggle (though the severity can be managed).
As Green writes in the acknowledgements,
“It can be a long and difficult road, but mental illness is treatable. There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t”
I didnt find the mystery-solving and romance aspects of the novel to be nearly as compelling as the examination of OCD. Though the plot was engrossing, it was also somewhat predictable. Other characters weren’t nearly as well-developed as Aza. To Green’s credit, the characters were realistic and I was reminded of my very cringey teenage-years. Parts of the books had too much emphasis on pop-culture and teenage-lingo (ex: the word holmsey appears way too many times). Thus, at times, the book leaned towards “enjoyable but forgettable”.
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