REVIEW: Turtles All The Way Down by John Green
This is John Green’s best work to date. The story is personal and honest and steers away from the tropes that pollute his prior works (not a single manic-pixie-dream-girl in sight). The maturity of Green’s writing in Turtles All The Way Down rejuvenated my love for young adult fiction and excited me for future works by Green.
Turtles All The Way Down follows two plotlines - the first, a group of teenagers investigate the disappearance of a billionaire on the wrong side of the law; and the second, a teenage girl with anxiety disorder and OCD details her mental health struggles and triumphs.
The overarching plot, detailing the investigation becomes looser as the protagonist, Aza Holmes, falls deeper into the “spiral” of her disorders, and eventually becomes background noise to her mental health journey. I say ‘journey’ loosely because there is often no final destination with a mental illness and Green makes this apparent. While Aza gets worse, then gets better, it is acknowledged that it will often revert - to borrow from the novel, the spiral will tighten again, and loosen again, and Aza will live with this part of her self as a lifelong companion.
It feels as though the intention of this book is to accurately describe what anxiety disorder and OCD feel like. Perceived largely as indulging in irrational actions and thinking, it can be difficult for sufferers to explain in plain terms what is truly going on, and we see this with Aza as she grapples with every metaphor she finds to explain the feelings and thoughts and justifications for her actions. Another layer of honest depiction occurs in describing Aza’s relationships with her family and best friends, and illustrating the difficulties of pursuing romantic relationships.
So it was with the tightening spiral of my thoughts: I thought about his bacteria being inside of me. I thought about the probability that some percentage of said bacteria were malicious. I thought about the E. coli and campylobacter and Clostridium difficile… (p. 180)
I gave Turtles All The Way Down 4.5/5 on Goodreads. I absolutely loved this book and devoured it in just over a day. I’m thankful that there is a character who struggles as much as I do to put anxiety into words, and has given me the image of the tightening spiral to explain the descent of ascent of my own anxious thoughts.