Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Publication date: October 10th, 2017
Page Count: 286
It all begins with a fugitive billionaire and the promise of a cash reward. Turtles All the Way Down is about lifelong friendship, the intimacy of an unexpected reunion, Star Wars fan fiction, and tuatara. But at its heart is Aza Holmes, a young woman navigating daily existence within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.
In his long-awaited return, John Green shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity.
“Anybody can look at you. It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see.”
Turtles All The Way Down was one of my anticipated reads for fall. I was super stoked when I heard John Green was going to publish a new book, 7 years after The Fault in Our Stars was published. I know John Green can be a hit or miss when it comes to his books. My favourites from him were The Fault in Our Stars, Will Grayson Will Grayson, and An Abundance of Katherines while the rest of his books were lukewarm for me. So naturally I felt a bit apprehensive for Turtles All The Way Down.
I think it’s safe to say how much I enjoyed Turtles All The Way Down! That said, I think this book may have been better suited to be categorized in General Fiction rather than Young Adult just for the sake of gaining more audience to such an important topic. The vibe I felt while finishing this book was so deep and meaningful that I think adults would have enjoyed it just as much as young adults. But I totally understand why this book was solely for young adults. Mental health is such a big issue that’s slowly gaining more awareness through important books such as Turtles All The Way Down. And getting more young adults to read books like these and know they’re not alone is very important.
Ultimately Turtles All The Way Down is about a 16-year-old girl, Aza, who has anxiety and OCD. She experiences psychic pains in her thoughts where she feels she can’t escape them, thus resulting in obsessive behaviour such as cleaning a wound on her finger and reapplying Band-Aid several times a day in an attempt to control these possessive thoughts she has.
Turtles All The Way Down doesn’t really have a plot and that whole “chasing a billionaire fugitive” is just a backstory for Aza and her mental health condition. We get into Aza’s head a lot so don’t expect any phenomenal character development or even a great cast of characters because that’s not what Turtles All The Way Down is about.
“The worst part of being truly alone is you think about all the times you wished that everyone would just leave you be. Then they do, and you are left being, and you turn out to be terrible company.”
This book is hands down disturbing. But it is necessarily so. Not many people can understand the anxiety of psychic pains in which we have no control over. I have had experiences with anxiety back in college, but I choose not to disclose it here. All I want to say is, it is difficult to explain to people how lonely it gets when your thoughts take control of your self of being to the point you have no idea what to do next. And reading about Aza and her possessive thoughts help us a little in understanding what a difficult experience that is.
“One of the challenges with pain–physical or psychic–is that we can really only approach it through metaphor. It can’t be represented the way table or a body can. In some ways, pain is the opposite of language.”
Having said that, I found it so easy to read Turtles All The Way Down because I could relate to Aza so much. And why it’s so important to understand that sometimes your thoughts are not entirely your own. How do you be yourself when it’s a person you don’t like being and have no control over?
Turtles All The Way Down faces the underlying issue of how anxiety can be so easily concealed in the public eye. We see Aza’s friends knowing little of her condition but not understanding it entirely. They don’t ask what it’s like for her and how does it hurt. They assume she’s selfish and overreacting when they don’t know what it’s really like inside her head and how terrifying those thought processes are.
“True terror isn’t being scared; it’s not having a choice on the matter.”
Nothing is really straight forward in Turtles All The Way Down and I like how this is so representative of living with mental health conditions. The friendship between Aza and Davis feels so incomplete and lacking. But I think from the beginning it was made obvious that this novel isn’t really about love. Or even about friends and family. It’s about Aza and her own self. So kudos to John Green for not romanticizing mental health!
Turtles All The Way Down is not your typical YA book, and I love it the more so because of it. It’s raw and honest, and being an #OwnVoices book in which John Green opens up about his experience with anxiety gives Turtles All The Way Down an added reason to be read. This book can be heavy and a bit slow in some parts, but I have enjoyed every page that comes with it.
Overall, this book has made it to one of my favourite John Green’s writings. And naturally, you are going to come across reviews on how cliche his philosophical proses are (much so like The Fault in Our Stars) and how cheesy his characters seem to be, but do at least consider reading Turtles All The Way Down if you want something different from the YA Contemporary shelf. And be prepared to enter Aza’s head….
“The problem with happy endings is that they’re either not really happy, or not really endings, you know? In real life, some things get better and some things get worse. And then eventually you die.”