October 2017 / Review / Whitney Bain

Turtles All the Way Down, Thumbs All the Way Up

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John Green has not indulged his fans with a new novel since October of 2012. In fact, Green himself feared The Fault in Our Stars would be his last book. To explain why this may have been the case, all one must do is read his latest book. Turtles All the Way Down, released on October 10, 2017, is a story in which John Green somewhat explains his own struggle with anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

The novel’s protagonist, Aza Holmes, details her everyday struggles with mental spirals that she finds herself consumed in. She deals with the typical pitfalls of adolescence—worried mothers, cute boys, best friends—all while trying to escape her own mind. With a fascinating mystery involving an old friend, the journey of Aza’s mental health is placed in the setting of an unusual and compelling plot. As she navigates the now unfamiliar landscape of her life, she continues to explore the territory of the mental spirals that surround her.    

This struggle with mental disorders is something that John Green understands on a very personal level; he has been dealing with overwhelming anxiety and OCD since he was 6 years old. In writing this novel, he pulled from his own experiences and was driven to put into words what so few people can, and creates a relatable character with fears and experiences that many people have but are reluctant to address.

However, Aza is not the only character that readers can relate to. Her best friend, Daisy Ramirez, represents the friends and family of those with mental disorders. Sometimes frustrated, occasionally overwhelmed, and oftentimes unsure how to help, Daisy provides readers with an alternative view on mental health. At different points in the novel, it becomes easier to relate to one or the other—either we’re overwhelmed by our own minds or overwhelmed by the minds of our friends.   

As I read Aza’s story, I became concerned that this would be the story of an uphill battle and successful victory over mental disorders that never appear again, a story that is commonly portrayed in the media, but remains unrealistic in the real world. However, Turtles All the Way Down is less of the tale of how to evaporate mental battles overnight and more about how to live with them day to day. John Green himself still deals with his anxiety every day; it almost prevented him from writing this book. Both John Green and Aza are learning how to live inside themselves and in doing so create hope for those like them. It’s not the hope that their anxiety  will suddenly disappear, but that it can subside from being the dominant force in their lives.

This is without a doubt John Green’s most personal novel yet, and because of this, some of the situations Aza deals with are intensely specific. She has particular tendencies and thoughts that may not apply to a wide range of people. Despite this, her actions resemble thought patterns that hundreds of people are familiar with. I myself am dealing with the same realm of thoughts as Aza. Mental health is a deeply personal experience and because of this many people feel very alone in their thoughts. However, John Green’s characters prove that while the individual experiences may differ, they have underlying similarities that allow readers to feel that they belong to a community of people like them.  

John Green has provided his readers with another intense, intriguing, and relatable novel. He has put into words what most people find to be unexplainable. He provides insight into his own life in a way that makes his readers feel represented. He places the issues of mental disorders inside an intriguing plot that is full of interesting characters. John Green has once again given us a novel that makes us laugh, question, and think.

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