I hate books that get tons of hype when they first come out, and books that are lauded simply because the author’s last book was a success. Luckily, Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green, wasn’t one of those.
John Green wrote the now-famous book, The Fault in Our Stars, which was later turned into a movie that was filmed in Pittsburgh. I saw Green’s new book displayed on every table in Barnes & Noble and prominently featured at the end of an aisle in Sam’s Club. I kind of didn’t want to buy it, just because I thought the bookstores were over-hyping it.
I ended up getting it for my mom as a Christmas gift and read it after she was finished.
This book is a very insightful look at mental illness and anxiety among teenagers. The main character, Aza, suffers from anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. We got to be inside her mind, see how she views the world, experience the things that cause her anxiety the way she sees it. It’s always an interesting perspective to me.
This book was quite different from the last teenage mental illness book I read – and much better.
Aza and her best friend are looking for a billionaire (the father of a boy they know), who was reported as missing, because they want to claim the $100,000 reward. In the process, Aza reunites with the boy, Davis, and starts a budding relationship. They bond over the death and loss of parents, though they come from different worlds, economically.
Aza’s biggest challenge is the fact that she can’t get out of her head. Her thoughts spiral around the bacteria and microbes that she thinks are attacking her body with every interaction she has. She drinks hand sanitizer! (Gross) She can’t even kiss Davis without thinking about their now-shared microbes.
This novel explores friendship, death, anxiety, and mental illness amongst all the usual teenage angst.
While I can never really imagine what it would be like to have anxiety or these crippling thoughts that interrupt life, this book does a pretty good job of describing in a way where I found myself getting goosebumps, not able to sit still, needing to scratch an itch that I hadn’t noticed. I found my heart actually started to race a bit when Aza began her spiral.
I wanted to relate to Daisy, Aza’s friend, as she tries and tries and tries to cheer her friend up, involve her in conversation and activities, and enjoy life in high school. But since the book was written from Aza’s perspective, I felt like I understood her more. I felt like Aza was in the right, Aza had a point, Aza made sense. Of course. At one point though, Daisy brings up how self-absorbed Aza is, how she doesn’t ask about Daisy’s family or life, she doesn’t look beyond the edge of her own anxiety. And then I suddenly realized, I was just as self-absorbed in Aza’s life as Aza was. I was in Aza’s head with her, hearing her thoughts and totally agreeing with her perspective, until Daisy brought it all to a crashing halt.
During the entire book, I just wanted to make it better for Aza. I wanted to ease her pain, help her get through it, and tell her everything would be okay. I wanted to stop her from hurting herself and drinking hand sanitizer. I wanted to shake her and tell her to snap out of it, that if she only focused harder or distracted herself or took the right combination of pills, she could be normal like everyone else. But I couldn’t reach my hand into the pages to get to her. Green made her struggle real and dominant, and despite my best intentions, I couldn’t help her. Her mental illness was part of her and something she would always deal with, in some capacity. And that is the real, raw truth of this book.
P.S. I’m not going to tell you what the title of the book means. You’ll have to figure it out yourself.