It’s been five years but here we are. John Green has a new book on the shelves again. We have this little gem in our hands. It’s something we all want to be a part of. More than a want, a need. (I’m sorry. That was too good an opportunity to miss. Let me know when you get the reference)
Title: Turtles All The Way Down
Author: John Green
Turtles All the Way Down is the story of sixteen-year-old Aza Holmes, a young woman looking for clues in the disappearance of a fugitive billionaire, while grappling with mental illness.
Turtles All the Way Down begins with a fugitive billionaire and a cash reward. It 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 tells Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity.
I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with myself now I’ve finished this book…It’s been five years since we last enjoyed a release week for John Green. We’ve all been so impatient. But now I get it. I understand every single day of the five year wait. It was worth it. There are lots of us that really need a book like this.
The protagonist, Aza, is a sixteen year old struggling with her mental health, most notably with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. She constantly reopens a callus on her finger to remind herself that she is real, she then worries about the wound getting infected so has to complete a ritual of disinfecting and bandaging it until she is satisfied that all of the microbes have been killed, but then she remembers that our bodies contain microbes and if there are so many of them maybe they are controlling her thoughts and actions so the whole vicious cycle starts again as she reopens her cut to remind herself that she bleeds therefore she is real. This is a constant recurrence in Aza’s internal monologue and really highlights the monotonous, repetitive, exhausting intrusiveness of illness. The thing I really appreciated was that John made it clear that this wasn’t a choice for Aza. She knew the process was illogical and that she probably wasn’t going to catch an infection or die and it was clear that she tried to fight it with everything she had but ultimately she ended up carrying out the ritual which made her feel better and ultimately reinforce the behaviour. She describes her thoughts as an ever-tightening spiral and talks about herself and her thoughts in metaphors. Her thoughts eventually become so intrusive that she splits into other perspectives to describe her situation. There’s even one chapter written in second person and it was heartbreaking to be quite honest.
The style of first person writing that John has used this time is very restrictive. Almost claustrophobic actually. Aza was so trapped inside her own thoughts and as a result we were trapped inside her head too. It was almost impossible to put the book down because you could see where everything was heading and it was upsetting. I guess we were spiralling with the narrative which was the whole point because that’s what mental illness is like. Another thing that is important to note is that whilst all of this is going on Aza remains, for the most part, very high functioning. She goes to school, she gets good grades, she spends a lot of time with her best friend at their local diner working their way through a coupon book of vouchers, she even reconnects with an old friend who becomes a maybe-boyfriend. It really shows that people live with this. Every day. People live with these illnesses as a constant nagging white noise in the background. This book is raw and unapologetically honest and it’s so important that it is because not enough conversations are being had about mental health and that needs to change – and it is, and I think this book shows that.
I don’t what else I can say about Turtles All The Way Down. It was well written. It was relevant to what is increasingly happening with teenagers and young people today. It was heartbreakingly real. My review could never do it the justice it deserves. I think it’s heading towards the status of a modern classic. I implore all of you to read this if you can, especially those who want to understand what it’s really like to battle with your internal demons.
John Green, I cannot thank you enough.