Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, Review by Corinne Donnelly
If talking about mental illness is difficult, try living with it. In John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down, sixteen-year-old Aza Holmes struggles to separate her budding sense of identity from her OCD and anxiety. When Russell Pickett, the billionaire father of a former childhood friend, disappears amid a criminal investigation of his financial dealings, Aza and her best friend Daisy set out on a mission to find him and win the hefty reward. Easier said than done.
“Write what you know,” is the one piece of advice offered to authors on a consistent basis. Green uses his personal experience with OCD to bring truth to Aza’s narration. Told in first-person perspective, Aza’s mind jumps from subject to subject in never-ending spirals that she cannot control, echoing intrusive thoughts, a common symptom of OCD. Her voice is unique and bittersweet, but most of all, realistic.
Aza’s group of friends, from Star Wars-obsessed Daisy to burgeoning artist Mychal, have bold personalities and modern interests. Green writes high school culture well, adding in references to common school studies, like Shakespeare and Yeats, and mixing them with contemporary activities, such as social media, texting, and writing fanfiction. Green’s forays into biology and science, particularly the history of a certain tuatara (look it up!), not only entertain, but inform.
The search for the missing billionaire is a side story when placed alongside Aza’s battle with mental illness. Green makes it clear that Aza’s journey to understanding herself takes priority. Aza and Daisy must learn to work with and listen to each other, and when Pickett’s sons, Davis and Noah, enter the picture, respect, trust, and love also become integral components to the plot. That’s a lot to cover in a short novel, but Green pulls it off, and then some.
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green covers many heavy topics, and their inclusion is part of what makes the novel so fantastic. Green doesn’t shy away from describing OCD intimately and in gritty detail. Some of Aza’s decisions are shocking and distressing, and the response of her friends and family sometimes discouraging, but that is the reality of living with mental illness. Green’s openness and insights about symptoms and treatment may very well change lives. You don’t need to be in high school to read and relate to this book; all you need to be is human.