Five years after his last release, John Green’s newest novel “Turtles All the Way Down” isn’t only one of his most emotional pieces, but also his most personal.
The story follows Aza Holmes as she simultaneously tries to solve a mystery and figure out the details of living with obsessive compulsive disorder. The mystery portion of the novel is more of a background to showcase her life with this mental illness and how she navigates its effects while she’s still growing up.
The character of Aza herself is so well-written. In reading her character, the details of her thought process were described in so much detail that the reader gets a very vivid look into the mind of someone with this disorder. This pieced together with her actions and reactions put together a comprehensive image of who she is and how serious this is. This character development is so great that by comparison all the other characters fell a bit flat. Davis was slightly better developed than the others, but for characters like Daisy, the reader has to just accept her words and actions and try to piece together her motivations from the minimal information that has been given.
Although the mystery element is very basic and straightforward, that isn’t the point of the story, so it’s a perfect fit for the novel. The story is really about how Aza learns to live with her mind on top of everything else, and she learns this during her time as a high school student. There are funny moments, epiphany moments and heartbreaking moments as Aza moves throughout the narrative, occasionally trapped in her thought spirals.
For example, she often will get caught up in the idea of catching C. diff colitis, which causes inflammation of the colon. This idea will spiral her thoughts into a paranoid frenzy until she acts in some way to “get rid of” the microbiomes. Some of the things she does to rid these of this are extreme, which makes some scenes difficult to read. Yet, these are the moments that allow the reader to have as clear of a picture of her character and her disorder as possible.
The harshest moment to read that incorporates this very real portrayal of her illness occurs when she is compelled to drink hand sanitizer. This is the level of extremity that Green is unafraid to share.
There are quite a few books out at the moment that represent mental health, but I think this one may be one of the best executed of them. While I can’t say from personal experience this is an accurate recounting of the thoughts of someone with OCD, it’s based on Green’s own experience with the disorder, which I think can be seen in the writing. The way that Aza spirals into uncontrollable thoughts is completely heartbreaking, but that’s a sign that Green did a fantastic job in his portrayal and thoroughness of the disorder.
It didn't seem too much like Green’s other writings either. Yes, there’s a romance. No, that’s not the focal point of the story. Again, like the mystery element, it really is only there to highlight some other element of the book. In this situation, it makes Aza think about how she doesn’t, and right now can’t, live a normal life.
In comparison to John Green’s other books, I think this one may be my favorite. Its genuineness and organization made it really easy to follow and understand what was happening. Because it’s so easy to understand, it also made it really difficult to read at times. More than once, I found myself having to put the book down so that I wouldn't be overwhelmed--something that attests to the conveyance of what Aza goes through.
“Turtles All the Way Down” is definitely a book that people should pick up to read. It may be difficult at times, but overall it tells a stark and important story.
The views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Torch.