“It’s not like you believe yourself to be normal. You know there’s a problem. But you can’t figure a
way through to fixing it”
Turtles All The Way Down, a novel by John Green -renowned author of The Fault in Our Stars- tells a story through the eyes of Aza Holmes, a 16 year old girl struggling with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. Green, who has been open about struggling with OCD himself, establishes the many irrational fears and impulses acquainted with Aza’s mental illness. She is deathly afraid of getting a bacterial infection since she was a kid, and because of this, she incessantly cleans a cut on her finger, which she has inflicted upon herself in the first place.
This story focuses on inner struggle as we delve deep into our main character, Aza’s mind, and witness her daily life as she grapples with her mental illnesses, whilst juggling other major events happening around her.
As the book commences, we see Aza sitting at the school cafeteria with her best friend, Daisy. Throughout the story, it is clear that these two girls are polar opposites. Where Aza is more introverted and socially distant, Daisy is spunky, outgoing, and full of energy, yet they always manage to have each other’s backs. Daisy especially proves to be to a loyal friend when she helps Aza through her frequent thought spirals; even when Aza traps herself in her mind, and
tends to alienate herself from Daisy.
The storyline begins with the mysterious disappearance of fugitive billionaire, Russell Pickett. A reward will be presented to whoever has any information regarding the whereabouts of the missing CEO. Daisy immediately jumps at the opportunity of solving the mystery and obtaining the prize money. Since Aza used to be friends with Pickett’s son, Davis, Daisy insists that they visit him in hopes of uncovering any clues that might lead to finding his father. After reuniting for the first time in years, an instant connection is formed between Aza and Davis, and as plot unravels, a romance blossoms between the two teenagers. However, we quickly see that this isn’t just some sappy teen love story. Aza constantly allows her compulsions to take hold of her, which at times, disrupts the sequence of events, causing the plot to move in a different direction. These obstacles are especially portrayed when Aza is seized by panic after sharing a kiss with Davis.
Initially, the synopsis is, in fact, quite misleading as it gives off more of a murder mystery vibe, rather than the obstacles a girl dealing with mental illness is forced to put up with.
The most prominent aspect of Aza’s constant struggle is depicted in her inner dialogue. We continuously witness Aza’s ongoing quarrels with herself, and more often than not loses these arguments. This leaves her feeling hopeless and dejected, as is the dilemma associated with many mental illnesses. By shining a light on these issues, Green projects the raw reality of a person living with a mental illness, which is what numerous authors tend to shy away from. Instead, he highlights all the intensity and ugliness in Aza’s life without ever sugarcoating her thoughts and emotions. This no-filter mindset renders Aza a relatable character for those who face similar challenges. Readers are able to see themselves in Aza, a girl being held back by her never-ending troubles.
These trials she endures also allows people who don’t go through these experiences to empathize with her and many others since they can follow Aza throughout her entire journey, as the tale is written through her perspective.
The outer conflict serves as a backdrop for the bigger picture shown in the story, and at times it can be stale and underwhelming. This might result in readers losing interest quickly; however, the many insightful passages seemingly outshine the somewhat forgettable plot.
By no means does this story have a fairytale ending, yet it symbolizes the harsh reality of life. Aza’s problems aren’t whisked away, and things don’t turn out the way they’re supposed to, but in the end, she learns to look past her mental illness and excepts herself as she is.
If you’re someone who enjoys deep, meaningful and thought-provoking themes, this book will
definitely suit you, and keep you engrossed until the last page.