Turtles All The Way Down is definitely a John Green book, with all the pros and cons that statement comes with. That being said, I did like it. Quite a bit. Turtles All The Way Down is the latest novel written by John Green. The novel follows the story of Aza Holmes, a sixteen-year-old girl with a pretty severe anxiety disorder. Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis. Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts. (Mild spoilers follow)
So, I don’t know if it was just me or if the marketing campaign really screwed up, but I was definitely under the impression that this book was more of a mystery novel. It is not a mystery novel. It is not a mystery novel. IT IS NOT A MYSTERY NOVEL. Everybody all clear on that? Good. I wish the advertising for the novel had been a bit more forthcoming about the fact that this book is really about a girl with a pretty severe anxiety disorder. I was not mentally prepared for a book like that, and the longer I read, the more anxious I became. That’s not to say the book is bad or anything, it’s genuinely really, really good. I just think that everybody needs to know what they’re getting into when they start this book. If you find yourself in need of a trigger warning before consuming potentially triggering content, this is your trigger warning.
The vast majority of Turtles All The Way Down deals with Aza and her anxiety. It’s handled in a really, really realistic and respectful way. Almost too realistic. If I had to bet money, I’d bet that much of this novel is autobiographical in one way or another. While I went into this expecting a mystery novel, I really liked that I ended up getting a novel that dealt so much with anxiety. As someone with anxiety, so much of this hit home so well for me. The way Green describes invasive thoughts and anxiety spirals as this thing that you can’t escape that just gets tighter and tighter as it keeps winding its way down your brain really was amazing. I’ve never seen that concept explained in such an accurate way before and it was such a joy to read in this novel.
His characters, as always, feel a bit… fake in that no teenager talks the way he has them talk and they always think in these pretentious philosophical ways and it always feels just a little bit off. They’re well written and developed characters, but they still suffer from that factor that John Green has always been known for suffering from. Aside from that, though, they’re great. They’re relatable, likable, funny, full rounded characters. Especially Aza. And, to be fair, they definitely sound more like real teenagers than some of Green’s characters from previous books have, so there’s definite improvement on that front.
One thing that’s worth noting, though, is that this book very much doesn’t glorify or romanticize mental illness (or any illness). That’s an accusation that’s been lobbed at John Green for pretty much his entire career, and I’m happy to say that it’s not a problem that’s in this book. Anxiety is painted in a sympathetic but ugly light. A lot of detail goes into explaining just how awful mental illness can be. Green is careful not to stigmatize or demonize mental illnesses, but he also makes sure to properly show just how awful and unappealing it is. It’s definite growth in his depiction of mental illness and it’s a welcome growth.
It’s hard to talk about the “plot” of the novel as it really revolves around Aza coming to grips with her anxiety and how it impacts the people around her and how her life and Davis Pickett’s life interacts and weaves with each other’s. I thought it was paced really well. It never dragged nor did it move unrealistically quickly. Things happened at the speed they needed to happen and plenty of time was spent on things that needed time spent on them. It’s a quick read; it’s not a particularly long book nor is it a particularly challenging read. But it’s a well-paced read. You feel satisfied with how things went by the end of the novel.
Honestly, this is probably my favorite of John Green’s books. I loved The Fault in Our Stars, but he ran awfully close to romanticizing illness there and I enjoyed Paper Towns (and never understood the criticism it got for the fact that Margot was a “manic-pixie dream girl”; that was sorta the point of the book. Q had to learn to stop viewing her like that and understand that she was an actual person and not an idealized construct), while I never managed to finish Looking For Alaska and haven’t looked at An Abundance of Katherines or Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Turtles All The Way Down is a surprising book. It’s not a mystery novel; it’s a genuinely moving look at how anxiety can impact the life of the sufferer and those who care for them. It’s a sweet story about friendship and young love. It’s heartbreaking and funny and entertaining and it’s worth reading, especially if you or anyone you know has ever suffered from an anxiety disorder.
(4.5 out of 5 wands)