Book Review: Turtles All the Way Down
John Green’s newest novel, Turtles All the Way Down, is both a story about high school first loves and friendship and an honest story about mental illness.
16 year-old Aza Holmes has a seemingly nice life. Her mother is a teacher at the high school she goes to. Her best friend, Daisy, is talkative and writes Star Wars fan fiction. Her other good friend, Mychal, is an aspiring artist.
On the news one day, Daisy learns that billionaire Russell Pickett has disappeared just as the police were closing in on him for fraud. A reward of $100,000 is being offered for anyone who can help the police locate him. Realizing that Aza used to be friends with Davis Pickett, Russell’s son, because of a “sad camp” they both attended years ago (Aza’s father died and Davis’s mother died), Daisy convinces Aza to help her get the reward money. Reigniting a friendship-maybe-romance with Davis, Aza’s anxieties and O.C.D. that she tries to keep hidden begin to emerge more frequently.
Turtles All the Way down begins as a mystery that friends are trying to solve, but turns into an exploration of what goes on in Aza’s head. As her romantic relationship with Davis grows, he wonders whether she (or anyone) likes him for who he is or just because he’s rich; Aza keeps imagining all the bacteria that he could transfer to her. Her anxiety about bacteria (particularly a strain called C. diff) gets out of control; so much so that there are several hard-to-read scenes where she swallows hand sanitizer in hopes of eradicating bacteria from her system. No one around Aza seems to understand just how bad her anxieties are, or how her brain works. Even her therapist doesn’t fully grasp the extent of Aza’s psychosis until it hits a breaking point.
Like John Green’s previous books, Turtles All the Way down isn’t afraid of bringing to light subjects that should be talked about. He isn’t afraid to show how difficult it is to live with mental illness and how a strong support system is key. He gives his teenage characters a lot of heart, thoughtfulness, and intellect (which, in my opinion, is not reflective of real life). They are the type of characters and themes (who really tells your story?) that young readers will enjoy.