“Turtles All the Way Down” is a difficult book to read. It is not difficult because it is poorly written or filled with particularly challenging words. It is difficult because when the narrator, Aza Holmes, spirals, she takes you with her.
“Turtles All the Way Down” is John Green’s much anticipated return after the mega-hit “The Fault in Our Stars,” which was adapted into a movie starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. The book draws on his own struggles with mental illness to add a uniquely realistic experience.
Aza Holmes is 16 and living in Indianapolis with her mother and her best friend Daisy. When a corrupt billionaire disappears before he can be arrested, Aza and Daisy embark on a quest to find the man and collect the reward money. From a distance, this book is another typical Green young adult novel. Teenagers with just enough quirks, like writing Star Wars fanfiction or having a passionate interest in astronomy, go on a life-changing adventure. Once again, after digging beneath the surface, it leads to something much richer and more engaging that has absolutely nothing to do with the forgettable plot muddying up the background.
What makes Green’s books so important is not the plot or the drama. It is the unyielding reality of the emotions his characters—and ultimately, his readers—feel.
Aza’s struggle with anxiety can become too real at times. Readers with mental health or chronic health issues will be sucked down into the intrusive, invasive thoughts that color her mind and keep her detached from the world around her. Not only is Green’s portrayal of mental illness a revolution on paper, his main character’s failures, successes, romances and friendships mirror those of real life young adults who have needed a character like Aza for a long time.
The novel touches on themes of grief and fear, rationality and love, and the reality of illness and the way it affects you and those who love you. It discusses the expectations, realistic and otherwise, outside observers have for those who are ill. This will strike a chord with readers who have experienced illness.
“Turtles All The Way Down” will be the book from which you do not want to take a break. Reading it in one sitting is entirely possible for an experienced reader with a few hours to kill. However, reading it all at once opens the reader up to every single step that Aza takes, both toward wellness and away from it. The book shows how being well for sufferers of mental illness is a moving target.
More than anything, this book is a peek inside the mind of a girl with anxiety. It is a treatise that states openly that even imperfect patients—the ones that do not always take their medications and do not always actively participate in the practices that are built to help heal them—deserve love, care and patience.