Turtles All the Way Down
This was a tough book for me to get through, which is weird since this is a YA book. I picked this one up with my Book of the Month subscription because I love John Green (Youtube: Crash Course World History) and I absolutely loved The Fault in our Stars. From reading the description, I assumed that the story would revolve around the search of a missing billionaire by a group of teenagers (Scooby Doo style, minus the dog). What I wasn't prepared for the story to focus on the downward spiral of anxiety and OCD of the narrator, with the mystery was a side plot. And I really wasn't prepared for seeing my anxiety-riddled self mirrored in that same character. It was weird to read through her inner conversations, which strangely sound like many I have had with myself (minus the drinking of dangerous substances). The ending left me a little addled and unresolved, since I set out expecting it to focus on the mystery than a journey into the self. I am sure that there are other people out there who would enjoy this book, but it was not one for me.
In the past I have either love love loved John Green books or DNF'd them pretty quickly because of clicheness and boredom. After reading and falling in love with the greats, Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, I read some not-so-greats. And so I was wary but also hopeful with the final arrival of a new Green baby.
While this book was not a love love love for me, it was a pleasantly enjoyed with some definite feels invoked.
“The thing about a spiral is, if you follow it inward, it never actually ends. It just keeps tightening, infinitely.”
Okay first off I wanna highlight the trigger warning for anxiety on this book. I am someone who is not often overwhelmed by triggers in fictional writing. But I did at one point have to put this book down for another one because the anxiety made me anxious.
Green has used his personal experience to create some truly authentic and relatable thought patterns when it comes to the scenes of the MC struggling with her anxiety. I personally can't comment on the scenes of compulsions, however again these scenes made me feel and understand the MC, as well as John Green himself, in these scenes.
Bravo! Honestly nothing is better to me than excellent, compelling, well-spoken, and relatable mental health rep in books.
In very typical Green form, the book focuses more on the relationships of the MC with herself, her best friend, her parents, and a boy. Typical yes. But I didn't hate it. These sorts of contemporaries can very quickly turn into a I've-read-this-all-before-borefest, however this is not such a book.
If anyone was following while I read this book - you may have come across a moment where I became a ranting, raving, war hog of a person while reading this book.
Unfortunately, to explain this I do have to discuss a spoiler.
Part way through the book, Aza's best friend, Daisy, spills a large amount of frustration and annoyances and not-quite-but-really-close-to-hate of Aza's mental illness. I honestly lost it.
This is so incredibly cruel and damaging. If you have mental health concerns or are close to someone who does, you would understand that a large amount of these things you are already putting yourself down for. And for an outward source, especially when it's a close and trusted person, tells you those things with such little tact. Just no.
I don't hate Green for including the scene. It is a very possible thing to happen. And when it comes to mental health in fiction I don't think that the harsh and damaging truths should be left out. But I do think they should handled really well.
I would have much preferred that this scene to not just end in a car crash and therefore followed with a very guilt-felt apology. What would have happened if they had not crashed the car? What would have happened if Aza didn't end up in hospital? Would Daisy have left it at that and forever damaged the relationship? Would they have made up but then had this toxic view of mental health permeate throughout the relationship?
I just didn't feel all that content about how this scene was followed up.
My other slight concern was one that I have brought in many a mental health rep book: the mental health disorders discussed, depicted, and experienced were not explicitly named or clarified within the book itself. I just wish it was clarified in the book because I honestly don't see a reason why it wasn't.
Overall, this is a great book. This is a great book for mental health rep. This is a great book for own voices rep. This is a great YA book.
For anyone who has been let down by Green's books in the past I do recommend you give this one a go. Not the 5 stars I've given to some of his other books but a solid addition to his bookography.
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She doesn’t have it yet. Or maybe she does. She doesn’t think so. But she could. Probably. Her mind is an ever-tightening spiral of reminders that her body isn’t her own but really she’s just an animated corpse and everything she does is actually at the whim of the millions of microorganisms that make up the physical being that is her. Meanwhile, her best friend Daisy is in a new relationship and this guy she knew as a kid has recently lost his father. And by lost – it’s literal. His father ran away to avoid legal prosecution and now Davis has to take care of his troubled l little brother Noah and now Aza is back in his life and he really likes her but she freaks out when she kisses him.
Turtles All the Way Down is a rollercoaster ride of what it means to have extreme anxiety and invasive thoughts as a teen and still struggling to find out who you are (probably just microorganisms) and falling in love (how long do someone else’s microorganisms stay in your body?) and trying to help a friend and his brother find peace (even when you have no peace yourself).This book was incredible and stressful.
You can’t help but to love Aza with every fiber of your being. She is a well-meaning girl who is battling very hard for clarity and assurance that everything is going to be alright. As the book is told in her third-person POV, you get to hear her mental monologue. It took me several days of short reading spurts to accept this, because as I read, I felt my heart quickening and a sudden consciousness of my sweat and saliva and just everything going on in my body and oh my goodness I don’t think that I could be Aza for a single day, let alone my entire life. It makes me so, so grateful that there are so many resources out there for mental health support.
That said, the fact that reading this gave me so much anxiety is also a testament to how well it is written. John Green does not apologize for who Aza is and he does not try to fix her. This book is simply about living with this tightening spiral and managing it, but Aza is notcrazy and she cannot be magically “cured”. The mental health rep here is so, so good and even though I don’t suffer the level of anxiety Aza does by any means, I really appreciated her.The story was written perfectly for the perspective.
This book wasn’t what I was expecting, plot-wise, but that’s okay. It actually worked really perfectly. On the outside, the goal of this book is “find Davis’ father” but because of who Aza is, this is a small back-thought. She tries so, so hard to get to it, but at the end of the day she’s so busy battling her inner demons that she has very little focus for her quest.
Like any John Green book, there are relationships. We are shown what it’s like to try and live a normal life while suffering in the sort of mind trap that confines Aza. How her thoughts affect her friendship, her relationship, her family life, and her every day activities like eating or driving. We get small respites in the form of Daisy’s Rey/Chewbacca fan fiction and Davis’ obsession with celestial bodies, but mostly it’s all Aza all the time.I really, really liked it but don’t think I’ll read it again soon.
This is the sort of book that is written really lyrically (beautiful) but just made me so so so so so stressed out I had to keep putting it down because I felt like I couldn’t breathe. There was so much Aza. So much information all the time and it’s written intentionally that way. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I am glad to be done with it because I felt like I was drowning, if that makes any sense at all.
For people with extreme anxiety and who are prone to invasive thoughts and spirals, please read this book with caution.
As always John has written yet another thought-provoking novel that I have had the joy of reading. John Green’s writing is polished as it always seems to be and very to easy to pick up and start reading. Green pulls in reader’s with his slew of well-developed characters. Green’s characters always seem very relatable to me and I really like that in characters because it makes the story feel that much more realistic.
One of the only things that I had a hard time with was Green’s plot. I was really invested in the first half of the book when Aza and Daisy are trying to solve the mystery, but then something happens that halts their search. After this point, I kinda lost of a little bit of interest, but thanks to Green’s superb characters, I was also invested where the plot continued after. It was a little bit of an adjustment for me at least, but after I was adjusted, I did like where the plot led me and what Green had laid out for me and countless readers.
One thing I always appreciate about Green’s books is how it makes me think and see things from different perspectives thanks to his character’s. Aza is the first character I have read, to my knowledge, that deals with mental illness. It was so interesting to read from her point of view and see how she felt in certain situations and then thinking about how other people may have felt in her situation.