Title: Turtles All The Way Down
Author: John Green
Finished: September 14, 2018
Aza Holmes is a high school woman who is having an existential crisis caused by – or compounded by – OCD triggered by an anxiety disorder. She is prone to thought spirals which take over her mind and body
I feel like a noose is tightening around me and I want out, but struggling only cinches the knot. The spiral just keeps tightening… [p 165]
As those spirals continue and she thinks about her friendships, she considers “I couldn’t make myself happy, but I couldn’t make people around me miserable.” [p 157] Regardless, Aza works hard to maintain a friendship with Daisy and rekindles a crush with Davis – a rich boy whose father has disappeared. These relationships set them off chasing a mystery.
The idea of “self” ties in with her mental health struggle and we see the idea surface again and again:
“‘I think I might be a fiction,’ I said”
“Like you say it’s stressful to have a change in circumstances, right?”
“But what I want to know is, is there a you independent of circumstances? Is there a way-dow-deep me who is an actual, real person, the same person if she has money or not, the same person if she has a boyfriend or not, the same if she goes to this school or that school? O am I only a set of circumstances?’ [p 165]
As the story moves along we see Aza struggling with these questions again and again until it is almost too much; but then I saw that really it’s a technique to make clear the challenges she faces
John Green does an excellent job in tying together the hunt for a missing billionaire, friendship, romance, and Aza’s anxiety disorder in a quick paced story. I found myself putting off other activities and chores to read this novel. The fact that the author has suffered from mental illness since he was a teenager brings a authenticity to the story. What we want – or what I want at least – is to encounter meaningful and realistic lives in novels. Although there may be a few stretches here – can high school students really recognize lines from “The Tempest”? – it delivers throughout.
Be forewarned, that realism has a cost: you may find yourself avoiding peanut butter sandwiches for a while after starting this novel.