Book: Turtles All The Way Down by John Green
Date Read: December 27 to 29, 2020
Rating: 5 (of 5) stars
I read this at the end of the year, as I was trying to squeeze in a few more books to round things out to an even 50 (although my goal for the year had only been 30). This was my last book of the year, as I decided that I did not want a book that was going to span the year mark. I know it’s an arbitrary technicality, but I like my data clean—something that I think the main character, Aza, would appreciate.
Supposedly this book is about a missing billionaire, and the “adventure” that ensues when two teenage friends begin an investigation hoping for some reward money. While I will say that this is something that happens in the book, I would definitely not say that this is what the book is about. To be honest, the underlying sad love story that is typical of Green’s work is merely an undercurrent here to a much more interesting story about mental health. This is a first person account of a girl who is struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
While Aza is dealing with some unusual circumstances related to her childhood friend’s missing billionaire father, most of it is an account of her every day life. Her mental state impacts every aspect of her life, and she seems only semi-aware of how it impacts those around her as well. I thought it was interesting that she is able to see how her illness effected her developing relationship with an old friend turned love interest, but did not realize the influence on her relationship with her best friend. I suppose this is part of the nature of mental illness: even when you know you are unwell, you do not realize its extent.
As Aza’s internal thoughts spiral out of control, her behavior also becomes increasingly concerning. Her fear of germs turns from excessive hand washing and sanitizing to trying to sanitize her internal organs as well. Seeing the underlying thought processes here was somewhat disturbing, as it is pretty clear how this obviously destructive and dangerous behavior seemed perfectly logical to Aza. I liked that Aza was connected to the help that she needed, without minimizing the hard work that she had ahead of her.
While I was reading, I was impressed with the handling of Aza’s illness. Although I am very interested in mental health, I am sometimes put-off by depictions in media. It was not until much later (actually, part way through writing this review) that I realized that Green also has obsessive-compulsive disorder, making this an “our voices” novel on mental illness. Although I know there is plenty of legitimate criticism of the repetitive themes in Green’s books, I think this one was very well done and worth the read.
Minka’s Thoughts: “Where are the turtles? I was misled! 1 paw.”