Spiral Into John Green’s Turtles All The Way Down

Photo Courtesy of Amazon.

Photo Courtesy of Amazon.

Our world is an oblate spheroid, the result of gas and space dust colliding over billions of years.

Our world is also the stories we tell about it. In Turtles All The Way Down, John Green reminds us that just because something is all in our head does not make it unreal.

John Green has always been interested in asking the big questions of life: Who am I? How do I navigate this messy, dazzling, complicated world? How can I meaningfully connect with people along the way? The stories he tells are of the journeys we take on our way to answering those questions.

This is why more than just young adults are drawn to YA literature. We will all continue to grapple with these existential questions for as long as we’re breathing, but adult readers who have battled their way through puberty still remember their own personal struggles of growing up. These stories forever resonate, and sell, because exploring these questions through the teenage perspective allows readers to remember the intensity of taking this journey for the first time.

Green’s Turtles All The Way Down does this and so much more. This particular trek through life is told from the perspective of 16-year-old Aza Holmes. She is a teenage girl trying to navigate school, friendships, romance — all while battling the destructive reality of her own mind. Aza has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, just like the author who created her.

The premise of the novel is Aza and her best friend Daisy compelled by a hefty cash reward to investigate the case of a shady billionaire who disappeared right before he was to be arrested for bribery and fraud. Daisy, who finds out Aza used to know the billionaire’s son when they were younger, pushes Aza to reconnect, and so begins the spiral to the story’s conclusion.

While this is the external plot, the true driving force of the narrative is Aza’s troubled internal monologue. Through Aza’s thought spirals, Green’s thematic interests come into focus.

This is Green’s most personal novel yet, as he seems to explore his personal experience through this fictionalized story. Green has lived with crippling anxiety and O.C.D. for as long as he can remember and wrote this book with the intention of helping to destigmatize conceptions surrounding mental illness.

Green achieves this with raw, unabashed immersion in the mind of someone who suffers from intrusive thoughts and obsessive compulsions. The writing goes beyond the generally comfortable feel of a YA novel to a new level of disturbingly honest portrayal of what it feels like to not have control over your own thoughts.

Turtles All The Way Down also addresses how relationships are built and maintained in the context of mental illness, allowing the reader to see from the perspective of Aza’s mother, her friends, and her love interests.

We need novels that authentically share a piece of someone’s world. As Green reminds us, fictional character’s stories are valuable because they represent a real experience. Especially when dealing with psychic pain, having stories that embrace topics usually neglected are valuable in helping those who have known this suffering to feel less isolated.

As C.S. Lewis said, “We read to know we are not alone.”