John Green: Turtles All the Way Down


I will warn you ahead of time that I dive pretty deep into this one. It’s not exactly spoilery, but it’s a lot more analysis than review.

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts. 

In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.

John Green is a very polarizing author–people in the book community either love him…or they really love to hate him. I’ve always been kind of right in the middle.  His books are ok–I can understand why people love them, and they are fun to read, but they are also pretty problematic. That manic pixie dream girl trope…well, she’s just an imaginary figment. And I’ve always thought it was a little weird that an adult male was writing about teenage girls. There’s something a little off about that.

However, I do connect with John Green, and his brother Hank, outside of the literary world in Nerdfighteria. Their videos are generally pretty educational, across many channels and interests, so that’s where I do have an appreciation for John Green. And over the years, he’s become a lot more vocal about his mental health and struggles with OCD, at the same time mine was deteriorating. Hearing him talk about his illness has been quite helpful in understanding how to come to terms with my own.

This is all to say that I was more excited than I thought I would be for a new John Green book. When I found out he had written about OCD, I put it on my TBR immediately. Mental illness representation is becoming more common, but Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is still not something that is written about often in fiction, and when it is, it is not Own Voices, so it’s usually a very glazed over version.

Turtles All the Way Down is in no way glazed over. In fact I messaged a fellow OCD’er  before I even finished the first chapter and told her to be careful with it, because the first chapter is triggering as fuck. Green has shared about his fear of bacteria in his various sources of media before, and he has put every single bit of that in this novel. That’s not even my usual pressure point but holy cow did it set my obsession wheels turning.

In this book, you will see exactly how it feels to be in the mind of someone with OCD. It isn’t the cutesy memes on facebook, or keeping a bookshelf neat and tidy. The obsessions are desperate and painful thought spirals, and the compulsions are tiny, simple things but they completely take over until they become dangerous.

I’ve also seen people talk about how irresponsible she was in regards to her medication and therapy, so I wanted to discuss that for a moment. Anxiety disorders with obsessions lie to you. They make you think that everything good is bad for you. So when she had her treatment there in her hand, she was terrified to take it. I can promise you in her rational mind, she knew she was privileged to have both pharmaceutical and cognitive treatment but OCD is not rational. I can tell you that from personal experience. I have to tell myself every single day that my antidepressants will save my life, and it is an absolute BATTLE to take my acute anxiety medication when I need them. And I’m a 31 year old adult. Having to do that as a teenager…Aza’s character is absolutely believable to me.

To be honest, I thought the plot itself kind of silly. It was neat to see this book set in north Indy, and have Carmel mentioned so often (though, where was Fishers, hello?). Also, I have always wondered exactly what happened to Pogue’s Run every time I drive by that sad looking retention pond marked with the ancient sign. But a billionaire leaving his fortune to a dinosaur? Silly.

Another thing that really bothered me is the girl who is obsessed with germs was just totally ok with running down a dark, smelly sewage tunnel. Nope. Not gonna happen. Also, can we please not send two high school girls down a dark tunnel in the middle of the night because there are worse things that will happen to them than rats and sewage.

So, there are some faults with the story. However, it’s probably one of the best books I’ve read in regards to OCD rep. I’ll be quoting those sections for years to come.

This was also the #DefrancoBookClub pick for December, so I’ve done a video review on my Facebook page!


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