John Green is a critically acclaimed writer who has established himself as the king of young-adult fiction. With stories portraying strong and smart female protagonists, he has struck a chord with the youth all across the world. Turtles All the Way Down is his seventh novel that describes the adventures and tribulations of Aza Holmes, a teen living with multiple anxiety disorders, particularly OCD.
The story is set in Indianapolis, the writer’s own hometown, where anxiety-afflicted Aza and her best friend, Daisy, are onto discovering the whereabouts of a fugitive billionaire and reaping the rewards by getting close with his son and Aza’s childhood friend, Davis Pickett. The story is a detailed study into the world of an individual striving for normalcy in a life overshadowed with anxiety. The author has skillfully narrated the idiosyncrasies of a person suffering from OCD as he himself had struggled with the same malady during his childhood. The narrative paints a vivid picture of the torments experienced by anxiety-ridden individuals in everyday circumstances, which a relatively healthier person might never stop to consider. The writer has made an accurate attempt at showcasing the thought process of such an individual with cleverly construed metaphors that seek to describe that ineffable anguish through the beauty and simplicity of literature.
“The thing about a spiral is, if you follow it inward, it never actually ends. It just keeps tightening, infinitely.”
“I can no more choose my thoughts than choose my name.”
“I’d been unable to think straight, unable to even finish having a thought because my thoughts come not in lines but in knotted loops curling upon themselves, in sinking quicksand, in light swallowing wormholes.”
The author relies heavily upon metaphors and similes to describe the pain of anxiety and OCD because (as one of the characters explains), “One of the challenges with pain – physical or psychic – is that we can really approach it through metaphor. In some ways, pain is the opposite of language.”
“Maybe we invented metaphors as a response to pain. Maybe we needed to give shape to the opaque, deep-down pain that evades both sense & senses.”
The struggle of the protagonist with coming to terms with the reality of her own self in a body infested with microbes is harrowing to witness. The description of her revulsion to her own body’s shortcomings and her incessant struggle to recognize her real self underneath all the pronouns of personality opens one’s eye to the tons of agony a three-pound human brain can endure.
“You’re a we. You’re a you. You’re a she, an it, a they. My kingdom for an I.”
The full extent of the gravity this mental disorder perpetuates is portrayed in one page, where Aza finds herself arguing with her self as the goblin of anxiety pushes her over the edge.
In this tale of trials, John Green has woven in love a flame of hope since he is, after all, an icon of young-adult romance in literature. Aza starts falling for the son of the rich billionaire, Davis, who himself is dealing with an absent, fugitive father and the grief that is brought to his life by his absence. Their relationship has to endure both the pain of Aza’s psyche and the sorrow of Davis’ predicament. And its intricacies are succinctly laid down by the author’s trademark way of weaving together words that leaves one’s mouth agape with appreciation.
“It’s a weird phrase in English, in love, like it’s a sea you drown in or a town you live in. You don’t get to be in anything else – in friendship or in anger or in hope. All you can be is in love.”
“Anybody can look at you. It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see.”
“Our hearts are broken in the same places. That’s something like love, but maybe not quite the thing itself.”
Great books often leave the reader with an aha moment, when the title finally makes sense with the story. The aha moment of this book will definitely leave you staring off into the distance contemplating how the whole can be more than the sum of its parts.
John Green never fails to deliver. His stories, though aimed at the youth, always succeed in enamoring readers of all age groups, not to mention the most detail-oriented and critical of critics. This one in particular is a brilliant work of art that has employed the charm of well-crafted language to enunciate the legitimate suffering that comes with mental illnesses that is so often disregarded by the less aware. With well-drafted characters that present the whole picture through different perspectives, the story ends with an ember of hope: “… and no one ever says good-bye unless they want to see you again.”
The beauty of the narrative, the necessary subject of the story and the genius of John Green warrants a solid 4 out of 5. If you want to initiate your interest in the genre of young-adult, or if you are simply looking for a brilliant read that will change your outlook forever (you can take our word for that!), you should definitely give Turtles All the Way Down a go.