Turtles All the Way Down, written by the award-winning author John Green, tells the story of a girl named Aza and her struggle with OCD.
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green is a YA fiction about a 16 year old called Aza as she tries to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and even a good detective, while living within the tightening spiral of her own thoughts.
Turtles All the Way Down discusses mental illness, identity and what it means to be a person.
This book has the most well written depiction of living with mental illness. Too often when authors try to tackle the issue of mental illness, they try so hard to show that the character has mental illness that they forget about the rest of the character. They become 2D shadows of their mental illness (13RW, Wintergirls, Finding Audrey, ect). They don’t have lives or beliefs or dreams or strong connections or personalities. They just have mental illnesses. This perpectuates the stereotype that people living with mental illnesses can’t lead happy, fufilling lives and are instead forever trapped in whatever hell their mental illness has created for them. This is not the case and Turtles All the Way Down shows this. Sure, Aza is ill and struggling, but that is not all she is. She is a teenager and a daughter and a best friend and an investigator. She is so much more than her illness.
Going into a book where the protaginist struggles with mental illness, you would expect two extreme endings: either she miraculously gets better, or she kills herself. These endings have been given to us again and again throughout many stories. It teaches us that the mentally ill cannot happy fufilling lives unless the make a tremendous recovery. It teaches us that a life with mental illness is a sad life, a failure, and that if we don’t grow out of it, we are doomed to having awful lives. As a society, we really like stories where the main character conquers their obstacles, defeats their demons and triumphs over adversity. Aza’s story wraps up with an imperfect yet satisfying ending. Things are never the same after events unfold, and Aza’s first-person narration becomes aware that her future will be full of ups and downs, but she will keep fighting herself in order to move forward.
Aza struggles with identity, knowing we are 50% bacteria and are therefore controlled by forces outside of us. This book questions how much control we have of our “selves”. And whether we can really call all our actions ours, and if we can’t, am I really the captain of the ship I call myself? As Aza puts it “I is the hardest word to define.”
“Your now is not your forever.”
“There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.”
“The thing about a spiral is, if you follow it inward, it never actually ends. It just keeps tightening, infinitely.”
“It’s so weird, to know you’re crazy and not be able to do anything about it, you know? It’s not like you believe yourself to be normal. You know there is a problem. But you can’t figure a way through to fixing it. Because you can’t be sure, you know?”