Turtles All the Way Down Commentary

By Sara Aslagson-Sahar

A new John Green book has just come out and part of me immediately  wanted to write a book review. And what indie literary journal that focuses on Young Adult Fiction wouldn’t? (It’s an excellent way to get into hashtags and join part of a very popular conversation.) But here is the thing, those of us who love John Green are most likely going to, or have already, bought the book regardless of how good others are saying it is or isn’t. Because we want to know too. We want to be part of the conversation and we want to dissect every little bit with everyone else.

So yes, I bought it. When spending $200-300 on class textbooks what is $20 more? Especially when I can get it signed. Luckily for me it arrived on the first weekend I have had off in literal months (you have to remember to carve out time for yourselves y’all #selfcare). So when I finally moved from my bed and looked outside there it was on my doorstep in all its signed glory. And now, several hours later, I can tell you it is a really fantastic book.

Turtles All the Way Down is narrated by 16-year-old Aza Holmes. Aza has obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), stemming from her fear of the human microbe, and it is clearly illustrated in the story. Aza also deals with the question of whether or not she is controlling her life and thoughts, or are her thoughts controlling her life, a cyclic question reflective of the title. Aza has two friends, Mychal Turner, an artist, and Daisy Ramirez, her best friend and a Star Wars fan fiction author. This book gets to be the “thriller” that John Green wanted to write in that Aza’s childhood friend Davis Pickett’s dad goes on the lam and Daisy decides that she and Aza need to figure out where he went in order to get the $100,000 reward money. What is excellent about this book is in addition to it’s great tale, it demonstrates the reality of living with OCD and it shows those of us without OCD how life can be on a day to day basis. And it is beautifully done.

But you may already know that. You may have already bought the book and read it. Honestly, I am 4 days late to the game writing this and by the time it is published definitely more. So my review wouldn’t have any impact unless it was published the next day. Or even the day of. But what this commentary does is it allows me to join the conversation. Join others in saying, wow this book is amazing, look what it is doing for mental health. Because you know what? Mental health is really important and we as a society have shoved it into the shadows for far too long.

John Green is using his status to bring mental health into the light. And that is the important conversation. He has talked about it multiple times on his vlog with his brother, the struggle it is and how he thought it had to look a certain way as a writer. It doesn’t. The fact that he is using his clout to write a story all about it? With the central character experiencing everything? That is important. He could shove all his experiences and the entire topic into a corner, but he doesn’t, he hasn’t, and he won’t. Mental health is something that is important and needs to be discussed. What’s going on in everyone’s brain isn’t the same. Sometimes –to coin my uncle’s phrase– you need rocks in the road to keep you from sliding down that hill of mental illness. But before those rocks can exist we need to acknowledge that there is a hill first.

So thank you. Thank you John Green for writing Turtles All the Way Down. It is a rock in my hill that catches me from sliding.

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