by Taylor Vidmar
Welcome! My name is Taylor, and I like books. A lot. In this bi-weekly column I’m going to be reviewing the books I read so you can decide if you want to read them too. Some books may be old, some may be new, some may have been sitting on my bookshelf for months, collecting dust as I think “Crap, I really should have read that by now.”
You can add me on Goodreads to find out what I’m reading all year long. Now, on to the review!
Okay, everyone has read this by now, right? Everyone but me?? I’m sure I’m the last person to read this. Anyway, I know you’re all aware of Turtles All the Way Down, John Green’s long-anticipated follow-up to The Fault in Our Stars. I have to admit, I’ve been a little skeptical of the John-Green-hype-train (some of his characters can be a bit too pretentious for my liking), but I’ve heard some positive responses to Green’s depiction of mental health in Turtles and decided to give this a shot.
Sixteen-year-old Aza has a lot going on. Her mind is a spiral, tightening and tightening until she is unable to even think straight. She struggles with her mental health while also trying to maintain her friendships and deal with her father’s untimely death, wondering where she should go to college (and if she even should go in the first place), and experiencing her first real relationship, which begins as she and her best friend attempt to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a local billionaire.
I should note, Turtles All the Way Down is absolutely character-driven. There isn’t as much plot and action as I was expecting based on the book flap’s description. It reads: “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.”
This blurb isn’t totally misleading, as everything mentioned is really in the book. However, it’s far from the focus of the novel. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I was a little bit disappointed. Plot-wise, at the end of the novel, I was left with a bit of a Wait, that’s it? feeling. Despite this feeling, Aza remains a compelling main character.
The best aspect of this book is undeniably Aza’s own struggle with anxiety. The descriptions of her anxiety are so painfully vivid and realistic it’s easy to see how significant this book could be for young people struggling with their own mental health issues. Aza cannot stop herself from reading Wikipedia articles on rare, deadly diseases she believes she could contract. She has a callus on the finger pad of her middle finger from years of pressing into it her right thumbnail when feeling anxious. At one point, she even ingests hand sanitizer in attempts to rid her body of germs. Aza recognizes her behavior may seem irrational to others, but she really can’t stop herself. As she notes, “True terror isn’t being scared; it’s not having a choice on the matter.”
I wish I had more of this book. More character development for Aza, more of the relationship with her mother, more of her figuring out her future. At the same time, I understand why Green ended the book when he did. The point of Turtles is not to have a happy ending, but to have a realistic ending with many problems left unsolved. Aza’s anxiety won’t go away. We know she’ll likely be dealing with it for the rest of her life. But, at the end of the novel, we get a sense that she is more capable of handling it and that she’s also more optimistic about her future. Aza really will be able to live her life fully in spite of her mental health issues. After all, “Your now is not your forever.”
TW’s for Turtles All the Way Down: Anxiety, depression.