I realize that I am way behind on this, especially since Turtles All the Way Down was released over a month ago. But I finally started it, I put off my 15-page thesis long enough to finish it, and it deserves a spotlight of its own.
I’ll have to admit, I’m not the biggest fan of John Green. I enjoyed Looking for Alaska when I read it back in high school, but the rest of his novels were sub-par for me. The characters felt more like caricatures, I couldn’t connect to any of them, and the plot lines were incredibly surface-level.
I knew that this said more about the time he spent writing them than about his writing abilities, though. Looking for Alaska was so good, but it was his first novel, and he spent years writing it.
So when I heard that he was finally coming out with another novel, one that he also spent years on, I was excited. I was going to give it a chance for this reason alone, despite having not enjoyed his other novels.
And I was not disappointed.
I loved, loved, LOVED Turtles All the Way Down, and it’s mainly because of the book’s realistic portrayal of mental illness and the effect it can have not only on those suffering from it, but also their loved ones.
My favorite parts of the novel were the ones where there were internal conversations between Aza’s mental illness and her rational side. She was overcome with anxiety, but it was only a part of her brain.
As someone with anxiety, I think it’s important to show that we know our impulses are irrational, but our anxiety ends up taking control most of the time and we don’t know how to stop it. Green showed just that, and with eloquence.
That being said, though, he balanced the parts inside Aza’s head and the external events of the novel really well. I never felt like her internal dialogue lasted too long or distracted from the plot, even when she was dissociating.
As I noted earlier, he also realistically portrayed how mental illness affects the loved ones of those suffering. Too many novels show teenagers being able to support their mentally ill friends and significant others with ease, and that just isn’t the case in real life.
From experience, I know that friends become impatient, and relationships are constantly on the rocks because of mental illness. Without any spoilers, all I can say is that Green shows this reality with striking accuracy. At one point, when Aza’s best friend is ranting to her, I felt as though I was reading the texts I had gotten from my own friends back in high school.
The accurate portrayal of mental illness isn’t the only impressive thing about Turtles All the Way Down. Aza’s relationship with the women in her life — her mother and her best friend — are the focal point of the novel, not her relationship with the boy. And the boy doesn’t save her; he hardly even tries. He’s merely recognized as a notable part of her ongoing life.
The ending wrapped up the novel, too, but not with a neat little bow. Nothing irritates me more than a stand-alone book about a tough topic that wraps things up nicely, as if someone can recover from a lifetime of mental illness in two weeks. Instead, Green makes it evident that recovery is possible, just not within the timeline of the novel.
Overall, it’s a great book, and I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads. That’s not saying much, though; I give a lot of books 5 stars on Goodreads because I’m way too enthusiastic. If I could, though, I’d give it all the stars and recommend it to everyone.
So if you think you want to read a John Green book, start with Turtles All the Way Down (or Looking for Alaska). You won’t be disappointed, either.