We haven’t featured many fiction books on our book club posts thus far so I figured it was time for something a bit different.
I think most people have come across John Green, whether as a Vlog Brother, podcaster or author of bestsellers such as The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns. I’m a big Green fan. I love his books and think he has a talent for beautifully capturing the joys, struggles and quirks of the human condition through a YA lens.
I’ll be honest and say that when I first saw that Turtles All The Way Down was being released back in 2017, it was the title that grabbed my attention. Both because it sounded cool and also because it was vaguely familiar, although I couldn’t place it at the time. When I actually picked up the book to see what it was about, I knew I would have to read it.
From the blurb:
“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.
Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.”
The story itself wasn’t what drew me in – and even having read it the actual story isn’t what I loved best about this book (although it’s definitely fun!). It was the idea of a protagonist who was trying to be a good…well, everything. A protagonist whose thoughts were closing in around them. Even just that simple description in the blurb resonated with me. I felt like maybe here was a book that would capture some of what I struggled with. A book that might make me feel less alone with those anxious, intrusive thoughts that often plague me.
I wasn’t disappointed.
The main character, Aza, struggles with anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She often finds herself trapped in what she calls thought spirals and the way John Green describes this experience is so very true to my own experiences that it brought tears to my eyes in places. It made me feel seen.
Felt myself slipping, but even that’s a metaphor. Descending, but that is too. Forged in the smithy of someone else’s soul. Please just let me out whoever is authoring me, let me up out of this. Anything to be out of this.
This is an #ownvoices novel and the fact that John Green has struggled with the mental illnesses he is depicting really shows. The book is bursting with painfully real metaphors and accurate descriptions of feeling your thoughts spiral out of control. Like it’s not really you or your thoughts at all but something external that is raining down on you that you can’t get away from. Personally, I have never experienced OCD but anxiety has loomed large in my life for a long time and so many passages resonated with me in a very acute way:
But for some people, the invasive can kind of take over, crowding out all the other thoughts until it’s the only one you’re able to have, the thought you’re perpetually either thinking or distracting yourself from thinking.
I could honestly go on and on quoting from this book and going IT COULD HAVE BEEN WRITTEN ABOUT ME!! THAT’S MY BRAIN ON THE PAGE! YES! THAT MESS RIGHT THERE! But I won’t.
I will say that whilst the plot of the book is somewhat gentle, the characters are fab, the writing is poignant and insightful and the mental health rep is just. So. Good. It doesn’t shy away from the heartbreaking or the cringe-making or the down right disturbing aspects of mental illness. It also doesn’t magically make these things go away but it does leave you with hope that they don’t have to define you.
This is a great read and a brilliant book to shake at people who you want to glean a little bit of insight into what anxious and intrusive thoughts feel like. I would say this: if you are feeling particularly anxious or struggling with compulsions, maybe save this one for when you are back in a place of relative equilibrium – the descriptions are so accurate that I found they could be a little triggering when I was not in a great frame of mind. Other than that, add it to your list!
Happy reading, folks. 🙂