The following review will try to be as spoiler-free as possible about this book. Proceed with caution. Any major spoilers that may appear will be marked.
Language is hard. Feelings are hard. Mental health is hard. Combining these three things is a trial in and of itself.
“You can count the first three flakes and the fourth. Then language fails, and you have to settle in and try to survive the blizzard.” – Aza Holmes, Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
I cannot always express how I feel. With all the words that exist in every language in the universe, there have been times I can’t pull enough of them together for a sentence. I realized this dating my first girlfriend. I have a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing & English, and sometimes words are hard. Words are not always available to express how we feel, or the hurricane happening in our mind. Sometimes it’s easier to stay quiet.
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green is about sixteen-year-old Aza Holmes who is pursuing a fugitive billionaire with her best friend, Daisy. Not exactly pursuing, but putting together clues to net the two of them the $100,000 reward. She’s also pursuing the spiral of thoughts in her head all the way down.
This book is by far one of my favorites in a long time, particularly by Green. I sobbed my way through The Fault in Our Stars when some aspects hit close to home. He’s made me laugh and cry in the same paragraph, sentence after sentence. And his latest book is quite different.
By different, I mean that it did make me laugh. But I didn’t cry. I put the book down instead. I took breaks from reading it because the spirals and thoughts made me anxious and aware of the spirals in my own head. And that made them louder.
Green managed to put into words what I’ve always found difficult to describe.
When I tell people “I live inside my head,” they look at me as if saying, “Of course you do. It’s your head.” But what they don’t understand is there isn’t an escape when you have a mental illness. There is you, your thoughts, and your actions.
Turtles shows anxiety and compulsions. It shows that mental illness isn’t something everyone can fathom without some kind of metaphor attached. Sometimes we’re mustard and that’s all we eat.
Mental illness is more prevalent than much people give it credit. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (43.8 million or 18.5%) experiences a mental illness in a given year.” And “Approximately 1 in 5 youth, ages 13-18 (21.4%), experiences a severe mental illness at some point in their life.”
These experiences aren’t a joke. They don’t make people “weak,” or “special snowflakes.” A person is more than their mental illness. They are more than their labels.
Green wrote a book with aspects that I feel to my core.
My only gripe is (highlight the following for spoiler): the ending.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind ambiguous or vague endings. I’m guilty of writing some in my short stories. What I do mind is that it felt too easy. It felt like a cop-out. And I hate saying that, but the ending is the only aspect that doesn’t satisfy.
I do recommend this book. It’s one of the few that I think portrays anxiety and spirals in a way that is consumable to the masses. John Green wrote a book that will hopefully create a more open conversation about mental illness in youth and adults alike.