Turtles All the Way Down

John Green’s first book since mega-bestseller The Fault in Our Stars carries the expected blend of funny/sad feels but goes darker. With a melancholic ending that expands its scope and highlights, excitingly, the development of Green’s talents and range, the book manages to be both satisfying and softly incomplete.

In spite of this typically optimistic focus, Turtles All the Way Down strikes a surprisingly somber note. At first, such heady theorizing seems appropriate to the theme of concerns of the novel. The plot revolves around two emotionally difficult stories. Aza is the novel’s narrator, a lower-middle-class high schooler who suffers from profound anxiety specifically an obsession with intestinal germs. She even drinks hand sanitizer from time to time. She believes that she’ll never really get better even if she’s receiving psychiatric help. Aza, seems a prime example of someone who “cannot will what she wills”, is a victim of obsessive thinking.

Davis is Aza’s potential love interest, a sensitive rich kid whose businessman father has gone missing after being accused of fraud. Davis and his kid brother Noah at least have material comforts to help them through for the time being, though unsure of what the future holds. Daisy, Aza’s best friend, an up-and-coming Star Wars fan-fiction author, complete’s the trio of characters. Daisy nonetheless does her best to be supportive but a bit loud and overbearing.

The narrative sensitively by Green tours the suffering caused by both obsessive-compulsive disorder and fiscal malfeasance. It doesn’t promise or offers much of a happy ending for Turtles All the Way Down. There’s no hint that Aza will ever escape her anxiety disorder and the characters won’t find love. Green is to be lauded for keeping our eyes on the hard stuff.

The narrative’s spotlight is more on Aza’s psychological circumstances, her anxiety disorder, and her intense fear of germs despite raising such complicated social issues. Since Green’s main focus, sincere and compassionate, is on Aza’s personal anxiety,  the issues of class and corporate corruption remain components of the story’s background.

Green doesn’t link reader’s attention on the presence of this system. Instead, Turtles All the Way Down acts toward a perplexed acceptance of things as they are. Recalling Green’s explanation of the book’s title, this is a move made all too clear.

Perhaps the novel materialized out of struggles with anxiety close to home as can be read in the acknowledgments at the back of the volume mention, in gratitude, the work of some mental health professionals. In this present time, we need books for young people that actively and warmly represent the series of mental health and illness, and this book does that.