I read my first John Green book in 2012 – which, you may know, is when his last one came out. I loved them. I went from having read none to having read all six of them within the same amount of months. In a way, his books reminded me of Sarah Dessen’s. They told the stories of teenagers trying to navigate their lives in a way that helped me navigate mine. My favorite part about John Green books is that they always left me with the sense that everything was going to be okay. I had a lot of anxiety in those days, so that feeling was crucial to me.
For four years after reading The Fault in Our Stars, I had no new John Green to read. When he announced a new book, I was thrilled.
Turtles All the Way Down is about Aza, a teenager living with OCD and anxiety. While she tries to cope, despite feeling overwhelmed, the world around her goes on. A billionaire goes missing and her best friend, Daisy, wants to solve the mystery and collect on the reward. The search has Aza reconnecting with an old friend who becomes a better one. While her own inner world crashes, she has to learn how to manage her mind while participating in the world around her.
I believe every story we write has a little bit of autobiographical truth to it anyway, but this one was explicit. At the reading in Charlotte, John talked about his own struggles with mental illness similar to Aza’s and how he managed it.
Now, I don’t have OCD. In fact, I don’t have any diagnosed anything when it comes to mental illness. But I still saw pieces of myself in Aza, thoughts she had that young Kari felt too. He does such a thorough job of creating Aza’s voice and placing the reader in her head that I could feel the anxieties creeping back.
This story in no way glorifies Aza’s mental illness. Instead, it does exactly what it’s intended to do. For those who have never experienced something like this, it shines a light on what it’s like to live in a constant battle with your own brain. For those who are currently living with it, it does something even more important. It shows a realistic portrayal that proves there is a world outside of your head. It gives a guide for how to live in it. And it does what every John Green novel has ever done for me: it tells you that everything will be okay, even after the world has collapsed around you.