It’s been a while since I wrote one of these. 🙂
If you know me at all, you know that I’m a huge fan of John Green. He inspires me in many ways, because he manages to be a thoughtful and giving human being, despite living with a crippling mental illness. I’ve been a nerdfighter for a long time now, and I never miss a Vlogbrothers video, so John and Hank kind of feel like old friends rather than people I’ve never actually met before. I’ve also learned a lot from many of their side-channels. In fact, a SciShow video inspired my current novel.
So I really love and respect the Greens, you get the point. Having said that, not all of John’s books have captured me. I’m not saying they’re not good – they are – but we all have different taste, right?
Still, even those books of his that I haven’t loved manage to make me feel deeply, which of course means that the ones I love almost always leave me hanging by a thread of emotion by the end. Turtles all the way Down is no exception.
I was going to try and write this spoiler free, but I’m not certain I can achieve that. So I’m putting a SPOILER WARNING right here. If you haven’t read this novel and want to figure out what happens for yourself, don’t continue.
Okay? Okay. (see what I did there? 😛 )
The protagonist and narrator of Turtles is Aza Holmes, a sixteen-year-old sufferer of OCD. Her obsessions have to do with bacteria, especially bacteria inside her own body, and her compulsion is to keep opening this wound she has on her middle finger. She feels she has to drain and sterilise this wound continuously, because if it gets infected it will poison her and she’ll die.
But her biggest fear isn’t dying. It’s that she isn’t real.
If you’ve ever struggled with any form of mental illness, OCD or not, you’ll understand her on such a deep level that it might hurt. It certainly hurt me.
Aza’s best friend Daisy is a quirky, geeky girl, who is kind of famous in the world of fanfic for her Chewwy and Ren romance serial. Daisy is the complete opposite of Aza, which is probably what makes their relationship so interesting. Right from the start, you don’t really get why these two are friends, but throughout the story you realise their bond is stronger than you could ever have imagined. I’ve loved the sidekick in a novel as fiercely as I love Daisy on only one other occasion – his name is Samwise Gamgee and he’s the hero of the story. In many ways, I believe Daisy is the hero of this story too.
The main plot is to find a missing billionaire, Russell Pickett, so Aza and Daisy could put the reward money towards their college funds. Aza knew Pickett’s son, Davis, and as you can imagine, that’s where the fun starts.
We fall in love again for the first time through Aza’s eyes, but this isn’t the normal girl meets boy story. Most girls don’t worry about bacteria colonising her body when she kisses a boy. Most girls don’t get caught in thought spirals so intense that it ends in having to sterilise her mouth as she sterilises the wound on her finger. Most girls don’t drink hand sanitiser to do that.
Aza’s journey is dark. It’s suffocating and lonely, and you’ll experience that more intensely with the turn of each page. At the same time, you won’t be able to stop reading, no matter how dark the story gets.
I’m going to tell you now that this novel won’t leave you feeling happy, or even relieved by the end. There’s no real end either, no accomplishment, no she’s going to be okay moment. The story goes on, as the mental illness goes on. Better days and worse days follow, but OCD can’t be cured, only managed.
I think that’s what makes this novel and its message so incredible, so powerful. Mental illness is real, and often just as debilitating as illnesses of the body. Because you can’t see it on the skin, doesn’t mean it isn’t killing a person from the mind downwards.
I believe every person needs to read this book. Even if YA isn’t their preferred genre. The lessons we are taught on Aza’s journey are invaluable, and could make for a generation more tolerant of people suffering from mental illnesses. Half the struggle is breaking the stigma and John Green shatters the stigma with this novel that I now consider one of my all-time favourite works.
This book is brilliant. For the conventional reasons? No. It’s gritty and it hurts – and that’s what makes it outstanding.