5/28/2021 0 Comments
“The thing about a spiral is, if you follow it inward, it never actually ends. It just keeps tightening, infinitely.”
These are some of the first words spoken in John Green’s Turtles All The Way Down. As I read them for the first time, I realized that this book was reading me. Before seeing those words, I had never before felt so heard by someone else.
The book follows the story of Aza Holmes, a sixteen-year-old girl who lives with anxiety and OCD. (Side note: I’ve always thought “lives with” was a better way to describe anxiety than “suffers from.” Suffering makes it feel like this is a losing battle. “Living with” minimizes the little critical voice down to a murmur, an obnoxious roommate.) At first, the book comes across as a mystery novel with an incredibly nihilistic protagonist. Aza teams up with her Best And Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, and the son of billionaire Russell Pickett to solve his baffling disappearance.
With any other author, you would expect the usual storyline of a mystery novel: they start off with no leads. As the story progresses, our fearless detectives are clueless, then BAM! Along comes a clue that they’re not quite sure how they missed, the mystery is solved and the reward is won. The end.
However, if there’s anything we’ve learned from Green’s previous novels, it’s that he doesn’t write “the usual” storylines. He breathes life and dimension into every character, and even the most minor of characters in TATWD are his most relatable to date.
This may be due to the fact that many of Aza’s experiences with anxiety and OCD are based on that of Green. Recently, he has opened up about his own experiences with OCD, stating in an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross that to him, it sometimes feels like an “invasive weed that just spreads out of control.” Green is therefore able to write more honestly about these disorders and the ways we cope with them, and it shows in the reactions of his readers.
To find a book that was a call to the anxious nerds of the world, such as myself, felt like a miracle. Furthermore, Green brings the same incredible command of language as one would to poetry, even as he writes about awkward situations and stigmatized issues.
As a 13-year-old with extreme undiagnosed anxiety, I felt anomalous in most crowds. At the time of the book’s publication, I was going to school in a southern small town with little to no mental health support. The solution to anxiety was to pray it away or just not think about it, and you were considered an outcast if you couldn’t magically make mental health issues go away on your own. I never knew how to explain to people that getting through each day was its own little magic trick.
This novel is, to date, the only book that has made me cry while reading it. However, the story wasn’t a tear-jerker. Listening to Aza, and by extension, Green, talk about their experiences with anxiety and intrusive thoughts made me feel like I had a chance at finding peace, and that was a novel feeling. The book itself is a hand reaching out to hold you. It understands me better than I understand myself most days. Most of all, this story gave me hope. The thing is, it doesn’t have a “perfect” happy ending, and it didn’t need to. That made it almost better, knowing that even if things weren’t perfect, I’d be okay. I’d be okay.
Miceala Morano (she/her) is a guest columnist and high school junior from Arkansas, where she works as an editor on her school's literary magazine, Footnotes. Her work is published or forthcoming in Footnotes and Project Said, and has been previously recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and the Ozark Writer's League. She was recently named the Arkansas Scholastic Press Association's Literary Magazine Writer of the Year.