What John Green gets right about mental illness in his new novel

Turtles All the Way Down is the existential breakdown you have at 1 a.m., but more poetic, a little pretentious, and yet, refreshingly realistic

(Image courtesy of Penguin Young Readers Group)

By: Winona Young

Turtles All the Way Down is the recently released YA fiction novel that is John Green at his most personal. After a five-year break from his most popular novel to date, The Fault in Our Stars, Green tackles teenage drama, a far-fetched mystery, and what it’s like to live with mental illness in this new novel.

     The book follows the life of Aza Holmes, a 16-year-old girl with obsessive compulsive disorder, her courageous and unabashedly nerdy friend Daisy, her well-meaning and caring mother, and her beloved car Harold. Along with the soft-spoken Davis, whose billionaire father goes missing, Aza and her best friend embark on a journey to uncover this mystery.

     What is most refreshing about Green’s novel is that mental illness for once is neither romanticized nor an obstacle the protagonist overcomes in some neatly written conclusion. Aza along with Daisy, and romantic interest Davis are written with a generous amount of depth that does justice to the lives that teenagers live. Whether it’s the drama associated with different Star Wars fanfiction pairings, or grappling with the turmoil and frustration they face with themselves and those around.

     The book, of course, is not free of all flaws. The detective mystery route it takes is all but dropped, and tied up with a far-fetched solution. In classic John Green manner, the book’s prose borders on pretentious, and has teens spouting off highly intellectual musings on the world constantly, which to be fair, is true of all teenagers. Turtles All the Way Down is a moving story of friendship, romance, the nature of pain and how one can articulate it, and realizing one’s own agency in dealing with mental illness.

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