Spoiler Warning for Turtles All the Way Down
“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” Robert Frost (quote found in Turtles All the Way Down)
I recently read the new young adult novel, “Turtles All the Way Down” by John Green. I am a fan of John Green and his brother, Hank Green’s Youtube empire; but I had never read one of John’s books until now. This book, at its heart, is a tale of living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). John Green has been sharing information about his OCD on Youtube for a while now, and knowing that the author lives with the same illness as the main character makes the story that much more believable.
I will summarize the key players I plan to discuss.
Aza – The story is from Aza’s perspective. She is a sixteen-year-old female with OCD. Aza’s father died while she was a kid and she went to a camp for kids who had dead parents.
Daisy – Aza’s best friend.
Davis – Son of the corrupt millionaire who went missing. Met Aza at camp after his mom died. Had not seen Aza for years until the beginning of this book brings them back together. Becomes Aza’s sort-of boyfriend.
Now that the introductions are out of the way: “Turtles All the Way Down” is about a girl named Aza Holmes. She and her best friend, Daisy, meet a boy, get rich, and live their lives. There is so much more to the story, but I don’t want to give too much away.
One of my favorite lines in the book came early, when Davis says “Like, you know in middle school or whatever you feel like everyone is looking at you all the time and secretly talking about you?” (Page 39).
Aza’s OCD is emphasized and made to feel real to the reader. Throughout the story, Aza feels compelled to make her finger bleed, and then obsesses over the potential for infection. She is terrified of her own gut flora as well as the potential for her gut flora to lose it’s needed balance and cause severe illness, particularly C. diff. Aza acts as any teen would to many situations, but others are directed by her illness.
For much of the book, Aza does not take her medication as prescribed, which is common for those with mental illness; and I imagine even more common in the sub group of teens with mental illness. Towards the end of the book, Aza has an accident and begins taking her medication as directed (with her mom checking to make sure). She also makes some life changes, such as ending her relationship with Davis, her sort-of boyfriend. After those changes, she still has a lot of her illness to live with, but it’s not nearly as severe.
I do not have OCD, at times I will have a persistent thought, or will feel I must do something, but that is nothing in comparison to what Aza goes through on a daily, hourly, moment to moment basis. This book has a great story and I would recommend it solely for that reason. The authenticity and understanding it brings to OCD is icing on the cake.
Below I have a video of John Green explaining how his OCD effects his daily life.