A Writer’s Review: Turtles All the Way Down

I finished reading Turtles All the Way Down back in October 2017, but as this week is Mental Health Awareness Week, I felt it was a perfect time to share my thoughts on John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down. In the past, John’s been very open about his OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). And in Turtles, OCD is something the main character Aza suffers from. Mental health is a huge issue, and it can be surprising to see the statistics on how many people struggle with a mental illness. I’m sure a good portion of those that read Turtles don’t struggle with OCD, but there would also be some that do.

Everyone struggles with OCD in different ways. The character Aza has obsessive thoughts about germs which leads to a physical compulsion to dig her fingernail into a callus on her finger. Those thoughts are irrational and yet inescapable, and due to the nature of OCD, she is unable to eliminate those thoughts from her mind. If you’ve every seen a YouTube video by John Green where he talks about mental health or other videos about mental health, they always say talk to someone. Not only does talking to someone provide an outlet for support, but for someone suffering from mental health it can also provide perspective. That’s exactly why my review for Turtles All the Way Down is a positive one, because that’s exactly what this book and other well written novels on mental health do well; provide perspective.

No one case of mental health is the same, even with an identical label like depression, OCD, anxiety, bipolar. Turtles gives a perspective through the eyes of Aza and her struggle with OCD. It allows the reader to experience the feelings going on inside her head. But unlike many novels that centre around mental health, it doesn’t demonise mental illness, nor does it romanticise it. Rather, it’s a tool for those who suffer from a mental illness to realise that others struggle with the same things they do. It gives them hope that they can continue living their life—even through the ups and downs—just as the main character does. It shows people that they’re not owned by their mental illness and there are ways of combatting it. And it also shows they’re able to maintain friendships even in the rough patches they might face. Not only does this book give an example for those who suffer from mental illness, but it’s also an informative tool for those who don’t.

This book gives those who don’t necessarily deal with a mental illness—or at least those who don’t suffer from OCD—an insight into the thoughts of someone who does. And the insight Turtles gives can be adapted to many mental illnesses in a non specific way. It shows that people who have issues with mental health can’t always control certain aspects of their lives, that they don’t choose to have their illness and they don’t want to suffer the way they do. It also shows the guilt they can feel when their illness has an impact on someone else.

I think this is a wonderful book, not only because of its exciting storyline—of chasing after a missing billionaire or links to New Zealand with the reference of a Tuatara—but because of its positive light for mental health. Showing it from a more human perspective rather than a clinical one. I hope to see more novels come out in this subject matter, aside from the fact it’s a subject I like to write about and is something I personally have to deal with, it’s a conversation that needs to be continued. More, and more.
– Michael Topschij.