Turtles All the Way Down
Five years. It’s been five long years of waiting for a new John Green book to be published, and now the wait is finally over. Green is inarguably one of the most popular young adult authors out there. A prolific writer, he published his first six novels (four solo and two co-written) within a span of seven years. But then it came to a stop, until Turtles All the Way Down, Green’s newest novel, released this past Tuesday, Oct. 10.
After the enormous success of The Fault in Our Stars back in 2012, fans have eagerly been anticipating more from Green. While some may have temporarily been satiated by the The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns movie adaptations in 2014 and 2015 respectively, five years is a long time to wait. Where was Green in the aftermath of his skyrocketing success and why hadn’t he published anything else until now?
He was fighting a battle against himself and his inner thoughts. Green has been dealing with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) since he was a child, and although often able to dampen his mental illnesses down by treatments, they sometimes grab hold and don’t let go. In 2015, he felt trapped in his own mind.
Turtles All the Way Down stemmed from Green’s most recent struggles with anxiety and OCD, and his goal for the novel was to help others dealing with similar mental illnesses. In an article in The New York Times, he stated, “I think it’s important for people to hear from adults who have good fulfilling lives and manage chronic mental illness as part of those good fulfilling lives.” Although he wrote in Turtles All the Way Down that “in some ways, pain is the opposite of language,” Green uses Turtles All the Way Down — uses language — to fight back against the pain.
While the story wasn’t particularly heavy in the plot department, it was extremely characterdriven. Green typically excels in writing nuanced, thoughtful teenage characters, but this book has by far his best cast of characters yet. The quality of the characters and their development throughout the novel were exceptionally well done, particularly with the protagonist of the story, Aza Holmes.
From the very first line, it is clear that Holmes lives inside her head. She struggles to recognize her existence, questioning reality and believing she might be fictional. She has trouble taking control of her life because she doesn’t believe that she is the writer of her story or “the author of [her] fate.”
Personally, I don’t like to listen to audiobooks. I like going at my own pace, and I like the feel of a physical book in my hand. But for some reason, I opted to listen to the audiobook for Turtles All the Way Down, and the experience was eye-opening. The fear, anxiety, and pounding, omnipresent thoughts rushing through Holmes’ mind actually rushed through my mind; it was unreal. Already an easy character to relate to, listening to the audiobook made me truly get a sense of what Holmes was going through.
Green has written emotional books in the past, with The Fault in Our Stars being a real tearjerker, but Turtles All the Way Down connected on a completely different emotional and mental level. The constant thoughts and worries plaguing Holmes’ mind are vividly explored — Holmes’ feelings, thoughts, and emotions are palpable. While Holmes is, unfortunately, fictional to us, her story evoked something that was raw and human and very real.