Many YA novels have touched on mental illness and anxiety. Finding Audrey and All The Bright Places come to mind. It can be a tricky topic, but I think John Green’s latest novel, Turtles All The Way Down, handles obsessive-compulsive disorder beautifully.
Aza’s life seems pretty standard for a 16 year old. She goes to school, hangs out with her best friend at Applebees, and has a good relationship with her mom. But while just living her life, Aza is working that much harder to stifle her own thoughts because once she lands on a thought, her brain focuses on it with extreme intensity. It’s why she can’t stop thinking about a small cut on her finger that of course has been infected and will result in a rare and terminal illness. When a local billionaire flees to escape white collar crime, Aza’s best friend encourages her to reconnect with Davis, her old friend and the billionaire’s son. With a new friend in the mix, Aza must work that much harder to keep her thoughts in check and maintain normalcy.
Green has nailed teen-speak and inner monologue in a way that doesn’t feel forced. Somehow, he manages to have the lines (particularly the dialogue) come off as natural and relatable, while also putting into words the feelings that seem to trap us and are so hard to articulate. In those moments, it can feel a little like watching Dawson’s Creek or Gilmore Girls back in the day when you think “teens don’t actually use big words like this.” That said, when grappling with anxiety, I imagine someone just wants to hear in words what it is that they’ve been feeling but can’t properly explain. Hearing feelings accurately expressed in words must feel a bit freeing.
5 out of 5 stars.