Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

I honestly am so happy that a book like this exists. Shortly after being told I had OCD, I tried to search the book world for fiction stories featuring characters with similar traits. I was a little surprised to find out that the world’s exposure to OCD was only As Good As It Gets with Jack Nicholson and some documentaries of folks with such debilitating compulsions that they rarely leave the house.

My mother told me that when I was in kindergarten class, I would wash my hands after using a single color in finger painting. The teacher thought it was adorable that I would dip my finger in the paint, brush it across the paper, then get up to go wash my hands. Was it because even at that age I didn’t want to blend my colors too much or was there something more insidious going on?

I never liked getting my face painted. I don’t like touching things with my bare hands. I hate bugs of all kinds even butterflies and lady bugs. I can’t stand when strangers touch me. I can’t walk on grass barefoot. I’m the only person who knows how to clean my house.

And I thought these were all quirks. That everyone thinks about the microbial germs crawling across the surface of a subway pole. That everyone knew if you touched a smelly homeless person, you would get whatever disease that they had that made their feet and ankles balloon up. I believed everyone thought about the dust mites that crawled across your skin and carpet.

It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with OCD that I realized these thoughts weren’t thoughts everyone had. This isn’t “normal” and most people think about them briefly and then move on with their life.

TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN starts with the sudden disappearance of a local billionaire. In attempts to try and win the reward for more information, Aza and her best friend Daisy start to look for clues that could help them score some big money. After all, it was Aza’s friend, Davis, who’s father disappeared suddenly.

Aza was just your average girl who seemed for the most part just living her life. She went to school. She had a pretty solid family life despite her father’s death. However, what you find out and realize is that her mind is a swirling jungle of thoughts and worse case scenarios and worries that she didn’t need to worry about.

I thought this book was going to be about a group of kids who were looking for a missing billionaire. You’d believe that too if you read the inside cover. I thought this would be The Goonies of the 21st century with a little twist, that the main character would have OCD. I thought this would be some manic version of Sherlock Holmes.

It most definitely wasn’t.

While you’re led to believe this is some rag tag team of teenagers looking for their friend’s dad, TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN is not about that. The story is truly about Aza. The use of the first person point of view in this context lends a hand to shape the story. You read what Aza thinks about in her head. You see her running through her thoughts. You find her battling herself and reminding herself that it’s not real. Her thoughts aren’t real and that her OCD is battling out against her.

I guess the idea of having a story about a billionaire gone missing also lends itself to the power of OCD. One minute you’re trying to find a missing person and have a grand adventure with your friends. The next you’re having an all out anxiety attack and spiraling downward toward oblivion.

For Aza, everything is a battle. Trying to maintain her friendships while her brain tells her to go and do something else. Trying to keep her mother from worrying too much as she picks on a scab that’s been trying to heal. Trying to be in love with a boy she’s known for a long part of her life without freaking out about kissing him.

There were so many examples of how debilitating OCD can be. I loved that John Green gave examples of how the thoughts can be so evasive that you forget you’re in the middle of a conversation with someone. You spend a lot of time pushing to be present and speaking directly with the person in front of you.

It did feel like the whole looking for a billionaire part was an afterthought that was wrapped up in the last ten pages of the book. I wish there was a little bit more there and spread more evenly throughout the book.

While it would have been really cute to see the four kids running around trying to find a missing billionaire and get some answers to the choices he made, I get that this book is to be more about exposure and understanding when it comes to OCD.

For those who do have OCD, you’ve found a friend in a book that knows exactly what you’re going through. Although, I would be careful because there are some triggering thoughts. I needed to step away for an evening even with only a few pages left. The thoughts it triggered in my head were too overpowering for me at times.

And for those who don’t have OCD, you get some idea of how our brains work daily but I would keep in mind that everyone struggles from any mental health issue in different ways. I feel I have a firmer grip on the thoughts my brain tells me, so I’m able to snap back to reality much quicker than Aza. I know that my condition could be so much worse, so I’m grateful that it’s manageable.

I would strongly recommend approaching this with an open mind. This book is good, but I can imagine someone who doesn’t have OCD getting really annoyed by the characters and their mindset. It’s really hard not to want to shake Aza and say “snap out of it,” but this is how it is. You’re doing whatever life thing that you’re normally doing and then, something triggers you and you’re spiraling down.

2 thoughts on “Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

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