“Turtles All the Way Down” (2017) by the acclaimed and very best selling young adult author, John Green, is the brilliant story of Aza Holmes who suffers acute anxiety. The plot is incidental, but compelling.
Sixteen year old Aza is kind of smitten with Miles Pickett, who she’s known since they were little kids. Miles’s super-rich and super-corrupt father has gone missing and there’s a hundred thousand dollar reward to find him. Aza and her best friend Daisy have a lead, but will Aza pursue the mystery and betray Miles and his younger disturbed brother, Noah?
Best friend Daisy is a riot. Aza is her straight man. When Aza tells Daisy she’s the unsung hero in the investigation. Daisy tells her, “You’re sung.” I love Daisy. I want a girlfriend like Daisy who will make me laugh all the time. Daisy works at Chuck E Cheese in Indianapolis where the acclaimed author lives. She says, “I have the soul of a private jet owner, and the life of a public transportation rider. It’s a real tragedy.” Or instead of saying hello she asks Holmesy, “Have you ever gotten a dick pic?” Holmesy says yes. Daisy says, “‘Well, of course you’ve seen one, Holmesy. Christ, I’m not asking if you’re a seventeenth-century nun. I mean have you ever received an unsolicited, no-context dick pic?”
But the real story is Aza’s anxiety. When her mind starts “spiraling” with feelings of fear, Ada’s mother advises her not to think about it. But Aza knows “You can’t choose. That’s the problem.” About taking her medication (which Aza often forgets) she had “some way-down fear that taking a pill to become myself was wrong.” Green, who knows anxiety, delivers lengthy passages describing the circular and tortuous thought paths. Sometimes those passages bored me, and sometimes caused me so much anxiety that I couldn’t continue. If you don’t understand anxiety, read this. If you do understand anxiety, read this.
There are times when the brilliant girl narrator (Aza, aka, Holmesy) sometimes sounds like a brilliant middle age man, such as when she reports that her therapist “had the single greatest resting poker face I’d ever seen.” But the writing is so brilliant it’s forgiven.
And what about the title? A particular unnamed culture believes that the world sits on the back of a turtle. Well what does that turtle stand on? Another turtle. And that turtle? Turtles all the way down—a look at infinity. It turns out it’s a cosmological expression of infinite regress. I didn’t know.
John Green shows us that it’s okay not to be okay. Thanks, John. Good message.
Patricia Hruby Powell is author of the young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia and Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker talesforallages.com