I don’t profess to be the picture of mental health, but overall I’d say I don’t have a lot of experience with depression, anxiety, or any other mental disorders. Maybe it’s my WASPy suppressive tendencies? In our YA book club, the woman who suggested John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down described it as “the best depiction of anxiety” she’d ever seen, so I was intrigued. Turtles tells the story of Aza, a young woman dealing (poorly, but trying) with serious anxiety and OCD. Aza’s best friend Daisy convinces her to help discover the location of a missing local billionaire (who happens to be the father of Aza’s childhood friend Davis) so they can get the reward money, and the two teens embark on a quest that tests their friendship, their sanity, and their hearts. (That last bit sounds pretty cheesy but I’m leaving it).
Aza lives with her mother in Indianapolis; her father keeled over while mowing the lawn one day eight years prior to this particular story. Her best, and one of her only, friends is Daisy – a vivacious writer of Star Wars fan fiction. Her mom is a school teacher and kind of a non-issue in this story, except to serve as an example of how people with mental health issues also may not want to be completely honest with their loved ones about the state of said health. We meet Aza in the midst of a mild thought spiral, about how gross eating is (and she isn’t really wrong, but food is so good). She continues down this road while half-listening to her friends talk at the lunch table about the disappearance of a local father of two who also happens to be suspected of some kind of serious financial fraud. Everyone assumes he fled, leaving his two sons (both under 18), to avoid prosecution; there is a reward for any information that leads to his discovery. Daisy remembers that Aza and Davis, the elder son in question, were sort of friends as children and thinks that they should use this as an advantage. They’re both not financially independent – think what a hundred grand could do! While Aza navigates rekindling a childhood friendship and new romantic feelings, she continuously worries about her disease, its affect on any potential new friendships or romantic relationships, and just whether that nagging voice making her drink hand sanitizer after a kiss could possibly be right. I read this book weeks ago and I can’t say that many of the plot points themselves actually stand out that much, but I still remember how tense and stressed out just reading Aza’s inner monologue made me. If that’s what anxiety is like, how awful for those suffering from it.
I really liked this book. The characters are all fairly well-written and endearing. Daisy can be a bit much but I think that’s the point. She is special in her own right and someone I’d have enjoyed as a friend in high school. She finds Aza exhausting, as a reader would as well, but she loves her and tries her best to both support her and enjoy her friendship. I like that she is pretty confident about herself and doesn’t seem to play dumb high school games. Aza is narrating the story so you get a driver’s seat view on her personality, thoughts, likes and dislikes. She is fairly normal in spite of her debilitating anxiety. The subplot – discovering the whereabouts of Davis’ father – is interesting enough in its own right. Davis and his brother are endearing characters as well. I like how the book wraps up, I like how it’s written, and I probably will finally get around to reading that other John Green book I’ve had on my Kindle for a few years now.