A couple of days ago I finished Turtles All The Way Down by John Green.
Let me start by telling you about the characters.
The protagonist is Aza, a teenage girl struggling with mental illness. She experiences anxiety and (what I assume) OCD episodes through her day to day life. Outside of that, she lives a normal life with her mom.
There’s Daisy, she is Aza’s best friend and in her free time writes Star Wars fan-fiction on her phone. That’s the extent of her personality, so I won’t mention her again.
And there’s also Davis, the billionaire boy who once went to “sad camp” with Aza. His father has disappeared after being accused of fraud, and he needs to take care of his little brother.
If you don’t find these characters interesting, don’t read the book, because NOTHING happens beyond these characters existing.
But why do I think the book was boring? Well, I’m glad you asked!
Aza: Though I really, really liked seeing what happened inside Aza’s mind during her anxiety/OCD episodes, I don’t think the plot was strong enough to keep me interested.
I liked learning and empathizing a bit more with her and with the way the book explained her illness. So I do like the fact that her character EXISTS, but outside of the mental illness, she lives a very normal life and doesn’t seem to have a personality, or any hobbies or interests. When she’s not having an episode, the narrator just brushes the story away like “days passed and I did stuff and I ate at Applebee’s”.
So, on one hand I liked Aza, but on the other hand I didn’t feel a connection to her because she didn’t have a personality outside of her illness. AND THAT’S BORING TO ME. Don’t tell me people with mental illnesses don’t have personalities!
Davis: a.k.a the rich cute boy love interest was blandest than mass produced white bread. He’s not a POV character, so we only get to see him through Aza’s eyes. And all she sees is “he’s cute”.
And all he says are boring lines about not being sure if people only likes him because of his money. I think he literally makes that same money comment EVERY time he talks to Aza.
Me: You’re not your money.
Him: Then what am I? What is anyone?
Me: I is the hardest word to define.
Him: Maybe you are what you can’t not be.
Me: Maybe. How’s the sky?
Him: Great. Huge. Amazing.
Sometimes he talks about other things, like being a rich kid with a busy dad that never hugs him and all that rich kid clichéd stuff. And he’s supposed to be the interesting one because of the MYSTERIOUSLY MISSING DAD.
But I guess Davis is not that bothered by his father’s disappearance because he doesn’t actively looks for him. No one really does. There’s this missing person that everyone talks about but we get to see just a little bit of INTERNET research about it.
Why even add this big mystery if the main character won’t be involved in solving it??
And I think that’s all that happens in the book.
I have a lot of mixed feelings because I like THE IDEA of this story. Of a girl with OCD and anxiety that struggles with invasive thoughts even though she KNOWS they’re not real. Her inner dialogues (though repetitive) where the best part of the book.
As someone who has dealt with invasive thoughts myself, though in a smaller scale, I felt that the author captured them perfectly. She was in a constant battle with herself, thinking these awful things while trying to convince herself not to think them.
I also liked that she didn’t magically fixed herself with the power of friendship, or the power of love, or the power of really, really wanting to get better…
BUT, imagine if there was more to this book.
If we got more than a protagonist with anxiety, but a protagonist with an actual personality, with adventures or an interesting life. We have Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye and Esther Greenwood from The Bell Jar. And both of them are characters with feelings and ideas and even dreams and actions that go beyond their depression.
Sadly, I don’t think there’s more to this book than those alluring glimpses into Aza’s thoughts.
They repeat this line a couple of times about how “…we were looking at the same sky together” and I kept snorting because, no way, Sherlock.
How many times have you been with someone and you look up at the sky and each of you sees a different sky?