Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Writing: 5; characters: 5, plot: 4
Very well written with compelling characters but overall a downer and I wouldn’t encourage my teenager to read it.

Aza Holmes is a teenager with severe anxiety and OCD issues. She is obsessed with the idea that she is fictional, or rather that she is “a skin-encased bacterial colony”. She experiences debilitating thought spirals about disease, germs, and whether or not she should check her bandages, despite 5 years of cognitive behavioral therapy, some medication, and a very supportive home situation.

Her “Best and Most Fearless” friend is Daisy, a colorful, fun, girl whose self proclaimed motto is “Break hearts, not promises”. Together they decide to go after the $100,000 reward for helping to locate Russell Pickett, the billionaire CEO who disappeared just minutes before he was to be arrested for fraud and bribery. This “adventure” is both aided and thwarted by the fact that Aza met the billionaire’s son, Davis, at “sad camp” – a camp for kids with dead parents.
They connect with Davis who has been abandoned in a giant house with his younger brother and no information on his missing father. He is alone, with the added issue of always wondering if any potential friend is a friend for him or for his money.

The extremely well written book lets us inside the heads of these two disturbed teenagers (Aka and Davis) – their worries and fears and self discoveries – as they find someone they can trust in each other.

So why wouldn’t I want my teenager to read this?

***SPOILER ALERT ***

While there is closure for the story at the end, it is made clear that Aza will always suffer these debilitations throughout her life. While she apparently does go on to have a husband and children, she will sometimes be unable to care for them and have to be institutionalized. While I’m sure this is one possible outcome for someone with these issues, I like to hope that it isn’t the only one. I would have preferred a more hopeful picture. There aren’t many YA books about this subject and John Green is a very popular writer – I wouldn’t want teens who may have similar tendencies to get the impression that it is a largely hopeless condition.

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