When Your Anxiety Has Anxiety: John Green’s Turtles All The Way Down

My first experience with John Green was in 2011, when I read Looking for Alaska as a freshman in college. Despite never having been a fan of YA Fiction [even as a sixth grader, my ‘Book Buddies’ selection was Life of Pi], I was taken with Green’s uncanny ability to translate the torrent of classic teenage emotions into coherent, quotable sentences. That summer, I found out that Green had released a new book back in January, The Fault in Our Stars. I have never cried reading a book before or since [until A Little Life], and it was an emotionally exhausting experience, but, like the rest of the world, I loved it.

I was eighteen when I read Looking For Alaska, and nineteen when I read The Fault in Our Stars—in college, dealing with similar—if slightly more mature iterations—of the teenage anxieties that Green’s characters go through. Having graduated college and moved on to whole new set of post-graduate worries [from the banal “did I forget to book the conference room for tomorrow’s meeting” to the all-too-real “if I buy this, but then go a three weeks without grocery shopping, can I technically still afford rent?”], I feared I might not relate in the way that I once had. I almost picked up the book during quite a few bookstore visits, and ultimately abandoned it in favor of more ‘adult’ Contemporary Fiction, resigned to the fact that my John Green days might just be relegated to my collegiate years.

Then, the week of Thanksgiving, I was scrolling mindlessly through my Instagram feed when I happened upon a post from one of my favorite brands, Paradise People, in which they were singing the praises of Green’s latest. At their urging, I purchased it instantly.

Turtles All the Way Down features a severely anxious protagonist, Aza, and her free-spirited best friend, Daisy. In their small Indiana town, Rusell Pickett, local billionaire, has gone missing; and the police are offering a significant monetary reward for his recovery. When Daisy discovers that Aza was friendly with Pickett’s son Davis as a child, she convinces her to reignite the flames of their former friendship and pump Davis for information. Aza is reluctant but cooperative at first, but when her and Davis begin to fall in love, things get complicated.

The plot may sound like that of the most basic Disney film you’ve ever seen, but Green’s characters are layered with complexity, and the nuances of the romance go far beyond the implications of your typical “wrong-side-of-the-tracks” dilemma. At the heart of the story, Green explores what it means to be simultaneously consumed by love and severe anxiety, and presents the harsh but realistic argument that love doesn’t always win. Whether or not you’ve experienced any form of anxiety in your life (and, if you have, I certainly hope it’s not as bad as Aza’s), you’ll undoubtedly relate to her internal monologue. It’s not a tearjerker in the way Fault in Our Stars was, but it is a thought-provoker of the highest order, in true Green fashion.

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