I found this book from one of those adverts that pop up on Instagram. The algorithm has worked out I like reading, and regularly suggests books for me. This one intrigued me: it was advertised using its own downloadable colouring sheet.
Turtles all the way down is categorised as young people’s fiction, but don’t let that put you off. The main character, Aza, is a sixteen year old high school student in the USA. This is the story of Aza and her friends, and how the mystery of the disappearance of a local millionaire businessman is solved.
So far, so simple. What makes this book is that Aza lives with anxiety and intrusive thoughts. It is an eloquent description of her experience, and the impact anxiety and intrusive thoughts have on her life.
Aza explains about her thinking and her sense of self “…it’s just an invasive. Everyone has them. But you can’t shut yours up. Since you’ve had a reasonable amount of cognitive behavioral therapy, you can tell yourself, I am not my thoughts, even though deep down you’re not sure exactly what that makes you.” p46
Aza’s mum is sympathetically portrayed, as a woman who has a deep desire to help her daughter, but steps back from taking over her life and respects her choices. She is often conflicted, gets things wrong, but is ultimately there for her daughter.
Her friendships are also explored, particularly with best friend Daisy who writes Star Wars fan fiction. Aza’s anxiety puts a strain on the relationship neither of them wants, and honesty and openness about feelings helps overcome this. Her relationship with Davis helps her express some of her deepest fears. She fears rejection by him, but he is open and accepting, having experienced his own losses and difficulties.
The therapist who Aza sees regularly is shown as a concerned and empathic person, exploring Aza’s concerns about her identity and the focus on bacteria and infection that limits her behaviour.
It is a book about living with anxiety and intrusive thoughts that has a hopeful message: this stuff is hard, but life is possible. It is the support of family, friends, and therapists conducted with empathy, openness and honesty that makes the difference.
Turtles all the way down is written by John Green and published by Penguin Books 2017