John Green’s Latest YA Novel Communicates Truths of Mental Illness


Following the success of the best-selling-novels turned blockbuster movies, The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns, John Green has published his sixth young adult fiction novel.

Once again, Green captures adolescence in his signature lense of eloquence and quirkiness in his newest novel, Turtles All the Way Down. Turtles follows the life of a neurotic teenage girl growing up in the wake of her father’s sudden death. Aza, the narrator of the story, gets sucked into a romantic fling with her childhood crush Davis after Davis’ billionaire father goes missing in the dead of night. With her larger-than-life and boundaryless friend Daisy, Aza tries to solve the mystery of Davis’ father using the clues she gathers from his younger brother Noah.

The story contains a mixture of characters, all with widely different quirks, qualities, and backgrounds. One character is obsessed with astronomy and poetry, and finds ways to talk about both in the same sentence. Another character is an expert on infections and bacteria, and manages to use this knowledge to create analogies that describe her experience with mental disorders and illnesses. One particular character dedicates time and money to researching one particular species of lizard in great detail. Green’s writing style creates an educational experience hidden in a pleasure-read.

Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 12.49.44 PM
John Green once again connects with young adults with his most recent novel Turtles All the Way Down, which addresses mental illnesses. HALEY BURNSIDE / THE QUADRANGLE

In a brief summary, Turtles may sound like a typical work of young adult fiction. Green’s trademark cadence breathes life to the story. Because of Aza’s circumstances, Green uses her narrative to start a conversation about mental health and trauma. The characters of the story may speak beyond the vocabulary of the average American high schooler, but their struggles are transferable to most teenage students.

Turtles manages to address topics such as the loss of a loved one, the difficulty of affording college, the vulnerability of first love, and the bond between siblings. In the midst of these tropes and themes, Turtles creates a compelling story involving crime and romance riddled with cliche boy band songs and Star Wars fanfiction. The blending of the everyday problems of adolescence with the gripping problems of a front page crime create an ultimately enjoyable read that flows both elegantly and awkwardly, like adolescence itself.

Even in dealing with such dense problems, the story maintains the ability to be lighthearted and charming in one paragraph, and deeply tragic the next. Green’s way of writing transports the reader directly into the troubled and worried mind of Aza, with her thoughts and worries fighting it out on the page.

For those that enjoyed Green’s more popular works, Turtles is the next best thing. The romantic plot-line is not as tragic and heart-wrenching as The Fault in Our Stars, but the narrators of both Stars and Turtles are both accurate portrayals of teenage girls navigating first loves. Given the pattern some of his previous works have followed, Turtles All the Way Down may be the next big romance film for young adults, so read it before it (maybe) makes its way to the big screen!