[Review] Turtles All the Way Down

Mental illness is part of my everyday life. On a good day, it’s quiet background noise, a voice whispering cruel things that my rational self is able to ignore and brush aside. On a bad day, my nerves are jangling, waiting for my anxiety to pounce again and force me into a series of repetitive thoughts that get harder to control as every new thought appears. On a bad day, my brain will settle on something to obsess over and pick, pick, pick at it until I am struggling to get through my day.

So when I heard that John Green, master of writing relatable teenagers with varying degrees of social and/or plain old anxiety, was writing a book with a main character with OCD… I was pretty excited. But I’ve strayed from reading YA in recent years, as I am getting to the point where they no longer feel like they’re for me. Reading about kids in high school feels like reading about an alien planet I once lived on but have no desire to go back to. So I filed the knowledge away to be taken advantage of at another time, figuring I’d maybe read it someday when I had time.


Luckily, my partner knows me better than I often know myself and put Turtles All the Way Down on hold at our local library branch before the book was even released. (Frugal and romantic! He knows the way to my heart, y’all.) It took a few weeks before a copy was available, but as soon as it was, I started reading.

And… had to stop not too far in.

It wasn’t because the book was bad. Oh, no. It was because it was too good. Reading it spiked my anxiety like you wouldn’t believe. I don’t have OCD, but the main character Aza’s fears of germs and disgust of things like the process of eating and digestion, and her constant questioning of whether or not she was real felt extremely familiar.

I powered through it, though. There were so many portions of the story that pinged some core feeling inside me. Aza’s struggle with physical intimacy because of invasive thoughts about germs, her descriptions of “thought spirals” and questions about what controls our thoughts and whether our thoughts are us or not, and the way stressors in her life eventually get her to this point where she feels as if her control over her thoughts is even more limited than normal – so much of it felt like things I had experienced, and the writing is visceral enough that sometimes I had to stop and catch my breath for a minute and remind myself that I was okay.

However, while it felt amazing and made me felt seen to have these kinds of trials put to paper, the thing that really made Turtles feel important was its focus on healing. Note that I don’t say “recovery.” If you’re looking for a book where everything ends very neatly and the main character conquers their mental illness entirely and everything is hunky-dory, don’t expect Turtles to be that book. Aza is not perfect at the end of the novel by any stretch of the imagination. But she has taken the time to use the tools at her disposal to be the best she can be, and that was a deeply important message for me to read. This is a book about healing hurts and knowing that sometimes, even though you have healed, your pain can sometimes try to come back to haunt you, and that’s not the end of the world if you have the right tools to handle the pain when it arrives. It’s also about life going on, and how, despite mental illness often being an unwelcome guest that will likely never leave you, you can still go on to live your life and do all the things you dream of doing.

I felt like John Green summed up that sentiment really well at the end of his acknowledgments.

Lastly, Dr. Joellen Hosler and Dr. Sunil Patel have made my life immeasurably better by providing the kind of high-quality mental health care that unfortunately remains out of reach for too many. My family and I are grateful. If you need mental health services in the United States, please call the SAMHSA treatment referral helpline… It can be a long and difficult road, but mental illness is treatable. There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.

Despite some meandering plot lines and a kind of slowness that drags portions of the book down, I still think this is, if not one of the best, then one of the most important books I’ve read in a while.

Book Hoarding


For the past several months, I have been trying to get rid of some of my books. It is… not going well. In the three-ish months (god, I really hope it’s only been three and not longer) since I resolved to separate my books into “keep,” “donate,” and “sell” piles, I have only been able to select about ten books that I’m absolutely certain I don’t want to keep. Some of them are gifts that I am just not all that interested in and never have been, while others were assigned reading that I always meant to finish but haven’t gotten around to. I haven’t read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (yet), but from what I have heard secondhand, one of the most important things to do when tidying is ensure that the stuff you are keeping around you is stuff that brings you joy.

I love my books. I love having books on my shelf. But I’ve had to admit to myself recently that I have not made much time for sitting down and reading physical books. I read all day at work and I’ve prioritized other hobbies since leaving high school. I can’t say that it’s a good thing, but I tend to prioritize gaming and watching TV over reading. Which means that now, instead of having a shelf full of possible sources of entertainment, I have a shelf full of heavy decorations that are not being used.

I’m a big believer in secondhand books. I rarely buy any books with a hard cover or brand new, because I’m a very heavy user. I make notes in the margins and dog-ear pages. A lot of my favorites no longer have covers and are falling apart. Buying secondhand is simply part of frugal decision-making for me – why buy a book at full price that isn’t going to stay pristine? But a big part of my belief in secondhand books has always been being willing to let books go so that others can love them just as much as I did. But for some reason, I haven’t actually put that concept into practice for several years. I’ve gotten rid of a few textbooks I had no attachment to, sure, but not any of the novels I picked up from the free library in the laundry room and never started, or the books that I am entirely certain I have grown out of that I no longer have an emotional attachment to.

I’m not entirely sure why this is. I think to some degree I just haven’t had much time to de-clutter much of anything in my apartment over the last four years, and I’ve been lazy about taking on big projects. But a huge part of it is that I am deeply attached to my book hoard. The thought of decreasing my collection even by one book makes me uncomfortable. They’ve been a heavy presence at the corner of my eye for so long. Many of these books have been with me since I was very young and it feels wrong to release them into the wild for someone else to have. I can’t say they feel like part of me, but they certainly feel like part of what makes my space mine. I worry that I would be lonely without them.

But even with all those emotional ties, I can’t help but consider things like what will happen when I move out. How many boxes will all these books take up? (Too many.) Will I really want them in whatever new home I end up in? Even if I don’t move out any time soon, do I really want to keep all that space for books that are going unread when I could use it for vital storage of other, more useful items that have had to be tucked away elsewhere? And the more I think about things like this, the more I realize that my hoard is less of a comforting presence and a collection of knowledge and more of a reminder of my issue with letting keepsakes go. So I think back on Marie Kondo’s rule to only keep things around that bring you joy and ask myself: are my books bringing me joy? Some of them. But most of them feel like an anchor.

That tells me that I have to do something about this. I treasure my books, but I need to move forward and let them go. I need to let other people find them and treasure them and hopefully crack them open once in a while. And I need to do it soon.

Fingers crossed.


I’ve been neglecting this space. Luckily, it was for good reason. I just started working full-time for a company I really enjoy working for. I’m still trying to find a rhythm with non-work stuff, but I feel like I’m starting to make some headway.

Even though I haven’t been posting much here, I haven’t neglected writing completely. I recently wrote a post called “5 Tips That Will Make You A Better Writer” for work that I’m pretty proud of.

I also just recently read “Losing It in the Anti-Dieting Age” by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, which I found really compelling. I appreciated the personal touch Taffy brought to the story as a person who has tried many different diets, but I also found the dissection of how diet companies and a thinness-obsessed culture have co-opted parts of the fat positive movement and started using “body positivity” to sell the same products they’ve always sold really important to talk about. I have a whole heck of a lot to say about that, so I’ll likely be getting up a post about it in the next few weeks.

It’s been a week since I graduated now. I’m only just now starting to feel like I’m coming up for air. I’m still trying to catch up on sleep, still trying to work out a routine for myself. It doesn’t quite feel like freedom yet, but I know it will soon.

I’m trying to figure out my work situation and finances right now and try to put myself in a position where Future Me is comfortable. I’m also trying to give Present Me a break, because Present Me seems permanently exhausted and always just on the verge of a cold. (Dear God, please don’t let it really be a cold.)

On the positive side, I’ve had a lot more time to do things I feel like doing. I’m already halfway through the latest season of House of Cards (it’s killing me, y’all) and I finally got to do some of the main quests in Dragon Age: Inquisition, which I have been playing for 2+ years now! It feels really good to get home and actually relax. No worries about assignment deadlines or applications or papers or projects. My Me Time feels like real Me Time and not time stolen away from me doing productive things. It’s incredible. I spent my Saturday playing Don’t Starve Together and getting my teeth cleaned, which is an ideal Saturday.

Oh, I also started reading Farm City by Novella Carpenter. It’s my latest public transit read and I’m really enjoying it. Definitely an light, easy read that’s right up my alley. Urban gardening? Squat gardening on land that wouldn’t be used otherwise? Creating community with gardening?? Wonderful. I have some issues with some of the implications in the novel re: gentrification, but there’s a lot of stuff that makes it a worthwhile read for me. Definitely check it out.

Also, speaking of reading: I haven’t finished it yet, but I read most of The Abyss Surrounds Us for work and absolutely loved it. It’s a combination of a future and futuristic world that isn’t necessarily any more dystopic than the present world, but still extremely different, kaiju, futuristic pirates, and lesbians. I wish it had come out when I was younger, but I was really glad I got the pleasure of reading it now.

All of this to say: things are not perfect, but they are good, and they feel like they are going to get better.

Just gonna put this here…

Mostly just so that when I get out of Finals Hell in a few weeks I have a little road map for myself and how I wanna spend my summer. Freedom from academia is so close, y’all, and I’m dying to taste it.

I’ve really been wrestling with whether or not I want to go to grad school right away. There’s a part of me that feels like I should–particularly the part that has already applied and been accepted to two different programs, the part of me that listens to my mom, the part of me that has been excitedly telling family and friends about the possibility of going to school in Ireland in the fall–but there’s a much bigger part of me that is just… tired. I really don’t feel like I could give grad school my all right now. I am academically exhausted. Grad school is definitely something I want to do. I really want to get my Masters and maybe someday even my PhD. I absolutely love school and I don’t think I’ll be able to just have my BA and be done with it. There’s a lot of people telling me “if you don’t do it now, you’ll never do it” but they’re all people who don’t really get pleasure out of school and got a degree to have one. I went to college mostly just because where else was I going to be able to spend four years talking about literature and honing my writing, my research skills, and my ability to read and think critically?

It’s a lot to think about.

But regardless of whether I go back this fall or not, I do want to have some stuff for myself to do and look forward to. I want to spend more time at the library this summer. I have a lot of books on hand that I would like to read/finish, but there’s a lot of stuff that’s come out over the last four years that I’ve missed because I’ve been too busy reading books for class. It’ll be really good to just walk through the stacks and find some cool stuff this summer. I wanna catch up on Walking Dead comics and read more Thomas Harris books.

I also want to spend more time outside. I haven’t been to the beach in years, and the last time I went it was because I was an emotional wreck and seeking solace from sunshine and ocean sounds. I’m ready to go when I’m having a good day. I definitely want to take advantage of Falling Fruit and see what I can find in the parks and slightly more nature-(re)claimed areas of the city. I wanna learn a lot more about plants (yay, more library time!), particularly wild plants. If I end up staying, I might even see if they’ll give me my old garden plot back at Brooks. That spot was amazing and gave me so much space to work with and I’d love to get to use it again, especially since I’d have more time on my hands.

I also want to try and get the apartment in better order. I reorganized the kitchen a while back, but it’s time to do it again, and also scrub the insides of the cabinets, which have this gross film of honey all over them. I wanna get organizers for the spices (we have SO MANY SPICES and we use them all on a pretty regular basis, but it’s so hard to find stuff because it’s all jumbled together) and some can racks.

Also want to prepare an emergency kit/bug-out bag. This is San Francisco and earthquakes happen. I’ve only experienced one while I’ve been here–which I slept through completely–but we are long overdue for a big one and I want to be ready for it when it comes.

And, of course, I want to start looking for work. What that work ends up being depends a lot on whether or not I’ll be staying here or not, but I am looking forward to finding something that suits me. I’ve worked through college so it’ll be a weird experience to be able to walk into places and ask for a little more because I have a degree. I’m so used to having to accept whatever they give me, but now I feel like I have a teeny bit more leverage for negotiation.

I’m excited and tired and really ready to get my life started.