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Turtles All the Way Down    by John Green order for
Turtles All the Way Down
by John Green
Order:  USA  Can
Dutton, 2017 (2017)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Turtles All the Way Down, John Green does his usual extraordinary job of empathetic writing, taking readers into the mind and experiences of sixteen-year-old Aza, who has suffered extreme anxiety attacks since her father's death. Aza tries to live a normal life. She copes with her mental illness and her mother's over-protection ... barely.

Aza is quiet and introverted. Her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is the opposite. Daisy is there for Aza but doesn't really understand what her friend is dealing with. In her middle class life, Aza seems selfish and entitled, distant from the poverty with which Daisy's family struggles. Daisy blithely carries on Aza obsesses over 'playing host to a massive collection of parasitic organisms', and her odds of getting C. diff.

When Daisy learns there's a hundred-thousand-dollar reward for finding fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, she presses Aza hard to work with her on it. After all, Aza was a friend of Russell's son Davis at Sad Camp, 'for kids with dead parents.' They arrange a canoe accident by the Pickett estate, where Aza and Russell easily re-connect.

Russell is no fool and when he raises the reward, Aza tells all. Wanting to retain their friendship without having to suspect her motives, Russell pays out the reward amount, which Daisy and Aza share - it's peanuts to the estate. He and Aza become close and she wants more, but keeps spiraling back down into panic. She gets worse, but does solve the mystery, offering closure to Russell and his despairing younger brother Noah.

I don't know if anyone really can understand mental illness without truly walking in those shoes, but Turtles All the Way Down made me believe I did. Readers will root for young Aza and hope she can find a way to a more balanced life. It's a wonderful, inspiring story, about the power of first love, enduring friendship, and living well, despite mental illness.

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