How John Green Is Redefining Happily Ever After In YA With Books Like 'Turtles All The Way Down'
To read a John Green novel is to know that you're not going to get a story that is wrapped up in a perfectly tied bow. In fact, from his first release 12 years ago, Looking for Alaska, to his most recent book, Turtles All the Way Down, Green has always favored endings that are ambiguous, open-ended, and well, not something that could be described as "happily ever after." That's not to say that Green's work is a never-ending sea of misery and woe. It's just that, as Jennifer Senior put it in her New York Times review of Turtles All the Way Down, Green writes his stories with a certain undeniable integrity.
Because throughout his career, Green has ignored the idea of a fairytale ending; he takes his characters, puts them in realistically tough and complex situations, and then allows life to take its course. With Green there is no magic out, no unexpected moment where everything changes. We see this in his work across the board...and it is this that makes Green's work ultimately hopeful. Because his stories don't have a picture perfect ending, but that doesn't mean his stories end. Green has long maintained that stories belong to their readers, and that it is up to them to determine what happens after that final page is turned.
How did Pudge from Looking for Alaska deal with his grief? Did Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars go into remission? Where did Margo and Q from Paper Towns end up? We don't know the answers because Green doesn't either; or at least he believe that his answer isn't the only one. It's a participatory reading experience that Green has crafted over the years.
And as can be expected, he does much the same with his latest book, Turtles All the Way Down, and even takes it one step further. Probably the most powerful moments of the books are Green's portrayal of heroine Aza Holmes's thought spirals. These passages are so powerful, so visceral, that they can be difficult to read for their unbelievably raw and unflinching depiction. And by the end of the book, we know, in no uncertain terms, that Aza continues to struggle with her OCD and anxiety. That things will get worse and then better, that her fight for a whole and happy life is by no means over...and maybe never will be.
It's not the sort of firm resolution we have come to expect from most YA, with an epilogue that answers all of our pressing questions, all of the problems have been solved and our favorite romantic ships are sailing peacefully off into the sunset. Sure, you can argue that escapism is a noble goal for literature to strive toward, especially in YA during these trying times. And while I agree that there are some books tailor-made for these movie endings...Turtles isn't one of them.
Because the truth is that mental illness has no magic cure. There is no regimen, no romance, no reason that can just fix mental health issues like a magic wand. And in a world where mental health is often ignored, or derided as weakness, and access to reliable and affordable mental health care is becoming more scarce...Turtles has the ending we need. And knowing that Aza has continued to work on her mental health, that she has continued to build her life and friendships and meaning around her mental illness, and that she has learned that she is and can be more than her OCD? Well, I can't think of a more appropriately happy ending than that.