Category Archives: Book review

Review of Turtles All the Way Down

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Oh, boy. John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down was the first fiction book I’ve read about OCD, and it didn’t disappoint. It did, however, take me a month to finish—and not because it was too long or because the story dragged, but because it was a little painful to read such a perfectly rendered description of what it’s like to have unwanted thoughts on a loop. It was upsetting and triggering but beautiful, too.

Once it reached the climax about three-fourths through I put the book down and couldn’t bring myself to pick it up for another two weeks. A co-worker who’d finished it told me it would all be okay, and that I had to finish it. Of course I did! Not only did I need to know what happened to our heroine Aza, I’d been planning on writing this review.

Just a note to all of you who are currently struggling or who relate to Aza’s contamination obsessions, you may not be ready for this book yet. However, you may find that you feel less alone because you can identify with the character. 

As I read I mentally noted a bazillion lines I wanted to write about here, but since Turtles All the Way Down is fiction, I want to make sure I don’t spoil anything! So I’ll keep it relatively light and say this: If you’ve ever felt like a burden to your friends, wished your parents would stop asking if you’re okay, thought you didn’t really need your medication, or had a hard time dating and getting intimate, this book will speak to you. Plus, it’s not all about OCD; there’s an intriguing mystery and some romance!

But you give your thoughts too much power, Aza. Thoughts are only thoughts. They are not you. You do belong to yourself, even when your thoughts don’t.

Those of us with OCD so often tell others how debilitating the disorder can be, trying to make people understand that it’s not a joke and that we don’t all love cleaning. John Green captures what it can mean to live with OCD, how your intrusive thoughts can eat away at you, threaten to destroy you—but somehow you get up the next morning and go about your day. Turtles All the Way Down could go a long way toward helping people understand that, yes, maybe someone with OCD can get out of bed, go to work, and keep one’s life in some semblance of order, but that doesn’t mean OCD shouldn’t be taken seriously.

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Review of Because We Are Bad: OCD and a Girl Lost in Thought

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Because We Are Bad (Canbury Press, May 2016) is an apt title for this charming yet heartbreaking and gripping memoir: Author Lily Bailey thought that she had to be perfect to keep her family safe, and part of being perfect was performing rituals the “right” way every time and keeping a log of everything she’d done wrong and had to atone for later that day. It’s clear how time-consuming and distressing Bailey’s obsessions and compulsions were, and it’s a reminder that no one wants OCD. Who could?

Bailey guides us through years of her life, including her childhood when OCD symptoms first surfaced. Lots of kids have imaginary friends – they’re fun to play with when everyone else is busy, and they’re easy enough to boss around. But in Lily Bailey’s case, her imaginary companion is no friend: It’s OCD, and it’s the bossy one. While Bailey’s relationship with OCD is cleverly woven into the memoir, there were some confusing scenes. Take this passage, for example:

We make our way back to our room and check it’s safe for us to go to sleep. We open our drawers, feeling around the insides with our hands. We worry that there might be someone, or something, hiding inside. We check our wardrobe and under the bunk bed.

The “we” in the above scenario doesn’t refer to two people – Bailey’s talking about her herself and her “friend,” OCD. When I would sit down to read for a reasonably long stretch of time, this strategy worked well for me. Other times, I had to reread a couple times, especially if the scene involved other people, such as her younger sister or a school friend. If this bothers you, hang in there through the whole book. It’s worth it.

Although it didn’t take quite as long for Bailey to be diagnosed as so many of us, her road to recovery was still long and bumpy. She attached too strongly to her therapist and felt she had to please her by being perfect; she was admitted to a terrible psychiatric hospital where doctors changed her medication multiple times with no explanation and group activities were more valued than actual cognitive-behavioral therapy; and after her hospital stay she was often triggered by daily life. You’ll be right there with her through the peaks and valleys – and for a while there are mostly valleys – wanting the best for her.

Bailey’s life turned around when she started to open up about her symptoms to others, and not just family members and therapists. Being open about our disorder can be hard, but it can also be freeing, and Because We Are Bad illustrates this beautifully.