John Green’s Film ‘Turtle’s All The Way Down’ Is So Good It Hurts

The latest John Green adaptation, Turtle’s All The Way Down, is out and it is incredible. I’ll be candid in admitting I was a little nervous about this one. Typically John Green adaptations are a success, but typically the subject matter, while heavy, is more digestible. Turtles All The Way Down follows Aza Holmes (Isabela Merced), a high school student battling severe OCD and anxiety who gets mixed up in a potential relationship and a potential disappearance. While there are romantic aspects, this film isn’t exactly The Fault In Our Stars level romance. Instead, it’s a bit more nuanced, fixating on the darker sides of mental health, and the way it can seep into every aspect of one’s life. And here lies the part I was most nervous about, how would this film tackle a subject so lovingly explored in Green’s text? 

A worry made all the most personal given my reality. See, I suffer with severe anxiety. I feel the impact and implications on a daily basis, but I wasn’t always like this. In 2017 when the Turtles All The Way Down novel came out I attended a launch event. I got a signed copy. I even followed the clues left on Green’s Instagram and found a secret pile of signed Turtles on a New York City cross street. I read the novel and loved it, but I didn’t relate much to it at all. I had yet to feel the crippling effects of anxiety. Now, at the age of twenty-six, watching the film was like looking in the mirror. And the pain and embarrassment Holmes felt was all too familiar to me. 

Me in 2017, after the launch event with my signed turtle!

We preach a lot about representation at Latinitas Magazine. It’s importance, it’s relevance. And often when I write pieces about great representation, I’m not really talking about myself. I’m talking about people from different backgrounds, who will feel understood by this superhero or that story of success. But seeing a Latina on-screen live with anxiety, and love nerdy things, and be authentically weird and silly with her friends. This was my representation. I’ve never seen a story so close to my own, and that is what makes Turtles All The Way Down so amazing. 

Merced wasn’t the only Latina in the cast either, Latina actress Cree portrays Holmes’ best friend, Daisy. Then there’s the legendary Judy Reyes as Holmes’ mother. My favorite aspect of how Turtles All The Way Down approaches representation is how casual it all is. This story isn’t about Holmes’ struggle with anxiety as a Latina, but about her struggle as a person, who just so happens to be Latina. Green didn’t approach this book as a tribute to the Latino Community, he was inspired by his own battles with mental health, as a white man living in the US. It just so happened he too found comfort in this character. 

When he’s showcasing anxiety, it isn’t this glamorized portrayal of a martyr suffering. It’s embarassing, it’s ugly, shameful at times, and about as unglamorous as one can get. It’s real. In a panic Holmes googles her symptoms, something I do almost daily. She convinces herself she’s dying, and it’s an ongoing battle for her to even focus on a conversation. It’s hard, it’s not fun, it’s not a decision you’re making it’s a disease you’re living with. And Turtles All The Way Down, both the book and film, do an amazing job of showcasing this. This film is everything an adaptation should be, it keeps all that’s great about the book, and adds to it with interesting scenes and beautifully shot moments.  

While there is a love interest, the film focuses primarily on Holmes’ friendship with Daisy, her complicated relationship with her mom, and her illness. It’s so much more than a romance movie, and the ending, optimistic yet realistic, had me in absolute tears. Just an all-around excellent film inspired by an all-around excellent novel. I want to see more Latinas in roles like this. I want to see more representation in places Hollywood hasn’t even thought of yet. Because this is real. This is important. 

Turtles All The Way Down is available right now on Max. 


  • Camila Dejesus

    Magazine & Media Editor, Camila Dejesus has been writing since she was a child and enjoys all forms from creative writing down to narrative analysis. She graduated from Brooklyn College with a bachelor's in Television and Radio Production and works full-time at Latinitas Magazine. In her free time, she loves writing stories, water coloring, or playing songs on her Baritone Ukulele. Now, her greatest passion is finding new topics that will engage and inspire Latinx youth.

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