Isabela Merced in Turtles All the Way Down

‘Turtles All the Way Down’ Unapologetically Explores a Latina’s Mental Health Struggles

Courtesy of Max

Turtles All the Way Down, the new movie based on John Green’s best-selling book by the same name, is a raw and honest look at how hard being a teenager while trying to deal with mental health issues can be. The movie, starring Isabela Merced and Cree, is also a very rare case of those struggles being showcased through the eyes of our communities and a powerful reminder that entertainment can, for better or worse, shape people’s perception of something as basic and commonplace like mental health issues. 

Aza Holmes has OCD. The movie starts with that simple fact and takes you inside Aza’s head, as it tries to explain how she sees the world. There’s no judgment in this exploration, only information. Later, we meet the people around Aza, her best friend Daisy, her mother Gina, and her crush, Davis. Through them, we experience the ups and downs of relating to Aza as she tries to navigate her own thoughts and get a handle on her own diagnosis.

But Turtles All the Way Down isn’t a movie about OCD. It isn’t even a movie about mental health. Instead, Turtles All the Way Down is a movie about friendship, about realizing that the fact that you see the world differently or experience it in a way that other people can’t doesn’t mean you don’t have as much a right to the experience as everyone else.

In the Latine community, that’s a very hard notion – and that makes the fact that both Aza, who is experiencing these mental health issues, and Daisy, who is on the outside looking in, and not always getting the supporting friend part right, but nonetheless trying, are both Latinas. For our communities, mental health is often treated as something resembling Elsa’s motto in Frozen, “conceal, don’t feel.” 

Turtles All the Way Down flips the script and puts protagonists who look and sound like us at the center of a story that looks familiar from the outside, but that requires everyone not just to acknowledge but understand that mental health issues are real. And ignoring them doesn’t make them go away. In fact, more often than not, ignoring them just makes everything worse.

For Aza, there are no easy answers. In that, both the movie and the book are very much realistic. Mental health issues aren’t magically fixed at the end of a YA movie. Love doesn’t cure us, no matter what kind of love it is. But proper care and medical attention, instead of avoidance, and the right course of treatment can help.

And though love doesn’t actually fix us, it is, as Turtles All the Way Down reminds us, great to know that girls like Aza and Daisy are there for each other through it all. That there is light at the end of every tunnel, and your best friend can hold your hand through it all, even in a community that would love for it all to go away.

That feels much more real than finding the love of your life at sixteen or solving a small-town murder mystery. 

Turtles All the Way Down is available to stream on Max.