Book Review #43: Turtles All The Way Down

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.

Trigger Warnings: OCD, mental illness, anxiety, parental death, injury, self harm

I think all of us, as frequent readers of Young Adult fiction or audience of the Vlogbrothers and/or Crash Course, who are aware of John Green either adore him or despise him. I find I’m on the middle of the spectrum when it comes to both the author and YouTuber. I don’t hate him; I find him to be intelligent, a great writer, and I respect him. Though he can sometimes have this thing about him… I’m not sure how to describe it. It’s not that he’s exactly disingenous, is that sometimes he seems too smart for his own benefit. This, ultimately, gives him the air of self-importance, that if you don’t understand what he means, you’re not smart enough to. However, that is just my personal opinion on John Green, and I may be wrong about him. This post isn’t about John Green as an overall person, this is about his novel Turtles All The Way Down.

When I first heard John Green was finally publishing another novel, I was exstatic. I loved The Fault in Our Stars, which is argueably, according to me, one of his best works and his writing only seemed to get better comparing that novel to his previous works. When I finally snagged a copy, after hearing praise (albeit mixed praise) from those online and my boyfriend, I waited for the opportune moment to gobble this book up.

This book deals with a lot, mainly OCD, which Aza presumably has (it’s not explicitly stated in the novel), which John Green also has. Own-voices representation in fiction is important because we can get an accurate representation of someone’s experience. Though I do not have OCD, I felt like I could connect with Aza’s intrusive, anxious thoughts as I have experienced them through my battle with psychosis and anxiety. There were points throughout this novel where I teared up because although I did not have the same illness as Aza, nor shared her experience, I could relate to what she was feeling.

Some reviewers have said that there is not much of a story or plot to this novel other than the mystery that was advertised to be at the forefront of the plot. I think the blurb should have been focused more on the character’s journey rather than the mystery, as it was like a backdrop to the real story. Overall the story was well done, it kept me engaged.

Aza as a main character was a person I could relate to immensely, as mentioned above. I felt the secondary characters were good as well, although I wished they were fleshed out a bit more, especially Davis and Daisy. Davis was the son of Richard Pickett and I felt like there needed to be more substance to his character, because it seemed he had only a few aspects to him. I wanted to see a little more emotion on his part; his father was an estranged, selfish person in his life and how did that affect him? I guess his character was dialed down to focus on Aza.

Daisy I wished was fleshed out a bit more as well. Even though she was not the nicest person, she still stuck with Aza even though Aza didn’t support her in the ways that she needed. Most reviewers despised Daisy as a character, but I think she redeemed herself by the end, so I wished I could see more of that.

One of the things I was very against when hearing others thoughts about this novel was its negative attitude towards mental health treatment, especially medication. I’m probably going to make a separate longer post about this issue because it’s really important and it seems to be an unfortunate trend in Young Adult literature. At the beginning of the novel, Aza was not taking the required dosage of her medication as outlined by her therapist because she did not think it was helping. By the end of the novel, it wasn’t mentioned again nor her opinion of medication seemed to have changed.

Another thing that kind of bothered me was the abruptness of the ending. From my understanding, it seemed like her continued love for Davis was what kept her going, and there was no mention of her getting further mental health treatment for her OCD. Honestly, I am so done with narrative of significant others “fixing” people with mental health issues. It’s a trend that should end and I am tired of perpetuating this. After questions of mortality in The Fault in Our Stars, you would think Green would have learned that being in love can’t “fix” someone.

I hate to end this review on a bitter note as I enjoyed most aspects of this novel, but I could not ignore these issues that plagued it.


Three Stars
Three Stars

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