Turtles All the Way Down, John Green


This wasn’t a book I particularly wanted to read, but I had it and it filled a prompt for a reading challenge so I thought why not. Reading challenges have been a great way to pick up a book I normally wouldn’t and often end up loving it. I have read enough John Green books to have an idea of what I was getting into and unfortunately for the most part my hesitation was warranted.

Turtles All the Way Down follows the story of Aza, a mentally ill teenage girl, that struggles mostly with anxiety and OCD. When her old friend and rich boy, Davis’ father disappears to evade police capture due to corrupt business dealings, Aza and her talkative best friend  Daisy decide to investigate and earn a $100,000 reward for information. Soon Aza and Davis to form a kind of relationship that sets the main stage for our novel. As the novel moves along, not much really happens in the way of plot, with all the actions essentially serving the main point of the story, which is Aza and her mental health.

“Actually, the problem is that I can’t lose my mind,” I said. “It’s inescapable.”

Yet again, this novel for me falls victim to the same thing all John Green novels do, a death caused by unrealistic overly profound teenagers that ponder the meaning of life, have existential crisis and talk in convoluted metaphors, obscure poetry and with widsom way beyond most people (especially teenagers) years. That’s not to say that the endless philosophical prose doesn’t pose good questions or raise interesting ideas, it just doesn’t work for me in a young adult novel like this, taking over the plot and any chance that this novel could ever feel real. Are we honestly expected to believe that a bunch of sixteen year olds are sitting around quoting The Tempest to each other and pondering the meaning of being a person.

“Look up long enough and you start to feel your infinitesimality. The difference between alive and not–that’s something. But from where the stars are watching, there is almost no difference between varieties of alive, between me and the newly mown grass I’m lying on right now. We are both astonishments, the closest thing in the know universe to a miracle.”

All that came out of this one for me was a bunch of pretty, Tumblr worthy quotes, which kind of have no connection to the novel itself. It gave me the sense that this was just another forum for the author to share his thoughts and less an actual story – and yes this opinion is probably because having read other John Green novels, I know this style of writing is pretty much the same across the board, and it left me feeling like the characters and the plot were interchangeable, and that the focus is these life musings.

For me this kind of writing is fake deep, and asks a lot of intense questions that normally I would find interesting, but if I had to say what I thought the final take away from Turtles all The Way Down is, I would say probably that life goes on and bad things pass. Whilst that is an important message it’s not as ‘deep’ as a book with this much philosophical chat would have you believe, and I think the novel would have worked better to strip out a lot of it’s drama and hone in one strong and meaningful message better.

“Your now is not your forever.”

All this being said, if you love John Green’s style of writing, this one I think will be another winner for you!

It’s not all bad either, what saved this book from a one star for me, and the best part about it in my opinion was the depiction of Aza’s mental health. I can’t attest to whether or not it was accurate, and if people struggling with mental health could connect to her, however I enjoyed the length the novel went to, to attempt to portray what it is like to live with. Aza’s head was honestly a really uncomfortable place to live, and given how that was her own general feeling as well, Green did a good job bringing the reader into at least this aspect of the novel. I felt most connected to Aza when it was just her alone, dealing with her invasive thoughts and compulsions, trying to break free of the tightening spiral that was her anxiety. I wish the novel was a bit more focused on her and her navigating real life with real ordinary people and not concerned with all the teenagers channeling the manic pixie vibes.

“There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.”

At the end of the day, not particularly surprising for a John Green book, but probably my least favourite of his being it was the one I felt had the least actual plot and point to it. However there is a huge fan base of readers who love his books and connect with his characters, and if his books are engaging readers and helping teenagers getting into reading that is enough for me.

I read this for my Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt “A book by a blogger, vlogger, youtuber”. You can check out my progress here.



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