BOOKLIGHT: Turtles All the Way Down


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John Green is back with another hit with Turtles All the Way Down.

Julie Bauer, Staff Writer

After a five year hiatus since A Fault in Our Stars, John Green has released his newest young adult novel– Turtles All the Way Down.

Aza Holmes and her best friend, Daisy, hear of the disappearance of billionaire Russell Pickett– and the $100,000 reward for any tips on the case. Daisy is eager to investigate, so Aza reconnects with her childhood friend Davis, who happens to be Pickett’s son.

Aza’s life is plagued by an undertone of anxiety. She struggles with OCD and intrusive thoughts, mostly stemming from a constant fear of the trillions of bacteria that live inside of her. Her mental illness affects her relationship with her friends and all other facets of her life. As Aza loses herself in a spiral of negative thoughts, she questions whether she is really “herself” if she cannot control her own thoughts and needs medication to function.

Green’s own struggles with OCD make this a deeply personal novel for him. Because of this, he was able to create a strikingly realistic picture of mental illness. Aza’s anxiety creates strain in her personal relationships, whether it be with Daisy, Davis, or her mom. Her intrusive thoughts are described in detail so vivid that it will make you uncomfortable. Her romance with Davis does not magically fix her. Green truly does an excellent job of portraying Aza’s thoughts as a spiral that can tighten at any time.

Turtles is almost realistic to a fault in this way. The second half of the novel consists of Aza beginning to get closer to Davis, only for her intrusive thoughts to come between them and leave her isolated. This is a reality of living with mental illness, but it becomes repetitive fast when you’re reading it in a novel.

John Green is known for his deeply philosophical writing, and this novel is full of it. Aza and Davis often hold profound conversations beneath the stars concerning the nature of the self. In fact, Davis is a poet (of course he is). These characters often become mouthpieces for Green’s musings.

Turtles has a great message– that no matter what happens, life moves on. But any other metaphysical discussion seems repetitive and sometimes outright silly.
By reading summaries of this novel, you might be lead to believe that this is a mystery novel with a mentally ill main character. In reality, Aza’s OCD is center stage and the Pickett investigation is periphery. Therefore, at times the subplot seems out of place and pointless. It seems as though its only real purpose is to compel Aza to reconnect with Davis. In fact, pretty much everything that isn’t Aza’s OCD feels like filler.

The characters of Turtles are what drives the novel. Aza is likeable, and will definitely resonate with people who have anxiety. Daisy’s headstrong personality contrasts Aza’s, and the highs and lows of their friendship make the novel more realistic. The romance between Aza and Davis is really only another excuse for philosophical musings. Even on its own, their relationship isn’t all that compelling.

The ending of Turtles All the Way Down is inconclusive and utterly realistic. It will make an impact on anyone who is emotionally invested in the novel.

This book has resonated with many people. If you enjoy John Green’s writing style, want to read about someone with OCD, and don’t mind novels that aren’t driven by plot, then it’s likely that you will enjoy Turtles.