Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

Released in North America on October 10, 2017, Turtles All The Way Down by John Green has quickly earned a plethora of praise, resulting in it being touted as “a widely acclaimed best book of 2017”. And this acclaim is not without reason. Turtles All The Way Down is just as well-written and hard hitting as Green’s other books, earning it the same kind of praise as The Fault in our Stars and Looking for Alaska.

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.

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“I was beginning to learn that your life is a story told about you, not one you tell” – John Green, Turtles All The Way Down, p. 1

I went into Turtles All The Way Down unsure of what to expect. I don’t regularly read YA Contemporary Fiction, but John Green is one of the few YA Contemporary authors I always make an effort to read, because of how much I adored The Fault in our Stars and Looking for Alaska. But I was still hesitant, because I haven’t enjoyed all of John Green’s books – notably, Paper Towns and An Abundance of Katherines. However, after reading Turtles All The Way Down, I now realize that I had no reason to be hesitant – this is undoubtedly one of Green’s best works. Turtles All The Way Down tackles hard-hitting topics of mental health, socio-economic status and relationships, all the while maintaining Green’s typical quirky writing style.

“Anybody can looks at you. It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see” – John Green, Turtles All The Way Down, p. 9

As usual with Green’s books, one of the most enjoyable parts of Turtles All The Way Down was it’s unique and quirky characters – many of which were, generally speaking, larger than life. The main crew of characters involves Aza, her two friends Daisy and Mychal, and romantic interest Davis Pickett. Other characters include Aza’s mother, Davis’ younger brother Noah and Aza’s psychiatrist. Aza, for her part, is an exceptionally well-written main character who Green handled with an awareness of mental illness and a sensitivity towards her personal struggles, both on a large scale and throughout the novel. It is difficult to describe Aza, as her personality is a bit of an enigma, but it is impossible not to fall in love with her unique narration of the story surrounding the inquiry into the disappearance of Russell Pickett. Next is Daisy – the perfect example of how Green’s characters are often a bit larger than life. As the outgoing, peppy friend, she’s exactly what you’d expect, but Daisy is also just a bit ridiculous at times, and this often overshadows her personal experiences. Now, I included Mychal and Davis as main characters, but this is in reality (to steal Daisy’s words) a “buddy cop” story – the boys are just friends and romantic interests, whose existence occasionally pushes the plot forward by steps or even leaps. But both were still enjoyable and well-written characters, with individualized personalities and interests.

“You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except love, that love is both how you become a person, and why” – John Green, Turtles All The Way Down, p. 285

This book was not only a story of individuals – though the experiences of the individual was certainly important – but also a story of friendship and its endurance through both the highs and lows of life. It was a story about the friendship between Aza and Daisy, between Aza and Davis, between Daisy and Mychal, and between Aza, Daisy and Mychal. Aza and Daisy are really central to the plot – a refreshing change from the romantic relationship being the cornerstone of the story. While both girls engage in romantic relationships with their chosen partners, they always come back to each other, resulting in Daisy stating that she something along the lines of how she always thought her life would be a romance, but she now realizes that’s it’s actually a buddy cop movie – and, evidently, she and Aza are the buddy cops.

“Thoughts are only thoughts. They are not you. You belong to yourself, even if your thoughts don’t” – John Green, Turtles All The Way Down, p. 166

Beyond the focus on friendship (versus romance) in this book, one of the things that intrigued me the most, right from the beginning of this novel, was the portrayal of Aza’s anxiety and OCD. And Turtles All The Way Down portrayed mental illness in a way that will make the reader feel as if someone understands them – as if someone understands the struggles that those with mental illnesses face every single day. In fact, Green’s portrayal of mental illness is perhaps one of the most honest accounts I have read to date. As an individual diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), I did see some of myself reflected in Aza, though her specific experience is just that – specific and individualized, just as it is with every person. Throughout the novel, Aza was continuously worried that she was going to contract c. diff – and other health problems that could result from various situations in her life, such as kissing and spending time in the hospital. Green does such a magnificent job of showing readers what goes on in the mind of someone with this type of anxiety – I could really relate the Aza’s feelings, and her experiences just felt so human.

“Nobody gets anybody else, not really. We’re all stuck inside ourselves” – John Green, Turtles All The Way Down, p. 244

Finally, a quick discussion regarding the story. John Green has a gift for crafting tales where no one aspect overwhelms the importance or impact of the others – they all exist in a sort of harmony, much like real life. Turtles All The Way Down really tells three stories – the story regarding the mystery of Davis’ fathers disappearance (and Aza and Daisy’s investigation of it), Aza and Davis’ relationship, and Aza and Daisy’s friendship. These three story points twine together while remaining individualistic, as parts of ones life almost do. And hanging over all three is the impact and influence of Aza’s mental illness. Really, this was so well done, and despite the often larger-than-life personalities of the characters, this story was hard-hitting and relatable, as it was well told.

Overall, I really love Turtles All The Way Down by John Green. It’s been awhile since I read a YA Contemporary book I truly love (the most recent being The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas), since I don’t read YA Contemporary that much, but this really was a work of art, and Green truly deserves all the accolades coming his way for this one (5/5)!

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