Turtles All The Way Down
Author: John Green
Genre: Young Adult | Mental Illness | Contemporary
3 out of 5. This book is just not for me. Most people seem to think that the lack of plot doesn’t matter because this book is more about the depiction of anxiety/OCD and how people who are friends with Aza manage to cope with this, but that is something that I really disliked. There are other aspects of this book too that didn’t appeal to me. I appreciate, however, that this review really is my opinion. For people who don’t care about what I will be pointing out, this book could be a really good read.
Aza Holmes and her friend Daisy begin to investigate a local disappearance of a corrupt businessman. This leads Aza to reconnect with an old friend. As Aza develops this new relationship, she tries to cope with her own declining mental state. The novel is a portrayal of mental illness, friendship, and how one survives.
“She can see through the clouds.”
The main thing I didn’t like about Turtles All The Way Down was the writing voice. I enjoy watching John Green’s videos and have followed his other social media, and because of this, I just could not separate his writing voice, from that of Aza Holmes. This isn’t unfair of me either – his previous books don’t read in the same way, the character is completely individual and wholly realised, they sound nothing like John Green. He is known for having these hyper-intelligent, angsty alternative young adults, I’m aware of this, but they at least read it their own unique voice. Aza doesn’t. She reads like John Green, and I felt like he was narrating the entire thing. Is this necessarily a bad thing? Yeah, it doesn’t work for me as this idea of a teenage girl, and so I can’t really buy into the character as much as I would like to. I think Hazel Grace in TFIOS speaks with a really unique voice, so this was disappointing. I realise that John Green used his own experience of OCD here, and perhaps this bleeds through a little too much.
Daisy was also a character that I hated. When I have heard people describe Daisy they describe her as ‘extra’ and I completely get that. She is the type of friend that I would genuinely hate to have around. I found her annoyance with Aza more uncomfortable than relatable. I have been around friends who suffer from different mental illnesses, and I have suffered in varying ways myself – they can be very self-centred, they are consistently distracted, and they are terrible sometimes at remembering details about some things, but they are usually also not. I don’t think Aza was the most selfless friend ever, but I also don’t think she deserved Daisy’s scorn. I think that Daisy was far more self-centred than Aza. Under the guise of helping her friend to live a little and enjoy life, she makes Aza do a lot of things that she is really not comfortable with, and I would hate that! Yes, it is important to push yourself out of your comfort zone every once and a while, but that should be on your own terms, and not because you’re feeling pressure from a so-called friend.
The plot in this book felt like it was non-existent. It was just put in as a generally sketchy mechanism for the characters to meet up and be ‘doing something’. It was completely pointless and was basically dismissed partway through this book. I have heard other people say that this is because Aza becomes distracted with other things and we become distracted too, as readers. No. That is so not true. I was still wondering why the hell there was a mystery in there if it wasn’t going to actually be used in any significant way. I would not have minded a book that was just an exploration of someone’s relationships, a snapshot of their mental health and a portrayal of how this affects young people and their families/friends. I am fine with a book that is all about ‘that’ rather than sticking a useless ‘mystery’ plot alongside it, that was badly formed and because annoying. Also, why the hell was this Tuatara thing even important or in there. Davis’s dad doesn’t like him, he was a selfish dick, okay, fine, but the Tuatara didn’t even need to be a thing.
And Davis just handing out his money like it is a test. This whole premise that rich people are so rich, even though they are disinherited orphans whose money should have been confiscated by the authorities due to their father’s criminal activities, that they are just happy to give away $100,000 as a test? Yeah, no damn way. Especially when adults start acting like this is okay! A lawyer turns up to make it officially? In a really shady way (what is the deal with the bank crap!) and their parents? I know if I had gone home and said ‘Hi mum, some guy gave me $50,000 to not potentially get myself killed investigating an uninvestigatable disappearance, and pretend to be his friend for the length of a book. I may have to kiss him once, but that’ll be it, oh, and the money is probably really shady as it was hidden in a cereal box? Okay, I’m just going to go buy a new laptop now’ yeah… My mum would have marched me right back out of the house and the money would either be returned, or the police would be involved, because just no. That makes no damned sense. And don’t tell me that it is because they were poor. I was poor. Being poor doesn’t mean that you are morally bankrupt.
And it was over the top. I’m going to blow my own horn here. I am not stupid, and my friends are not stupid. Yes, we were very individual, some people may describe us as an alternative and ‘extra’. We were arty, weird, intelligent. We read, write, draw, and adventure. But we do not speak like that. In this over the top manner full of coded literary quotations and insufferable poetry. We didn’t stare at the stars having metaphysical and artistic conversations just for the sake of it. It was just too much with too little. I know this book is very compact in terms of characters, which is appreciated, but because of that, there were too many stereotypes piled into this very small cast, which for me made them so extremely unbelievable.
Now I’m going to address the ending. I felt that this book carried on for too long. I think John Green felt he needed to put some kind of resolution in there and to provide some semblance of hope for something that could have otherwise, been rather bleak. But I don’t understand why? The girl drank hand sanitiser, in a hospital, when injured. Surely she would have been hospitalised/sectioned for this, for at least long enough to check that she wasn’t doing something really dangerous to herself – which she was. But no, the psychiatrist comes around and just simply asks her ‘are you a threat to yourself?’ and she is like ‘no’ and so it’s okay for her to go home? Because no one has ever lied right? The book could have ended there. The anxiety was so bad that Aza, well, she needed some help. That is fine. The anxiety spiraled and spiraled and led to the inevitable climax, and the book ended there too. For me, it would have been a perfect, fitting, and upsetting ending. Instead, it went on and resolved this foolish mystery aspect in the most unsatisfying, ridiculous way, purely for the sake of finishing something that ultimately, was not the point of the novel anyway.
This novel is actually a really, annoying, desperately, good portrayal of anxiety/OCD and the way in which thoughts can just get away from you, or drag you along. The diversions in Aza’s narrative had the effect of making the reader feel anxious, and in doing so, replicated this and attempted to give them just a little glimpse into what it is really like to live with a mental illness like this. I thought that was great, but it is the points around this central theme that made it impossible for me to really enjoy Turtles All The Way Down.
If You Liked This…
I think that Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is another good depiction of mental illness, and I also think the plot fits together better there and works really well. Other than this, I wish I could suggest more. I haven’t read a lot of books about/featuring mental illness, so if you have any suggestions for me, I’d love to give others a try!