Turtles All The Way Down Review

Sunday, 22 October 2017


By: John Green
Rating: 3.5/5
Source: Amazon

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.

'Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett', the irony in this line is palpable as it implies that Aza does in fact pursue the mystery. The majority of the book is an autobiographical tale of Aza's mental health; not the detective novel we were led to believe we'd be getting. That being said, the description of mental illness in this book is by far it's strongest feature. 

So lets just forget that there's a missing billionaire, which is easy because he isn't mentioned for a good chunk of the book. Aza Holmes suffers from OCD and other health related anxieties, she's constantly worried she's going to develop life threatening illnesses. I really enjoyed the explanation of the 'thought spirals' and empathised that they kept her so tightly wound about things that the majority would find easy or mundane.

I can't vouch for the authenticity as I don't suffer from OCD but I know John is famous for spending years researching disease and it's been six years since TFIOS.

Between mental health and first kisses, (yes there's a boy and he's cute, weird and pretentious) the 'missing billionaire' subplot may as well have not happened. The coincidence that Aza (I almost typed Hazel) knew the billionaire's son from her past and is reintroduced to him through his father's disappearance, is so irrelevant to the story that it didn't need to be in the book. Removing all the rich people from this book would not change the outcome.

Aza would still be suffering from her OCD and it's more than likely she would eventually start crushing on someone and figure out that kissing them means exchanging bacteria and that's just not going to work for her. The only difference is *small spoiler* she might not have fallen out with her best friend over money and ended up in hospital.

It seems like JG wanted to tell a story about this strand of mental health but in order to make it more marketable he threw in the scandal of a missing billionaire and a Tuatara (I don't know why the lizard was such a prominent feature of the book, if someone can explain then please do). It's a real shame because I was intrigued by both elements of the book but it just didn't work very well. 

As well as not a lot happening in this book, if you can say anything happened at all, it was frustrating to read that Aza was her anxiety. She didn't seem to have a defined personality or any hobbies beyond her coping mechanisms. Daisy and Davis are the other prominent characters (best friend + love interest), both are big fans of star wars, Daisy is a passionate fan fiction writer and Davis writes poetry and enjoys stargazing, then Aza has OCD. It seemed a little unfair and made it hard for me to connect with her at times.

This year I read History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera, which also features a character, Griffin, who suffers from OCD, but it wasn't all the character was. It also followed along the lines of loss and mourning, another prominent plot point in Turtles All The Way Down. I know these topics can be done well because they have been, so it was a shame for the actual story to get lost in the description of the illness. 

In many ways I think this is still an important book to read because mental health was in no way glamourised in this book, it was made very clear how much people struggle with this kind of mental illness on a daily basis. Too often you see people claiming to have some form of mental illness as a way of seeming more interesting or unique, reading more material like this might deter people from thinking that mental illness is an accessory you take off when you're alone. 

I would recommend this book to anyone who maybe doesn't know much about OCD, I do feel like I've learnt something and if you can take that away from a book it can't have been all bad. I would also recommend Adam's book if you'd like to read more YA surrounding OCD and loss.

Thanks for reading!

12 comments

  1. Really interesting review! I haven't heard much about Turtles all the way down so nice to read your review. I'm still undecided whether to pick it or not but I will definitely look at Adam Silvera's novel you mentioned.

    acupofwonderland.wordpress.com

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    1. I can't fault Adam, he is a god. John Green was my idol when I was much younger, maybe he's one of rare YA authors who are better suited for a younger audience, I just can't seem to get away with him now :( xx

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  2. You're making me feel very good about my decision not to read this, I have to say 😂. The mental health aspect does sound interesting, but John Green's writing drives me mad and the missing person thing is in basically all of his books!
    I'm excited to get to History is All You Left Me on my TBR though 😊
    Amy xx

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    1. I'm slowly making everyone read Adam Silvera's books and it's great. His books will rip out your heart but you'll still be glad you read them! :P xx

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  3. I have seen ads for this book everywhere and was a bit curious. I haven't read any of this author's books; It's a shame it is not as good as expected.

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    1. It happens too often, the hype kills the book xx

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  4. I think this is a very thought out review and I definitely understand where you're coming from and is one of the biggest reasons I didn't give this book five stars. There was something niggling at me about it and I couldn't work it out and the fact Aza had no personality other than OCD definitely makes sense to me now.
    The OCD portrayed is definitely on point though. As a sufferer myself, I related to a lot of what she went through. I would also highly recommend Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne which also shows OCD in a relatable way and the main protagonist has definition. x

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    1. Thank you! I didn't want to just slam the book, it did have a lot of things I liked. One of the problems I think was all the hype, and I had this book on pre-order for four months and was sooo excited. So when it didn't live up to expectations it lost a star immediately :P
      I was at Holly's event yesterday and this book is definitely on my list <3 x

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  5. I actually had such high hopes for this book, after loving so many of his previous, but after reading your review, I actually think I'll give it a miss, as much as the mental health side does sound interesting! I hate getting to the end of the story and feeling a little let down by it all, and it sounds like that would definitely happen here..

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    1. I would still read it, just don't rush into it. I now know I should have waited a while and let the hype die down before reading this. I might have liked it more if I wasn't so hyped for it xx

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  6. Shame it didn't live up to your expectations. I have to admit, I've been pretty underwhelmed by the author's books in the past.
    Cora ❤ http://www.teapartyprincess.co.uk/

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    1. All my other anticipated books have lived up to expectations, so I can take this hit. I'm still sad but hey-ho! JG is very marmite I think, I used to LOVE and now I kinda loathe xx

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