Turtles All the Way Down
by John Green
Publication Date: October 10, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 304 pages
Genres: Young Adult - Contemporary - Romance
Find it On: GoodReads - Amazon - iBooks
My Rating: ★★★☆☆
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.
Okay, I'm going to be really critical in this review, so to get this out of the way first: I love John Green. He is an amazing and imaginitive author. This book is *well-written.* the words are like poetry, the sentences and syntax fit together into objectively good writing, and a mediocre book by John Green is eons beyond the quality of the average book.
But man, was this not for me.
The best way I can describe this is that it felt like a shell of a book, like it was the plot outline before it was fully fleshed out. Maybe I'm nostalgic for the first time I read Paper Towns or Looking For Alaska--and mind you, I was a lot younger when that happened--but there was a certain magic that just wasn't there.
My biggest problem was that Aza was a caricature of a disease. Don't get me wrong, OCD and anxiety are terrible and debilitating diseases. But it's so reductionist to assume that a disease is synonymous with a person's personality. Aside from Aza's love for her car, there is honestly no personality trait that I can use to explain Aza that isn't a textbook symptom of her mental illness. It's like John Green took his role as an educator of this illness so seriously that he forgot he was writing a fiction book. Maybe this book will help someone understand mental illness. Maybe it will make a teen with OCD feel understood. But honestly I feel like there's a real dangerous can of worms opened when you're teaching people that a person *is* their disease, and I was just not here for that kind of narrative.
The other characters were quirky, but dang, were they all supposed to be awful? Daisy was the worst. Davis was kind of boring and also kind of a jerk. (No, you don't get a sticker for loving someone who's sick!) Aza's mother was an enabler and even minor friends like Mychal were so damn rude. Can Noah be my favorite? He was pure and un-jerk-like. I nominate Noah as my favorite.
There was a plot, it was kind of cool, but for something along the lines of a mystery, there was no suspense. I liked the moral dilemma that Aza and later Davis faced regarding the importance of facing the truth, but it was so buried in everything else that the book was trying to do.
The whole "turtles all the way down" thing was a cool metaphor, but I find it hard to believe that someone in serious mental health care and years of things exposure therapy could have any new angle with which to consider her disease by her late teens. More of the same I said before: this book became so much of a mental health pamphlet that it forgot to be a novel.
Diversity Score: Own Voices (+5), MC with mental illness (+2) = 7