Review: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Turtles All the Way Down by John GreenTurtles All the Way Down by John Green
Narrator: Kate Rudd
Length: 7 hrs
Published by Listening Library on October 10, 2017
Genres: Contemporary
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher
AmazonThe Book DepositoryAudible

It all begins with a fugitive billionaire and the promise of a cash reward.

Turtles All the Way Down is about lifelong friendship, the intimacy of an unexpected reunion, Star Wars fan fiction, and tuatara. But at its heart is Aza Holmes, a young woman navigating daily existence within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

In his long-awaited return, John Green shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity.

John Green can be seriously divisive in the YA book blogging community. Though I do not love all his books, I’ve loved a couple of them a whole lot, and I do consider myself a fan (though, yes, sometimes he says things that are frustrating). I really like his prose, pretentious though it may be. Turtles All the Way Down didn’t really sound like a Christina book, but I was too curious not to read it when the audiobook came into my hands. Turtles All the Way Down has been years in the making, and it’s really good.

John Green has clearly been working hard and trying to respond to some of his criticisms. Some people who hate John Green’s prior novels may really like this one. With Turtles All the Way Down, Green really consciously avoids the manic pixie thing, for example. A case could be made for Davis seeing Aza as a manic pixie, and I absolutely think he does, but he realizes that her quirkiness goes way past charming and into severe mental health issues. She’s also the main character, so it’s all her view and not just her there to affect him. Davis is even more pixie perfect most of the time, but I would argue that he doesn’t change her; of everything that’s going on, I feel like he’s one of the least catalyzing elements.

Of course, the book does remain in some respects classically John Green. The whole novel drips with tumblrbait lines, snappy, deep, wise little soundbites. Though I haven’t looked, I’m sure hundreds of quotes are already all over tumblr. Both Aza and Davis are apparently experts on basically everything. Davis has a blog where he posts meaningful but mostly not well-known quotes and deep thoughts. If the pretentiousness of John Green’s novels is what puts you off, you’re still probably not going to like this one. I did sometimes find myself slightly thrown out of the book by a random fact one of them knew that didn’t fit any known character development.

What’s very much new to the table here is the portrait of mental health. Aza has severe anxiety, with a particular focus on germs and health. The book could potentially be triggering for people with hypochondria, because Aza has very intense thought spirals about health-related stuff that is super unlikely. Green does a marvelous job with her anxiety, her thought spirals, her OCD, such a good job in fact that, like Corey Ann Haydu’s OCD Love StoryTurtles All the Way Down is really fucking hard to take sometimes. It’s visceral and painful and does a really job conveying the feeling of having your brain work like this. Much of the time, I actually found this book deeply unpleasant (I shudder just thinking about Aza’s years-long habit of breaking open the skin of her thumb.

Though the romance between Davis and Aza is cute, Turtles All the Way Down is very much not a book about romance. It is 100% a book about mental health. It is a book about how it feels to have a mental illness, and how it’s especially hard to make anyone else understand. It is a book about how love doesn’t cure a mental illness. It is a book about how nothing cures a mental illness, not even working really hard and consistently, but about how life can get better and more manageable. This book is really sad but it’s not entirely without hope either. It’s an honest and painful book.

Only a couple of things didn’t really work for me in Turtles All the Way Down. I wanted more out of the relationship between Daisy and Aza. They’ve been best friends for years, but Daisy has done something deeply hurtful to Aza (View Spoiler », and when that comes out Daisy says even more hurtful stuff. Daisy’s absolutely right about how self-involved Aza is, but the way this all shakes out is thoroughly awful. Now, maybe it’s because my set of anxieties (in which one of the things I fear the most is people who I thought cared turning out to absolutely hate me), but I couldn’t forgive Daisy for that, and it felt like almost all of the apology was on Aza’s side. Yes, Aza hadn’t been a very good friend most of the time, but Daisy also never gave her a chance by talking to Aza about it rather than bottling everything up and being cruel.

I also found it deeply jarring at the end, when it’s revealed that Aza’s writing this as an adult as a sort of mental health diary thing. It seemed somewhat out of place, and it made me question a lot of what I’d heard, because now it’s a narrative that adult Aza is telling, and it makes me curious about what’s been left out or changed in memory over time. The brief summation of all of life post this set of events only highlights how much the story isn’t about adult Aza. This section really detracted from the book for me, and also leaves the book off on a low note imo. Though, admittedly, if you liked books that are more “real” and less HEA, then it may work for you.

Turtles All the Way Down wasn’t what I expected it to be at all, minus the tumblrbait. It’s a very, very good book that I absolutely do not want to read ever again. If you loved it, and when you’re recovered, read OCD Love Story. I’d also recommend The Rest of Us Just Live Here as a readalike (only weirder).

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

(FYI not a commentary having Lena Dunham; the gif just felt appropriate otherwise, so ignore Dunham and focus on the message)

One response to “Review: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green”

  1. Leah says:

    This is a really good review. It made me realize that I might like Turtles All the Way Down. I just cannot deal with people who are John Green fanatics. I can see liking his books, even loving his books, but to not see anything wrong with them and pushing them is problematic. I might read this when it is a bit older.

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