All The Books I Can Read

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Review: Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

on October 17, 2017

Turtles All The Way Down
John Green
Penguin Random House UK
2017, 286p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

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.

I’m not a die-hard John Green fan. In fact I’ve only read one of his books, The Fault In Our Stars but I really liked it. I hadn’t gotten around to reading his backlist yet and I also didn’t really know this was coming out until it basically dropped and I was pretty curious. It’s been 5 years since his last book. And I have to be honest – if I hadn’t found a bookshop selling it for a “special” price I probably wouldn’t have bought it. RRP is $27.99 and I know it’s a hardback and all but….nope. I wouldn’t have paid that and I’m not afraid to admit it.

I think the biggest thing I noticed about this book is that the plot is really, really flimsy. So flimsy it’s almost not even there. There’s the vaguest of ideas of main character Aza and her best friend Daisy searching for a missing super rich businessman, Russell Pickett, a fugitive with the idea of collecting the $100,000 reward. They use a tenuous connection that Aza has with the man’s son Davis in that they went to camp together years ago when they were like, 11 or something. I really disliked the plot, especially the part with the money which I found incredibly unrealistic, insulting and pretentious.

But – I did mostly like the characters. In particular I really liked Davis and I felt a lot for him and his brother Noah who were going through something very difficult. Not only is their father missing but their whole future hangs in the balance given the complicated instructions of their father’s will. At the same time, even though their father is a terrible father, Davis admits that’s it better he be there than not, especially for Noah. As the days roll on and there’s no sign or word from Russell Pickett, it becomes less and less likely that the boys will ever see their father again.

The main character Aza suffers from crippling anxiety specifically revolving around germs and contracting things that will kill her, such as C diff. She has a complicated ritual of treating an infection that doesn’t exist in a cut and then opening it up again just to be certain. She becomes so concerned about her possibility of contracting something that will kill her that she begins doing something incredibly dangerous in an attempt to destroy any potential bad bacteria. Even something as simple as eating for Aza is a complicated spiral of thoughts about bacteria and chewing and what is happening in her body when she eats. She mistakes grumbles in her stomach that signify she is hungry (or presumably that she is digesting food) for signs of terrible illness like C Diff and constantly reads about cases online, comparing the symptoms those patients have to her own. Despite the fact that she’s on medication, she doesn’t take it consistently, not wanting to believe that she needs to take medication to be her ‘true self’ and also because she doesn’t think it’s working. However she’s not taking it correctly so it’s hard to know whether it would work or not. From what I’ve heard/read, Aza’s experience is very similar to John Green’s experience with anxiety, particularly in the way that he writes her spiraling thoughts and how difficult it is to extract yourself from them, even though there’s a part of you that knows what the thoughts are telling you aren’t true. Aza knows she doesn’t have C diff but what if she does? And that’s all it takes. I think it was amazing how this was written and now I know why it felt so authentic and also, so exhausting and confusing to read. Because if it’s exhausting to read about it, I can’t even imagine how exhausting it is to actually live it. #OwnVoices are always a positive thing in literature and removing a stigma from mental health issues, showcasing it in fiction and also people like John Green being open about their own struggles help to shine a light and also indicate that it can be something that anyone can experience at any time in their lives, no matter what else is going on. So for that, the book is certainly important to the readership.

But there’s just so much else that’s so hard to ignore. Overly eloquent but yet awkward teens stargazing and holding hands and talking about their thoughts in relation to W.B. Yeats’ poetry, especially The Second Coming. I studied Yeats in year 12 (an embarrassingly long amount of time ago now) and that poem as well and I can remember bits and pieces: the ever-widening gyre part, falcon cannot hear the falconer, things fall apart etc. It’s quite a heavy handed piece of imagery. But mostly I just wanted more from the plot. A lot of it felt like filler – the stuff about the lizard, the fan fiction, etc. I get the references, they just seemed to take up a lot of pages in what is quite a slim book. There were times when I was honestly a tiny bit bored, turning pages waiting for something to actually happen. When I finished it, I really agonised over what to rate it because I was struggling to really decide how I’d felt about it. I didn’t love it. I admired parts of it, particularly Green’s brutal honesty about mental illness, anxiety and OCD. I liked Davis and the situation he and his brother experienced tugged at my heartstrings. But I also struggled with a lot of it as well and then end left me feeling a bit dissatisfied. I don’t expect a perfect ending by any means, but I wanted a little more. Which I think kind of sums up my whole experience with this book.


Book #171 of 2017


2 responses to “Review: Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

  1. kepagewriter says:

    I felt like this about the two John Green novels I have read – The Fault in our Stars and Looking for Alaska. The characters are always interesting and well-drawn but all the other stuff – the cultural references, for example – just seems to get in the way. I probably will read this one because I’m curious about it but I won’t be hurrying out to buy a hardback copy.

  2. Really interesting review! I definitely understand disliking the plot of this book because it was flimsy. For me, character building and development is usually more important than plot in contemporaries so this didn’t really bother me! Xx

    My Review:

    Happy Reading!

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