Turtles All the Way Down

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Synopsis: 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.

Author: John Green

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Warnings: OCD, anxiety, death, and a car accident

THIS REVIEW DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK

turtles all the way down, john green, ocd, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, anxiety disorder, mental health, mental illness, mental health awareness, mental illness awareness, book, books, book review, book reviewer, book blog, book blogger, bibliophile, bookworm, bookdragon, blog, blogger, review, reviewer, paperbackadventures, paperback adventures

Now that I’ve had time to properly process everything that happened in this book, I can tell you, with 100% certainty, that I FREAKING LOVE THIS BOOK. LIKE, REALLY LOVE IT.

You either love a John Green book or you hate them. His books – the plot, the story, the narrative – are not everyone’s cup of tea. That’s okay. Personally, while I loved, The Fault in Our Stars, I wasn’t particularly impressed with Paper Towns or An Abundance of Katherines. However, I will always, always read a new John Green book. I have to applaud Green for tackling hard-hitting topics that many would argue have no place in YA fiction. My personal belief is that YA is the perfect place for such topics. To avoid writing controversial, sensitive, and difficult to read topics in YA is a disservice to all the teenagers and young adults who read this genre. That’s as far into that can of worms as I’m going to go in this post because I’m going to be sharing a post around it with you all very soon. That being said, the way Green handles these topics, with sensitivity and care, it’s no wonder these books resonate on a deep, personal level with a lot of readers, myself included.

There were so many things that I love about this book and I’m going to dive right into the main reason: the portrayal of mental illness, more specifically OCD. Anyone who knows me, or has been following me for a while, knows that I have OCD. If you asked the media, cleaning and organisation are two words that would appear synonymous with OCD. However, that’s not the entire truth. OCD is not always washing your hands several hundred times a day. OCD is being unable to control your thoughts. It’s having one thought that consumes every single part of your mind. It spirals. It devours your entire being. It’s brutal and it’s terrifying. And Green captures that perfectly within the pages of this book. Through Aza, the main character, Green has written an honest, raw account of a version of OCD that is not commonly talked about. Aza takes you on a journey with her and her spiralling thoughts and it is honestly difficult to read. I’m not sure if it’s because I could relate so freaking much to her that made it difficult, but, man, it really was hard to read at times. But it was necessary. Having this representation written by a popular author in a popular book in a popular genre means the entire world. We need more accurate representations of mental illness in this genre. In books. In media in general.

Okay, so moving on from talking about the mental illness representation in this book, because I could quite happily talk about it ALL day long. The plot the synopsis tells you about, the one about the missing billionaire and the journey in which Aza and her best friend, Daisy, go on to discover what happened to him, doesn’t have a starring role in this book. Aza’s anxiety does take centre stage – and rightly so! However, this missing billionaire plot did nothing for me. It honestly felt as though it was simply there to give Aza and Daisy something to do. It’s a very John Green thing. I mean, he does really enjoy his mysteries. Example one: Paper Towns. Example two: Looking for Alaska. Need I say any more? This plot raised more questions than it answered and I didn’t feel fully satisfied with the outcome. It’s for this reason that I couldn’t give it five stars.

The supporting characters were… mixed.

I adored Davis, who is the eldest son of the missing billionaire. While I got the initial vibe he was there to serve as a romantic interest, which I was ready to throw the book in a rage over because I am so over that trope where the guy saves the girl and makes her mental illness go away because that does NOT happen, but I was (not so) surprised (it is a John Green book after all) that this was not happening. Like, they were romantically involved for a time, but Davis is just as broken and damaged as Aza thanks to his overwhelming grief and newfound responsibility of taking care of his younger brother. He didn’t try and ‘fix’ her and neither did she attempt to do the same to him. Their romance was slow but it felt genuine and I loved that.

The only other character that deserves a mention is Daisy. I’m seeing a bit of hate aimed at Daisy for some of the things she says to Aza, which, in my opinion, was cruel but it was also necessary. Being friends with someone with a mental illness can be exhausting (and that’s coming from someone with a mental illness who has been on the receiving end to a conversation much like Aza and Daisy’s) BUT it’s important to remember that you’re worth it and everyone who really loves and cares for you will be there to remind you that you’re worth it. Ugh, okay, this could be controversial, but we have to remember that even our friends and family without mental illnesses can have a bad day, because, while not everyone has a mental illness, we all have mental health. A mental illness doesn’t necessarily mean that you win the lottery for a bad day. Sometimes our friends and family can – and will – say something hurtful that they don’t truly mean because they’re exhausted and feeling pretty crappy. It can happen. It does happen. They’re not going to be happy every freaking second of every freaking day. That’s not how mental health works. So, while I don’t personally agree with all the hate Daisy has been receiving, I do think that more should have been done when they resolved the situation at the end, because it did come across as though Daisy was making out that she was such an amazing person for befriending someone with such a severe mental illness, when that’s not the case. Mentally ill people are not hard to love. We are not hard to love. And we’re not charity cases that need friends who only want to be friends to score brownie points in the ‘being a good person’ category because that’s just not how this works.

I feel like I went on a bit of a rant there. I just have a lot of feelings over the whole Daisy-Aza argument, OKAY? Okay. 

Overall, I LOVE this book. I love Aza. I love the representation. I love the deep, philosophical, and metaphorical prose that Green is renowned for. If I could read this book for the very first time again then I would. I’m just sad that I couldn’t give it a full five stars.

Have you read Turtles All the Way Down? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.

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10 Comments

  1. I love your review of this book so much, especially reading your thoughts on the different characters and their role in the story. I also definitely agree with you that YA is the perfect place for discussions of such hard-hitting topics!

    1. Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed my review.
      I’m also glad you think YA is the place for these discussions – we’ve got to show the YA audience that they’re not alone!

  2. It’s been a while since I read this book, but I remember loving it as well. There was some controversy surrounding it though – if I remember correctly? And I have to admit, I did NOT like his Looking for Alaska. Nor The Fault in our Stars – but the latter is seriously the movie’s fault. [I have this thing against the actress playing Hazel and I couldn’t stop envisioning her and that was the first time a movie ruined a book for me?]

    IN ANY CASE. I love how you saw your OCD represented in a way that felt right. It means tons to me when I see fat, bisexual rep in books so I can imagine how it must’ve been like to come across this. And, just so you know: it’s totally normal you had a hard time reading it because “even” I did while I don’t have OCD. It simply shoes how well Green portrayed it, in my opinion. 🙂

    1. I know what you mean about Shailene Woodley, I’m a little bit the same when it comes to her! I definitely preferred the book when it came to TFiOS.

      Green did an amazing job with the OCD rep. I’m sure I read somewhere that he also has OCD, and so I’m glad he’s using his own experiences to write so authentically and reach a group of people, including me, and remind us we’re not entirely crazy. Ahh, you’re so right about the rep! It’s so, so important. It’s one of my favourite things about reading – there’s so much diversity, especially now, in YA that it’s becoming somewhat easier to find relatable characters.

  3. I have never heard of this before. You have written a detailed review. I always like being nosey and seeing what other people are reading! I need to read more this year! Thank you for sharing x

    1. Thank you so much! Same – I love seeing what they’re reading and getting recommendations. This is definitely a book I’d recommend!

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