This is an archived review. For the original post, here’s a link to my old blog.
“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.”
My Rating: 5/5 stars ★★★★★
TW: This book does portray OCD in a very realistic way so if that’s something you’re uncomfortable reading, I would stray away from this book.
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
All spoilers in this review contain BOLD brackets around the text like this [EXAMPLE]. Feel free to skip around these to avoid spoilers.
I’ve been thinking about this book a lot. The day after I finished it, it’s the only thing I thought about. I thought about it so much and how it impacted me, it was hard to handle. I told myself I’d write a review when I’m comfortable coming back to it with my feelings all together. They’re not and I don’t think they will ever be? This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I love it when books make me feel this way. These are the books that become my favorites. I’ve sat down and recorded a few videos of myself talking about it because no one had finished it yet and I needed to figure out what I’d say in my review. I had so many things to say, definitely on the spoiler-y end, but if I have to say anything, it’s that it was real and I loved it.
John Green has always written books that interested me. From Paper Towns and the wanderlust angst, to The Fault In Our Stars and the love it showed me. But they felt like stories to me. These books just felt like books and nothing more. I’d re-read them occasionally and meet with the characters again. With Turtles all the Way Down, I feel like I’m stuck with Aza. I’ll think about this book a lot. Whenever I’m having a “thought spiral,” I’ll probably think of the ending and maybe I’ll try to calm down. John Green has mentioned that this book is personal to him and you’re able to see feel that whenever you’re reading it.
Before I get too deep into personal thought, let me talk more about the book itself. We follow Aza, a girl struggling with OCD and her best friend Daisy, as they decide one day they’re going to try and solve the mystery of the billionaire who recently went missing in their town in order to receive the reward. A long the way, Aza gets in touch with the billionaire’s son, Davis, who she used to be friends with as a kid. Aza’s OCD is very much shown through her constant fear of disease or specifically, C Dif. Feel free to look it up. It’s complicated.
While I am going to talk about the characters and plot individually, I want to talk about her OCD and anxiety first. It’s obviously something very important to this book as we follow her life having OCD and we’re in her head a lot, just like she is in hers. You get to see the broken down rawness of her OCD a lot in the first chapter, which is a brilliant idea. Props to John because we refer back to that first chapter through out the entire book whether it’s mentioning the disease itself or her story life metaphor. The thoughts she has going on in her head are hard to read. I’m not going to lie to you. It’s difficult and frustrating because you feel like it’s your mind. It’s how mental illness should be displayed. John Green doesn’t dumb it down and he doesn’t make it look easy. It’s not romanticized, it’s unbearable. This aspect is important to me in a novel because the romanticization of mental illness is YA literature has been around for so long and as someone with mental illness, I want something real. The only reason this book was tough to talk about afterwards was due to the fact it made me think of my own anxiety. While she does have OCD and I can’t mention if he directly states anything about having anxiety, it’s definitely there in her actions at some points. There’s a scene that stood out to me and my anxiety where she tells him about a mathematician,
“I told him about this mathematician Kurt Gödel, who had this really bad fear of being poisoned, so much so that he couldn’t bring himself to eat food unless it was prepared by his wife. And then one day his wife got sick and had to go into the hospital, so Gödel stopped eating. I told Davis how even though Gödel must’ve known that starvation was a greater risk than poisoning, he just couldn’t eat, and so he starved to death… He cohabited with the demon for seventy-one years, and then it got him in the end.” (pg. 203)
I wish I could thank John personally for this. His writing style is so unique because of all these littles things and metaphors he’ll add in order to explain something that just make so much more sense than if you were to simply explain it. That’s one of the beauties of this book.
Now while this book does follow a mysterious plot, I think the most important and climatic scene in the book is Aza dealing with her OCD at the end of the book. Obviously, John mentions how “Mental illness is a story told in past tense” but THIS ONE ISN’T. Aza even talks about how she feels like she’s in some kind of story and how she’s the author and this isn’t past tense. [SPOILER: The climax to this book was definitely the part: where she’s in the hospital after the car accident and she swallows the hand sanitizer. I hate even thinking about putting hand sanitizer near my mouth and so does Aza but she does it anyway because she’s scared and she feels like she has to and so she does. This scene was absolutely heartbreaking because she rather die from drinking hand sanitizer than the possibility of actually getting C diff (the disease she talks about).]
Now, this book had excellent character development. I actually felt this book to be very character based and very much in their heads so the development is great. I’ve mostly already talked about Aza’s character development but now I want to quickly talk about Daisy. Daisy was honestly my favorite from the start. She’s a fanfic writer who’s dedicated to writing Star Wars fanfic and is actually quite popular online. She has some really good parts that just had me laughing out loud so I’m going to share some. There’s this scene where she’s talking about a boy who possibly likes her and she says he’s that vast boy in the middle,
“The whole problem with boys is that ninety-nine percent of them are, like, okay. If you could dress and hygiene them properly, and make them stand up straight and listen to you and not be dumbasses, they’d be totally acceptable.”
or even the scenes where she’s talking about drawing the short stick and having to wear the Chuckie costume. That minimum wage teenage job struggle is real. (lol)
While I found her character hilarious and a great sidekick, the ending was pretty sad. [SPOILER: It hurt to read her fanfic when Aza realized there was a character very much like her and it was almost insulting. Yet, I think I understand Daisy. Yes, it was wrong but it can be hard to deal with people with mental illness but it’s never okay to treat them unfairly for it. She used her fanfic as an outlet and never thought Aza would make the connection. It hurt even more when she told Aza that “You don’t even really know me. What’s my parents’ names?” One of the worst parts is when she quoted Mychel,
“…you’re like mustard. Great in small quantities, but then a lot of you is. . . a lot.”
which is even more heart breaking because a few pages beforehand, she thought, “I now saw myself as Daisy saw me– clueless, helpless, useless. Less.” ]
To finally wrap this up, (this review has been unfinished for awhile because wow, it was a lot), I really loved this book. I still stand by everything I said. I think this is John Green’s best book and I am nervous/excited for the movie version. If the ending of this book made me feel a certain way for days, I don’t know what the movie version is going to do to me.
If John Green is writing another book, I have no idea how it’s going to be as raw, relatable, and revolutionary as this one.
Have you read this book? Are you planning to? Let me know!
Buy this book at your local bookstore!