Turtles All the Way Down by John Green – A Book Review: ★★★★

A lack of turtles, but not quality


Aza Holmes is a high-schooler battling with two issues, the death of her dad, and the confines of her mental illness: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. News spreads around that the father of an old childhood friend is on the run for corporate crimes. A massive $100,000 is up for grabs for anyone who can provide the police withinformation about the case. Aza and her best friend Daisy, motivated by money, choose to put on their best detective caps in this mystery YA novel that features a touch of romance. Turtles All the Way Down is a novel about grief, mental illness, and never giving up on recovery.

I’ve always been 50/50 with John Green’s books. I absolutely loved The Fault in Our Stars and An Abundance of Katherines, but other books of his I couldn’t connect with. This was not the case with Green’s latest novel, Turtles All the Way Down, which was published last month. I think it’s so great and brave of Green to write a novel loosely based on his own experiences with mental illness. I can never bring myself to write ficton about my own mental illness, so I admire Green for working on this whopper for a span of five years! His struggle was worth it, Turtles All the Way Down is going to help so many people, I can tell.

Turtles All the Way Down, as with Green’s mind, dips in and out of philosophy discussion. The novel addresses identity, which is a very important topic for young adult readers, and determinism (the belief that everything is planned out in the universe and that free will is an illusion). Something I love about Green’s books is that I always come out of the end of them having learnt something. Tuataras are so cool!

Aza (Holmesy) is by far my favourite character because of how much I related to her. She’s often stuck in her head and worrying about little things. She obsesses over cleanliness (but not in the way OCD sufferers are typically depicted) and manages this obsession by opening the callus on the tip of her finger and cleaning it with sanitizer. At the beginning of the novel, I wasn’t sure what to make of this behaviour, as her illness isn’t revealed from the get go, but I felt Green depicted mental illness in a very real way.

From my own experiences, Green’s decriptions of mental illness were spot on. Mental health is such a difficult thing to explain to someone who hasn’t been through it, but Green put forward a valiant effort:

“The thing about a spiral is, if you follow it inward, it never actually ends. It just keeps tightening, infinitely.”


Green also had some brilliant empowering quotes. One which will stay with me for a long time to come is:

“Your now is not your forever.”

Aza’s mental illness was never romanticised, and there were a lot of instances where I pitied her for her struggles. However, something I wasn’t okay with was Green’s use of the word ‘crazy’. This wasn’t okay and was badly chosen for Green’s audience of young, easily-influenced OCD sufferers. It seemed to show a backward attitude to mental health disorders. I’m sure Green didn’t intend to make his readers feel ostracised and ‘crazy’ through this novel, as his depiction in the rest of the story is fine. But the word holds weight, and he wasn’t as thoughtful as he should have been with this. Also, Dr. Singh’s character wasn’t convincing enough for me.

Sometimes I struggle to read novels in the genre of realism because the plot or other aspects aren’t interesting enough to keep my attention. I didn’t have this problem with Turtles All the Way Down. Green’s descriptions of settings in the novel were rich and interesting, an example being Davis’ mansion. Also, I felt the plot had a very clear structure with a very shocking yet moving climax.

I could go on and on about this novel. The main thing I want to say is this, besides a few pernickety faults, Turtles All the Way Down was an honest pleasure to read. I know Green worried a lot about the standard of this novel, with it being the first book published after The Fault in Our Stars but he needn’t have worried – this novel is brilliant!



Header image: César Guadarrama Cantú

First image taken by me

Second image: Samuel Zeller

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