Title: Turtles All The Way Down
Author: John Green
Category: YA Contemporary
Publisher/Date: Dutton/10 October 2017
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.
This is a book that I both adored and became frustrated by at the same time. Starting with the bad (because I have a lot more to say about the good and I just want to get it out of the way), I didn’t actually care that much for the mystery of the story. There were a lot of other things going on, and the detective story line didn’t do much for me because it was pretty slow and wasn’t really in-depth. To an extent this is okay because the story wasn’t really about Aza solving the mystery — it was about what Ava got into while trying to solve it. It was about her relationships with her friends and her family and herself. Those relationships worked for me, but I did find myself wishing that the plot would hook me a little more.
The second “bad” is something I hear a lot about John Green’s writing — the teenagers do not sound like teenagers. Hell, they don’t even sound like people in their twenties like me. They sound like miniature adults, and while that isn’t inherently bad because there are teens out there somewhere who do get philosophical and deep, it does make it harder to relate to them because I don’t feel like I’m on that same level, and that can be hard to read at times.
The story line with the Tuatara was just weird. I had heard from some Maori people on Twitter about how, before the book came out, they were concerned about the potential mishandling of the tuatara because of its significance to Maori culture. I’m far from an expert and I do not have the authority to say whether or not it had been mishandled; if I run across a Maori reviewer who has something to say about that, I will link it.
What I absolutely loved about this book, though, was the OCD representation it held. This novel is one that’s incredibly personal to Green because a lot of it comes from his own experience with OCD, and while I couldn’t get myself to believe that the teenagers were real teenagers, what did feel real to me was Aza’s OCD. I have OCD myself and I felt that connection with Aza on every page. The OCD portrayal is raw and honest, and while not everyone who has OCD has it in the same way (mine is very different from Aza’s, for instance) it still felt relatable. The gut-punching feeling you get when someone tells you that you’re a “bit much” for them because of your mental illness stings, and I felt the pain. I felt her inability to escape her mind. It was real to me, and I ate it up.
I will say that the portrayal of OCD here is really raw and in-depth; if you have OCD and you do not like reading that sort of thing, I wouldn’t recommend this book for you. I appreciate it because I’m someone who does need to read that representation. If you don’t want to read detailed thought spirals or descriptions of skin-picking, it’s okay to pick up something else instead.
Honestly, John Green does his best writing when he’s writing #ownvoices. He may not be super in tune with how teenagers talk and think, but when he writes about something he is in tune with, it’s heart-wrenching. I know writing for an adult audience doesn’t really seem to be his thing, but I’m intensely curious about what he would come up with if he were writing about an adult with OCD. The kind of writing you find about OCD in Turtles All The Way Down is some of the most accurate-feeling and familiar description of OCD I have ever read, and I genuinely hope that we can get more like this from him in the future.
Final rating: 4 of 5 stars