Since the massive success of 2012’s The Fault in Our Stars, John Green has become beloved by many. The Young Adult (YA) novel claimed a place on the New York Times bestseller list for well over a year and was later adapted into a successful film that only built on the hype surrounding Green and his novel. Now five years since the publication of The Fault in Our Stars, Green has returned with a new YA novel titled Turtles All the Way Down.
As someone who doesn’t like change, it was a great relief to me that Green’s writing style and narrative voice remain consistent with his other novels. So, if you didn’t like Green’s other books, you probably won’t like this one. It is the usual mix of quirky, intelligent teens; some kind of scavenger hunt/mystery; a first romance; references to classic literature; and some poetic lines that will be quoted years down the road (and probably sold on posters and t-shirts). John Green is John Green is John Green.
Being a longtime fan of his novels, I was happy to pick up his latest title and sink into its pages. It’s an easy book to get lost in, particularly in the wake of the main character, Aza’s, “thought spirals” that strangle her mental health throughout the novel. The portrayal of Aza’s OCD is by far the most palpable description of it that I’ve read thus far in any YA novel. While it may seem that Green is tossing out a textbook example of OCD, Aza’s behaviors are based on his own experiences with OCD. The anxiety that permeates Aza’s life and story is relatable for many people who’ve suffered from anxiety, and will likely speak to others with different chronic illnesses.
“You lie there, not even thinking really, except to try to consider how to describe the hurt, as if finding the language for it might bring it up out of you. If you can make something real, if you can see it and smell it and touch it, then you can kill it.”
I also appreciated how the romance factored into Aza’s story. In most of the YA novels that discuss mental health issues, romance is seen as a “cure” for these unhealthy behaviors and thoughts. This novel avoids even suggesting that and lets the characters’ problems remain unsolved.
Aza’s best friend, Daisy, is a classic quirky best friend to the protagonist that you find in Green’s novels. However, I didn’t like her quite as much as I’ve enjoyed some of his other BFFs. At times, I found her a little annoying and immature. I did appreciate that Daisy’s love of Star Wars didn’t prevent me from enjoying or understanding the novel as I’m not part of that fandom in any way.
This book’s scavenger hunt/mystery was focused on a missing billionaire whose oldest son is a childhood friend of Aza. To me, this subplot was possibly the weakest and least necessary. It mostly served to drive the characters together at the beginning of the novel and I found a way to wrap it up a little too conveniently and underwritten.
Overall, I really enjoyed this novel, and am happy that Green has given us another story to read and probably re-read.
If Turtles All the Way Down is your first John Green book and you want to read more of his novels, but don’t know where to start:
For another novel that explores mental health issues and is co-authored by the spectacular David Levithan, read Will Grayson, Will Grayson.
If you’re eager for the ultimate scavenger hunt, read Paper Towns.
Did you like the nerdier elements such as microbiomes and the Tuatara? Try reading An Abundance of Katherines.
If you want more quirky friends like Daisy, read Looking for Alaska.
Was this romance not enough for you? Pick up The Fault in Our Stars.
If you’d like to spread your love and support for YA to authors besides John Green, check out these books:
For more Star Wars and fandom, check out Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and Kindred Spirits
For more novels about mental health issues, read Paperweight by Meg Hatson, Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone, History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera, We Are Okay by Nina LaCour, The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness