John Green is a legend in the YA fiction world, I think we can all agree on that. And Turtles All The Way Down is another fantastic example of him exploring an area others fear to tread, and it’s a delight.
I’ve split this review down into three parts so that I can really focus in on the individual sections, because I feel that they all deserve their own analysis. So here we go!
Overview & Story line
Turtles All The Way Down tells the story of Aza Holmes who is struggling through life with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). But this isn’t checking your straighteners twice before you leave the house. This is (spoiler alert) drinking hand sanitiser because you’re worried about germs from kissing someone – and repeatedly cutting your finger open on the odd chance you’ve caught an infection – the fixation of which for Aza is C-Diff, aka Clostridium difficile. The NHS defines this as… “Clostridium difficile, also known as C. difficile or C. diff, is a bacterium that can infect the bowel and cause diarrhoea.The infection most commonly affects people who have recently been treated with antibiotics, but can spread easily to others” – although Aza’s OCD does its best to convince her it’s going to kill her.
The main story follows the disappearance of millionaire Russell Pickett who seems to have run into some dodgy business financial dealings. He leaves his two children behind, one of which Aza knew when she was younger (Davis), and there is a $100,000 dollar reward out for information on his whereabouts.
Aza, and her best friend Daisy, decide to try and track Russell down, exploiting Aza’s relationship with Davis in the process. Davis and Aza end up in some weird kind of love story, which leads to him giving Aza and Daisy $100k outright so that he will know if she wants to be around him beyond the money. Aza takes it, and her and Daisy (spoiler again) eventually solve the case after a series of events – which I won’t post on here. And I won’t tell you the ending either.
For me, however, the story was somewhat hidden by the reference to OCD. Perhaps it’s because I saw reflections of myself in there, and it distracted me from the main storyline. Or maybe this is a book about OCD and the Russell Pickett story is there to simply keep the pace moving. I feel it may be the latter.
Having said that, there is nothing wrong with writing a book about OCD. I champion it, if anything, but it seems the me that the synopsis focuses heavily on the Pickett storyline, which for me just acted as a catalyst to explore OCD further. I would say that is the publisher’s failing, on that case, because they’ve clearly gone in with the view that no one is going to want to read a book that focuses just on OCD.
Perhaps it’s because OCD isn’t a mental disease that is easily glamourised. Yet we still need to discuss and understand it – so I can only thank John Green for shedding light on that.
I always love Green’s characters, and although I did love Aza and co. I do have to flag the language they use.
Perhaps it’s just due to my education or the area I’m from, but real teenagers do not talk like John Green’s teenagers – at least not in the North of England.
Like, for example, Aza quotes Sekou Sundiata – who, you might ask? He’s an American poet. Perhaps US kids will know that, and it was a nice line, but do teenagers really quote poets? Another example of this is when Aza reads this really complicated, scientific article online about human microbiota and immediately understands it.
Now it could just be me, but I can’t imagine a girl her age understanding what the hell it meant. I barely did myself at 26. So either my education has failed me greatly, or John Green has forced his own knowledge out of a teenager’s mouth and it somewhat distracts from the character.
But, by all means, I do believe in challenging teens with new theories and language to expand their vocabulary and their minds, so perhaps it does have a place.
Maybe it would work better if there was just a smaller amount of it?
Having said that, though, Green is the KING of quotes, and there are so many folded down pages throughout my copy to earmark all my favourites.
I include a few at the end of this review for you to enjoy!
So, as you’ve probably already figured, mental health plays a HUGE part in this story.
Turtles is a very important story in terms of discussing what mental health is really like. There’s nothing exciting or exotic about being stuck in your own mind, and Green discusses this beautifully whilst also showing that people with mental illness do not always display their symptoms 24/7. (Think about that recent video of Chester Bennington doing the rounds shortly before he killed himself). You can’t always tell what someone else is fighting.
If you yourself, or someone you know, suffers with OCD, then this book is something that you need to read. It’ll both help you to understand the disease better, and even provide perspective to those who suffer.
This book has 4.5 out of 5 for me, and the only reason it doesn’t get the full 5 is because I felt the main storyline didn’t really go anywhere.
It is, as per usual, filled with so many beautiful quotes. I could hardly count them all. But here is one I really liked:
“When I was little, I knew monsters weren’t, like, real. But I also knew I could be hurt by things that weren’t real. I knew that made-up things mattered, and could kill you.”
That line will speak to anyone that has been stuck inside their own head.
But to end on a lighthearted note: “No-one ever says goodbye unless they want to see you again.”
A very true statement if ever I heard one.
Keep it up, Mr Green, your legendary status certainly lives on.