Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

I enjoyed John Green’s earlier books, so I have been one of the many fans eagerly anticipating his newest novel. In Turtles All the Way Down, Green’s first-person narrator, Aza, struggles with extreme anxiety and OCD, to the point of self-harm. She fixates on germs, gut bacteria, and her microbiome. Green manages to make her anxiety seem utterly reasonable–which is of course the exact right way to portray this disorder from the inside looking out. Mental illness makes the extreme thoughts that are its main symptom seem absolutely logical, even inevitable. Like, why aren’t we all always freaking out about our complex, fragile microbiome? How does anyone ever kiss, when it’s obviously disgusting swapping so many germs?

The plot is a mystery surrounding the disappearance of a millionaire CEO, and a romance with the CEO’s teenage son, Davis. Several times, Aza shows a lot of genre-savvy. She knows how the money should affect her relationship with Davis, and how her unique mind should help her to solve mysteries. but she doesn’t want to or can’t go along with those genre rules.

My one criticism of the book might be that Davis is too perfect, too accepting of Aza’s flaws, too poetic to be a real teenage boy. He’s obsessed with astronomy and writes contemplative reflections on Shakespeare quotes on a blog that Aza happens to discover through some lucky cyber-stalking.

I was almost more interested in Aza’s best friend Daisy, a fast-talking fanfic writer, than in Davis or the mystery surrounding his father. Daisy is super charming, and she took me in from the beginning, but there is a seed of meanness and selfishness and discord in her relationship with Aza that has to be revealed and fixed. I love it when strong female characters have complex friendships with deep-seated problems that are NOT rooted in jealousy over a boy.

In the end, there is resolution, but considerably less than in most YA books. There’s no happily ever after. Aza is certainly not cured. She will always have anxiety. The heartbreaking realism of Aza’s difficult future is not something Green flinches away from, and I really appreciate that.

3 thoughts on “Turtles All the Way Down

  1. The NYT also gave this a good review. For me, I’ll be passing on this one.

    Do you ever beta-read YA manuscripts? Are you part of a critique group at all? Just curious as to how your own writing is going, and if you’ve been able to make any time for it this summer and fall.

    XO — from your digital follower here on your blog 😀

    • I’d certainly be interested in beta-reading! I just started with a very small writing group this summer, spun off a short workshop I attended. We’re only meeting monthly though. Thanks for asking about my writing! It’s not going so great, but I guess I’m still plugging away, or at least putting in the time. I hadn’t come up with anything I liked over the summer, so I decided to do NaNoWriMo (at least partly to punish myself). I’m hitting word count goals but none of it is usable, mostly because I didn’t start the month with much of a plan, so I’m outlining as I go. Thanks for being such a faithful follower!

  2. I’m glad to hear you’re doing NaNo this year. I tried last year, my first year to sign up, but the election just threw me so hard, I spent the month absorbing political articles instead of writing. This November, I’m querying a YA contemporary I finished last month, and I have some friends beta-reading the manuscript now. It’s already been alpha-read by two readers, and the opening was critiqued by two different critique groups over several months, which is why I have enough confidence in it to start the querying process.

    Beginning December 1, a lot of NaNo participants flood agent inboxes with query letters, so I have to finish querying before then. My goal is to query 200 agents. As of today, I’ve sent 71 queries. I might not make 200 before Nov. 30, but I’m sure trying. 🙂

    I’ve often thought that you might be a great reader to critique with, either swapping chapters to read or finished manuscripts. My email is: mjstacy.india [at] yahoo.com — which I’m sharing in case you have any interest in beta-reading my current YA contemporary. The manuscript is 76,000 words. The story features diverse, bilingual main characters — it’s a friendship story with a love story, titled “Ninja in a Cornfield.” I’d be happy to send you a synopsis and the query summary if you want to hear more information before deciding.

    And if you do beta-read this ms, I’d be happy to send you a thank-you gift (like books, dark chocolate from the designer chocolate place in my hometown, a Starbucks gift card, something like that) and/or read a work of yours in trade. You would not need to beta-read this in November — you’re working on NaNo, and I don’t intend to infringe on your writing time. But after NaNo is finished, if you’re up for any beta-reading, please let me know. I think what you are doing right now — outline material, and whatever story notes and scenes you can get down on paper — is super valuable to the process of writing a book, and I wish you well with all of your writing goals. ^.^

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