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.
Turtles All the Way DownFeatured
Aza is a high school student who struggles with severe OCD (she constantly worries that C.Diff is going to kill her). She must fight against her own mind and help her friend Daisy find a fugitive billionaire and claim her reward.
Oh, John Green, how I love to hate you. I told myself there was no way on earth that I would ever read another John Green book. Then I found out that ‘Turtles All the Way Down’ is about OCD. I’ve had severe OCD since I was a child so here we are.
I’m going to separate this review in two separate areas. First a general review and secondly how well Green paints an accurate picture of OCD.
First the Book In General:
John Green is the master of writing a book that’s easy to read. All his books have been quick reads for me. His prose is among the best I’ve read in YA but a good book is about so much more than the prose. A great novel is complex and imaginative and deep and original and (for a contemporary) true to life. So to begin ‘TATWD’ has all the normal John Green tropes: double entendre title, only child main character with issues, a crazy teenage adventure, goofy sidekick that’s constantly addresses the main character by some dumb nickname (over and over and over), naming inanimate objects proper names, and the characters using fancy words and phrases that no teenager on the planet has ever uttered (what another reviewer said John Green demonstrating how much he loves his own brain).
I found the bulk of the storyline very farfetched. For example, I can’t imagine that two kids who have one deceased and one missing parent would just be left in a home alone. This made zero sense. When Davis’ father evades the police you know that the first thing the police are going to do is call family protective services. Another thing that didn’t make any sense is the whole storyline with the lizard thing. That Davis’s father would do research at his home on a lizard that lived in his pool is just ridiculous (and use his whole fortune the lizards). The whole story with the billionaire and the reward just distracted from the OCD story. It was so unnecessary and predictable. Finally, I really don’t know why Green wrote TATWD from the POV of a teenage girl. I realize that teen and pre-teen girls are Green’s target audience but it’s very apparent that this is a man writing from the POV of a girl. I had to keep reminding myself that Aza is girl not a boy. She seemed like the same character as Q, Colin, and Miles from Green’s other novels. John Green needs meet more people so he can stop making his main characters different versions of his teenage self.
The Characterization of OCD in the Novel:
On this topic, I have mostly positives things to say. I have struggled with severe OCD from a young age but I had a particularly difficult time during my teenage years. Back in the 1980’s I had never heard the term OCD. I didn’t learn about OCD until I was an adult. It is not just anxiety (as many people seem to think) or just being meticulous or neat or a perfectionist. OCD is real and it is mental torture.
The topic of OCD is not one that I’ve seen addressed in many novels, especially YA. Although I don’t think Green’s characterization of OCD is spot on, I did find much of the descriptions of OCD to ring true. Aza refers to her OCD as a downward spiral. Although I do agree that OCD isolates the sufferer and traps them in their own head, for me OCD is more like a loop or circle or just being stuck (as in not being able to move past something) but I get how it can be described and as a spiral.
Finally, I realize OCD takes on many forms and every sufferer experiences OCD in different ways but I am not sure that OCD is Aza’s only or even main issue. To me she seems to be more a germaphobe and a hypochondriac (but those terms don’t sound as ‘romantic’ as OCD). Other then Aza’s action in the hospital I didn’t see Aza demonstrate much compulsive behavior. She didn’t constantly wash her hands or take her temperature or anything like that.
My Final Verdict:
All in all I found ‘TATWD’ to really follow the usually John Green formula. The outline of the story basically follows similar patterns and has similar characters as his previous books. Some of the descriptions of the way OCD make the sufferer feel isolated was accurate and ‘TATWD’ will hopefully spark more OCD discussion in popular fiction literature.
Good writing, but plot fails
This book, no matter how extremely well written, is not for me. I read fiction to escape from reality. Green pens a fine novel that expertly mirrors reality. His descriptions of the protagonist’s debilitating anxiety disorder captures much of what she must be feeling and transforms it into a written word. That’s no small feat. However, the main story line itself lacks substance, and I am disappointed by the way Green minimizes the plot in favor of character development.
This book feels like a homework assignment. Good for those who like drama, or want to better understand the experience of mental illness from the character’s perspective, but not for the reader looking for a strong plot with powerful resolution and a happy ending.