Turtles all the Way Down is one of those books that’s just kind of…there. The plot (what little we get outside of Aza’s head – but more on that soon) just seemed to be all over the place. You know how some people spin a globe and stop it on a random country to decide whether to go on holiday next? It feels like John Green has a similar plot planning mechanism that he uses to write his books.
Turtles All The Way Down is a random collection of interesting things that, when put together, become pretentious. Do you know what a Tuatara is? Well the one in this book becomes a billionaire due to a last will and testament. Plus there’s also $100,000 up for grabs, mental health issues and teenagers circumnavigating their lives through puberty in the throes of a philosophical existential crisis. See what I mean? Pick one or two John Green! Not all!
I just didn’t find this book interesting. Nothing of note happens –it’s very dull, it’s like watered-down orange juice. The blurb makes it sound exciting: a local billionaire has gone missing and nobody can find him. Was he murdered? Did he run away? And how do two teenagers fit in to all of this? But unfortunately we didn’t get a book anywhere near as exciting as we seem to have been promised.
“You think you’re the painter, but you’re the canvas.”
I just wish this book could have chosen what it wanted to be; a deep exploration into mental health issues and how they can affect not only the afflicted, but those around them too, or a mystery into a missing billionaire and how his son tries to find him with the help of two teenage girls. It shouldn’t have been both. The two stories detract from each other and make the book much less than all it could have been.
I also have a problem with the believability – and this is mostly with Davis. He’s a billionaire, let me repeat that: he is a billionaire. Even if he was a millionaire I would still have trouble believing that he lives in such close proximity to the rest of the town, which seems middle-class at best.
When all is said and done, this book was incredibly pretentious. I can’t figure out if John Green is trying too hard, or if he’s not trying hard enough and just riding on the coat tails of his fame. One thing’s for sure, John Green has changed his writing style and, for me, it’s not for the better.
I’m sorry; I just can’t be a blind fan-girl and say something is good when it’s not just because of who wrote it. Have I liked every book John Green has written? No, of course not, but there have been some I genuinely enjoyed (The Fault in Our Stars and An Abundance of Katherine’s for example) and I had extremely high hopes for this book. But I just can’t bring myself to like it just based on who the author is, which is what my cynical self believes has happened with a lot of people reviewing this book.
“You don’t get to be in anything else – in friendship, or in anger, or in hope. All you can be in is love.”
But back to the review.
In my opinion John Green is not best known for writing likeable characters (Margo from Paper Towns is a prime example) and this book is no different. I have absolutely no patience for pretentious hipster douche bags (especially teenagers) in real life, never mind when these types of people show up in fiction. So, naturally, I couldn’t stand half of these characters.
To be fair, Aza’s emotions were mostly captured and described well. Feelings of extreme anxiety, anxious moments and low self-esteem were incredibly detailed and realistic for the most part. However they quickly come boring due to massive overuse. I know the point is that these negative emotions can feel constant and that this is how Aza felt, but the way it’s been written is not the way to get the point across – it began to feel like filler.
This was coupled with the fact that I just couldn’t stand Aza. We got 15% story in the book and spent the other 85% stuck in Aza’s head where the same thoughts just went around and around and my god it was frustrating! And whilst I fully expect anyone who has read this book to be calling me a huge dickhead right now because ‘she’s mentally ill and how dare I?’ I just can’t help it.
I know she has a mental illness, but she has the most AMAZING support network anyone could ever hope to have in her situation, and she is so ungrateful for it and doesn’t appreciate it! She’s got an incredibly supportive mother, a kind-of boyfriend (who she is fucking about sending mixed messages to), a best friend who is so incredibly patient with her despite Aza being one of the most self-centred and selfish characters it’s ever been my misfortune to read about AND she has a therapist who has prescribed her medication to help her: medication that Aza does not take and then bitches about it not working! Of course it’s not going to work if you don’t take it as prescribed you fucking dumbass!
After all of this I just couldn’t bring myself to like, empathise with or give a shit about Aza. The only aspect of her that I liked was that she ate peanut butter and honey sandwiches and drank Dr Pepper.
In fact that’s another thing – by the end of the book we know next to nothing about Aza except what she likes for lunch and that she’s a pretty good student. Other than that, she’s a 1-dimensional character. She is her illness – and I don’t think that’s fair of John Green to have his protagonist essentially be a list of symptoms.
“Mychal said once that you’re like mustard. Great in small quantities, but then a lot of you is…a lot.”
Aza and Davis together were overly philosophical even for philosophy professors at university, never mind for the ages they actually were supposed to be. What can they possibly know about life at the ages they are? I found myself rolling my eyes and saying “urgh” and “get a grip” and “give me a break” quite a lot throughout this book.
This book was definitely written for the people trying to take an overly deep introspective look at themselves and personhood, not for the casual or even average reader of YA fiction.
On a side note, there was also far too much Star Wars. I don’t like Star Wars and there was so much focus on it in this book. Too many references, not enough fucks to give.
On the plus side though, there was a pretty good overall message in this book which was: life goes on. The teenage years are/were pretty tumultuous for a lot of us, and a book reinforcing the idea that even though you might not be friends with the same people, your relationships might not last, and you might have to move on from certain things – you’ll be ok, life will go on, is a pretty great message.
Was this a bad book? Well, no, not really. For me it was dull and lacked the weird, quirky magic that I think John Green is capable of. But his books have always been hit or miss for me. I won’t be rushing out to be first in line to buy his next book, but I won’t stop reading his work either.
It definitely didn’t live up to the hype and wasn’t worth the wait, and I think it would have been much better as a short story, not a full length novel.
Overall, Turtles All The Way Down gets the participation award for 2017. You didn’t win, but you tried. That’s all that counts… right?
(FYI, it’s not – winning counts. Participation ribbons are bullshit.)
“You are somebody’s something, but you are also your you.”
Want to see if this is treasure or trash to you? You can get Turtles All The Way Down here!
[PLEASE NOTE]: I was not paid or sponsored to write this review – all the opinions are honest and my own.