Book Review: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
Via Getty images

Via Getty images

I picked up my copy of Turtles All the Way Down the day after it came out. I was flip-flopping between waiting for my signed tour copy and just getting myself the book now, because it was out, and how could I honestly wait two weeks before reading it? So I got it! And read it! And it was fantastic!

I’m glad I got it sooner than later. A few friends read it at the same time as well, and it was such a relief to have people to talk about it with, because a) it feels good to talk about books, and b) there’s a lot to talk about in this book. I thought I’d share some thoughts about the story here, in a mini review.

The synopsis:

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.

With the last name Holmes, I admittedly expected Aza’s story to lean heavier on the mystery genre side of things (with, given the rest of Green’s novels, a side of heady and quotable musings about life). I didn’t know much about the book other than what the synopsis provided, so I was very happy to find the book unfolding into something entirely different.

Aza, our main character, lives with obsessive compulsive disorder, which in her case manifests itself as a constant fear of the trillions of bacteria living in her body. Just as she knows she cannot control the microbial activity in her gut, she also cannot control her thought spirals about them, and this creates significant problems in her life.

She stipulates, when we are introduced to her, that she might be fictional. She is, of course; she’s a creation of her author, wink wink. But her stipulation also comes from the thought spirals she can’t escape from.

Aza’s OCD is based on Green’s personal experience with OCD, and while the book does not feel autobiographical exactly, Aza’s story feels, to the reader, inexorably tied with Green’s own experiences, thoughts, and musings on his disorder. (Except, you know, she’s a witty teenage girl.) For someone without OCD, I was amazed at how real it felt to me. While Aza’s experiences are her own and cannot speak entirely for the experiences of others’, I really appreciated being given a better understanding of something I don’t have.

Reading about Aza was valuable to me. It felt real and eye-opening and so, so valuable.

The story, of course, focuses on other topics as well. Income inequality and poverty in America, the horrifying reality of U.S. college tuition prices (Aza’s mom is right--ya’ll should try literally anywhere else in the world sometime), and the navigation of friendship during young adulthood are some of the heavier topics.

And while Green seeks to illuminate many issues that exist in our world, the story is still a story about two young girls, a lonely boy, getting through high school, and a missing billionaire. Turtles brings you into Aza & Daisy’s world, where Chuck E. Cheese is still a thing (it’s long since disappeared from my hometown in Canada) and Star Wars fanfiction is very, very important. And I got so sucked in!

Turtles is by far the most heart-wrenching, emotional, lovable books Green has written, and it’s sad but understandable to hear rumours that it may be his last. It’s a new personal favourite, and I’m so happy it has a home on my bookshelves. Turtles All the Way Down is wonderful piece of YA literature that I would highly recommend regardless of age or reading preference. I hope, if you haven’t read it already, you go out to your local bookstore or library and give the book some of your time. And if you do, I hope you love it as much as I did!

If you've read Turtles already, what are your thoughts?



If you liked it and would like to read another YA novel that includes a character with OCD, I recommend The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. If you like good books in general, I’d also recommend it. It’s a wonderful book very close to my heart.


If You’ve Read the Book/Are a Vlogbrothers Fan/Semi-Spoilery Thoughts

  • I liked how it took a while for Daisy to become fleshed out a bit more. It mirrored the issues in the book very well

  • Alos: wow, I did not like Daisy. It’s not that I couldn’t understand where she was coming from, or why she did certain things, but one of those things definitely crossed a very big line. Permanent markers, that kind of thing. It’s also worth mentioning that while I found some of Daisy’s actions unforgivable, Aza is certainly not perfect either. I know that. And yet, I still couldn’t stand Daisy. I think this is also in part because I’m sick of the sassy best friend trope. It’s tired and often written poorly. Daisy still felt real to me, but it took a while to get there. But also I could never forgive a person for doing what she did!

  • I’ve followed the Vlogbrothers for a very long time, and I found I kept reading the book in John’s voice. I guess it’s because he writes the way he speaks. Anyone else have that problem?

  • While John’s other book, The Fault in Our Stars, was regarded as this very romantic, heart-wrenching book, I found Turtles way more emotionally powerful. I felt for Aza so much! I teared up a lot during the hospital scene. What about you?

  • PS: In the Turtles subreddit, there’s an interesting discussion of Daisy’s character if you found her as difficult as I did:

  • The subreddit in general is worth poking around, too!