Review: “Turtles All the Way Down”


Julia Zaksek , Sr. managing editor

I began reading John Green’s novels for the same reason as nearly every other girl in the eighth grade: Green’s bestselling novel “The Fault in Our Stars.” Soon after finishing it, I borrowed or bought his other three novels, found the books he co-wrote and even skimmed the horrible zombie short story he posted online. I also occasionally watched his vlogs, mostly the ones concerning his work, which I’d come to fiercely enjoy. In July, I pre-ordered “Turtles All the Way Down,” impatient for a new book by one of my favorite authors. The novel contained several very memorable lines and characters, as well as an extremely honest and personal depiction of mental illness, but unfortunately “Turtles All the Way Down” fell very flat.

Perhaps my dissatisfaction stems from a misinterpretation of the book blurb, which to me, appeared to promise a profound adventure in which Aza Holmes, the leading heroine, would track down a mysterious and eccentric billionaire while struggling with obsessive compulsive Disorder. Either of these scenarios alone would have made fantastic works of fiction. If Green endowed them with his signature themes––lovely lines and a bittersweet ending––the book would be spectacular. The problem arises in these plots’ seemingly forced union; they just don’t quite fit right. When the story is focused on Aza and her newly kindled romance with the billionaire’s son Davis, any details about the father’s absence and the “mystery” somehow feel tacked-on and out of place, just as they do when the plot focuses on Aza’s mental illness.

The story of Aza and Davis seems as if it could exist outside of this strange, half-finished mystery. The almost ping-pong back and forth between these two arcs leaves sometimes gaping plot holes in the novel’s middle. Not ones you would notice if you didn’t think too hard about them, but ones that nag you almost insistently once you do. Perhaps I didn’t understand the significance of some parts, for example, the whole subplot about a rare type of lizard. However, something about the novel felt offbeat and wrong, as if some other author had written the connections between the key points of the story.

I really wanted to love this book. It was Green’s first in five years and highly reflective of his own struggles with OCD and anxiety, the latter with which I’ve struggled. The ending almost made the mediocre first half okay. Almost. I was waiting for a revelation, some clever twist to tie all these seemingly incongruous plots together, but it never really came. There were lines that I know I’ll remember, and characters with mental illness are important, but ultimately I was disappointed. Aza is a complicated, significant character trapped in the wrong story. I wish Green had let her out.

With both highlights and surprising low points, I give Turtles All the Way Down a somewhat generous  B-.