‘Turtles All The Way Down’ by John Green

Everyone has heard of the number 1 bestselling author of The Fault in Our Stars. Sophia read John Green’s newest novel Turtles All The Way Down revealing whether Green has the potential to take young adult fiction by storm once again.

I had previously read two other John Green books, and had mixed feelings about both of them. So, when it was suggested I review Green’s new book, I was interested to see how I would respond to it. The story surrounds the life of 16-year-old Aza, her friends, her school life and, typically, her love interest, Davis. One thing I should mention about this book is to not be deceived by the blurb. It claims that the principal storyline concerns Aza and her best friend wishing to “pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett” for the “hundred-thousand-dollar reward”. This supposed adventure ends before it even begins and is not central to the book at all. This means that the book has no real concrete beginning, middle or end. There is no climax or satisfying storyline to follow. I can imagine, especially for a younger teenage audience that this might make it, at times, frustrating and tedious to read.

Having said this, this actually makes Green’s book a lot more complex than the blurb gives it credit for. The story isn’t so much about the ‘adventure’ as it is about Aza’s mental health. The linear structure and lack of direction, simply reflects the longevity and inescapability of Aza’s crippling anxiety. I found this aspect of the book very interesting, but also troubling. Aza resorts to extreme measures to cope with her irrational yet chronic fear of contracting “C. diff”, or Clostridium difficile, a bacterium affecting the bowel that can, very rarely, cause death. Green successfully portrays the perpetual torment Aza is subject to every day, creating a sympathetic and complex protagonist.

The success of this book lies in its offering more than a simple story, as it includes a wide range of subjects that aim to appeal to an audience with diverse interests. What I mean by this, is that throughout the book there are short passages referencing art, poetry, astronomy, philosophy and science. Green reveals pleasing respect for his young readers by introducing subjects that are not typical teen interests encouraging them to think beyond the established norm. Moreover, these passages elevate what could have been a potentially depressing book for young readers, as other themes surround death, neglect and mental instability.

It is at times hard to ignore the fact that you’re reading a book written for young teens. The somewhat unrealistic relationship between Aza and Davis is difficult to take seriously. Their romantic relationship essentially seems to come out of nowhere, and the two characters express little awkwardness or shyness towards each other despite them being 16 years old, and not having spoken to each other since they were children. Therefore, I found their ‘love’ slightly idealistic as it is clearly included to satisfy a young teen audience. As well as this, the language, especially the dialogue, sometimes felt like I was reading the script to a TV show for teenagers. It is cringeworthy and predictable. However, I don’t think there is anything wrong with this, the book was written for young teens after all. Equally there are times when the language is moving and beautifully written, especially the passage at the end which, admittedly, almost made me tear up.

To sum up, I think this book is great for the audience intended. As much as the romantic story between Aza and Davis would appeal to young readers, I believe the principal theme of mental health dominates the book and will interest and resonate with people of all ages.

Sophia Hadjipateras

Image: Penguin Books