Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Posted October 16, 2017 by Amber in Reviews / 8 Comments

Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles All the Way Down

by John Green

Publisher: Dutton on October 10, 2017
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Target Age Group: Young Adult
Rating: ★★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

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.


Aza is almost definitely probably for sure going to die of C. diff.

She doesn’t have it yet.  Or maybe she does.  She doesn’t think so.  But she could.  Probably.  Her mind is an ever-tightening spiral of reminders that her body isn’t her own but really she’s just an animated corpse and everything she does is actually at the whim of the millions of microorganisms that make up the physical being that is her.  Meanwhile, her best friend Daisy is in a new relationship and this guy she knew as a kid has recently lost his father.  And by lost – it’s literal.  His father ran away to avoid legal prosecution and now Davis has to take care of his troubled l little brother Noah and now Aza is back in his life and he really likes her but she freaks out when she kisses him.

Turtles All the Way Down is a rollercoaster ride of what it means to have extreme anxiety and invasive thoughts as a teen and still struggling to find out who you are (probably just microorganisms) and falling in love (how long do someone else’s microorganisms stay in your body?) and trying to help a friend and his brother find peace (even when you have no peace yourself).

This book was incredible and stressful.

You can’t help but to love Aza with every fiber of your being.  She is a well-meaning girl who is battling very hard for clarity and assurance that everything is going to be alright.  As the book is told in her third-person POV, you get to hear her mental monologue.  It took me several days of short reading spurts to accept this, because as I read, I felt my heart quickening and a sudden consciousness of my sweat and saliva and just everything going on in my body and oh my goodness I don’t think that I could be Aza for a single day, let alone my entire life.  It makes me so, so grateful that there are so many resources out there for mental health support.

That said, the fact that reading this gave me so much anxiety is also a testament to how well it is written.  John Green does not apologize for who Aza is and he does not try to fix her.  This book is simply about living with this tightening spiral and managing it, but Aza is not crazy and she cannot be magically “cured”.  The mental health rep here is so, so good and even though I don’t suffer the level of anxiety Aza does by any means, I really appreciated her.

The story was written perfectly for the perspective.

This book wasn’t what I was expecting, plot-wise, but that’s okay.  It actually worked really perfectly.  On the outside, the goal of this book is “find Davis’ father” but because of who Aza is, this is a small back-thought.  She tries so, so hard to get to it, but at the end of the day she’s so busy battling her inner demons that she has very little focus for her quest.

Like any John Green book, there are relationships.  We are shown what it’s like to try and live a normal life while suffering in the sort of mind trap that confines Aza.  How her thoughts affect her friendship, her relationship, her family life, and her every day activities like eating or driving.  We get small respites in the form of Daisy’s Rey/Chewbacca fan fiction and Davis’ obsession with celestial bodies, but mostly it’s all Aza all the time.

I really, really liked it but don’t think I’ll read it again soon.

This is the sort of book that is written really lyrically (beautiful) but just made me so so so so so stressed out I had to keep putting it down because I felt like I couldn’t breathe.  There was so much Aza.  So much information all the time and it’s written intentionally that way.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  But I am glad to be done with it because I felt like I was drowning, if that makes any sense at all.

For people with extreme anxiety and who are prone to invasive thoughts and spirals, please read this book with caution.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★
Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★
Writing: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★ 1/2
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★


Turtles All the Way Down Stays on the Shelf

John Green is a no-brainer.

This book, doubly so.

I really enjoy the blunt candor about Aza’s OCD in this one and the strength of John Green’s voice behind this character.  While the story itself is not the stronger of John Green’s plots, Aza is one of the strongest of his character, and she has a place on my shelf for as long as I have a shelf.


Have you read this book or anything by this author?  If so, did you enjoy it?  Tell me all about your experience in the comments!

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8 responses to “Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

  1. Thank you so much for this beautiful review – and for the warning, ahah, much needed. I’m still waiting for my pre-order to arrive ahah, but I can’t wait to read this book. I’m a huge fan of John Green’s books and I’m really curious to read that one, especially knowing it’s an #ownvoices book. I feel like it’s going to be quite different from what he wrote before and I’m eager to get to know Aza a bit more 🙂

    • Amber

      Reading it reminded me of his older books – Looking for Alaska or Paper Towns – but it someone else’s head. Someone else’s very cluttered head. You can’t help but to love Aza, though!

  2. Danielle

    Is this a book that should have come with a Trigger Warning for anxiety? I’ve just read another book with ownvoices and anxiety rep and it was SOO good but tough to get through. TFIOS was a magical and dream to experience so I don’t want TATWD to disappoint.

    • Amber

      I think I would go out and say that TAtWD is not TFiOS. It’s more reminiscent of his older books. I think an anxiety warning may have been good here, but not strictly necessary. Aza’s focused on a very specific topic within her thought spirals, and unless that topic is also the one the reader fears (microorganisms and a conflicted self of “self”) it’s tough but not destructive. Aza just sort of makes you feel like you’ve been holding your breath, you know?

  3. I AM SO EXCITED FOR THIS BOOK!! I admit I was never John Green’s biggest fan (….yes I did think Tfios was overrated I am THAT person) but I’m excited that he’s writing about OCD and it’s own voices! Been seeing lots of great reviews for this book too so now I’m kind-of-maybe cautiously hyped!!
    I totally get what you mean by feeling suffocated when reading a book though. Sometimes I read descriptions of anxiety and I NEED to put the book down and take a few breaths. John Green’s books are especially good at this. It’s not bad it’s just…intense.

    ioana @dragonwsffles recently posted: A guide on how to get into HIGH FANTASY!
    • Amber

      “Intense” is such a good sentiment for this. It’s so so so so good, but it is exhausting. In a good way. And WOW you can tell the difference that #ownvoices makes here. It’s amazing.