TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN – Book Review

Let me get this straight — I’m John Green trash, and I’m not afraid to admit it. The Fault in Our Stars was my favourite book for about two years, so much so that I owned three copies of it and was adamant that I’d get an infinity tattoo once I was old enough. Suffice to say that since then my tastes have changed a little, and I’ve realised that nothing says Basic Bitch like having an infinity tattoo with the word ‘love’ written inside it in cursive script. That’s only second-worst to having the words ‘live, laugh, love’ written on your wrist in indelible ink.

Apologies if you have either tattoo. As long as you’re happy, that’s the main thing.

But because I’m John Green trash, I think it makes it even more acceptable for me to bash his books — in the nicest way possible, of course. Since coming to my senses about The Fault in Our Stars, I’ve realised that all of his books are pretty much slight variations of the same thing: someone who thinks they’re quirky but unmemorable falls for a seemingly unattainable human whose flaws are glamorised, and they both manage to learn some trite lesson about life while also recognising the confronting nature of their own mortality.

It’s been a while since I’ve read John’s other books, but I’m going to recap them all for you anyway. Just incase you haven’t read them, for some miracle.

Looking for Alaska

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Some guy who thinks he’s quirky and unique for memorising the last thing basically every famous or infamous human has ever said goes to boarding school. Or maybe it was college. There, he meets this girl who’s meant to be relatable for lining her room with books while also appearing to be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl because she smokes and she’s depressed. So he falls for her. Duh. But he also respects her because he cares more about sleeping beside her and making sure she’s okay than getting in her pants. Then one day something bad happens to her. Worse than being stuck with this annoying protagonist who won’t stop quoting some dead person’s last words at her. Basically, this book is just a labyrinth of suffering for all parties involved, including the reader.

An Abundance of Katherines

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Yet again, there’s another quirky boy in high school who loves making math equations and thinks no one will ever love him. Probably because he spends all his time in his room doing math than actually going out and meeting people. But he realises that every girl he’s ever had a crush on is named Katherine, and none of them have liked him back. So he makes a math formula to try and get some girl named Katherine to fall in love with him. There’s a road trip for some bizarre reason that I’m sure made sense to the story at the time, where he meets another girl named Katherine. But will she be the first Katherine to love him back?

Paper Towns

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I’m not even going to introduce the main character, because you know he’s just like the protagonists from the previous two books. So this guy has had a crush on the girl who lives next door basically his entire life, but he’s too scared to say anything because he’s built up this idea of what she’s like. Now she seems unattainable and flawless, and he thinks that being dorky will mean he’ll never find anyone who loves him. But one day, she disappears. This guy finds what he thinks is a clue for where she’s gone and he goes on a road trip with his friends to try and find her. Lessons about life, cheesy lines about love, etcetera, etcetera.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

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So there are two quirky guys with the same name who don’t know each other. I can only remember the story of one of them, so the other guy must have been pretty unmemorable. So Will Grayson #1 is depressed, and has a friend called Tiny who’s basically Damian from Mean Girls. There’s musicals and boys falling in love with other boys, and the song Hold Me Closer that I will never know the tune for despite being forced to read pages of lyrics to get into the musical mood — all thanks to Tiny. Because it’s co-written with John Green, I can also assume there’s some unattainable girl and a more than satisfactory amount of messages about life that would actually sound stupid if you said them aloud in real life. John always manages to think he’s being deep and metaphorical, but he just ends up seeming pretentious and stating the obvious.

Let it Snow

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I mean… John Green barely even wrote this. But fine, I’ll tell you what it’s about anyway. So there are three different couples in some small town at Christmas. There’s a blizzard. People can’t get to where they want to go, so it turns out there are a whole lot of people in the village pub, or restaurant, or whatever. All three couples meet there after having an adventurous night in the cold, and someone falls into a river along the way. What’s a Christmas story without a bit of insta-love?

The Fault in Our Stars

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For the first time in John Green’s writing history, the protagonist is a girl. But not just any girl, a #relatable girl who loves books and reading. But because tragic stories were in, this book is about a girl who falls in love with a boy and both of them have cancer and it’s just a cry-fest all round. Who needs plot when you have death and so-called meaningful conversations about life and metaphors?

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Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles All the Way DownSixteen-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.

John Green, 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.

Okay, so I didn’t really know what to expect when the title was announced for John Green’s latest novel — Turtles All the Way Down. Unlike some people, I didn’t think it was going to be about turtles. Being John Green, I knew the turtles would be a metaphor for some deep message about life or loss or something equally John Green-esque. But it also appears that I completely missed the reference in the title, because I was reading A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking and almost screamed when I saw the words ‘turtles all the way down’ on the first page. It was in relation to the world and science and all that jazz, and I thought I was so clever and well-read for figuring it out. Little did I know that this phrase is common knowledge and literally everyone figured it out before I did. Go me.

But because everyone had been talking about how they hoped there were turtles in the novel, I found myself having the same expectation. When I read it, I was supremely disappointed that turtles were mentioned about three times. I mean, I guess it’s more than turtles are mentioned in most YA novels, but that’s not what I’m angry about. This book was basically just about a lizard. A lizard! I mean, the least John could have done is reference the lizard in the title. Come on. I kind of wish there had been some chapters written from the lizard’s point of view. How cool would that have been? I would have given this book another star just for that.

My favourite thing about this novel was the OCD representation. If you’re not already aware, this book is #OwnVoices, and the way this aspect was written was incredible well done and genuine. But it was also extremely confronting. There were parts of this book that weren’t easy to read, and I think it’s so important to not always feel comfortable when reading about something you’re not familiar with or haven’t experienced before. To have written about the protagonist’s OCD in any other way would have sugarcoated it, and there was none of that here. The OCD in this novel was raw and powerful, and it was the thing that made this novel what it was. It means so much that John has opened up in this way and shared a part of him in the protagonist, which we can arguably say is the most personal and sensitive thing he’s shared. It was just exceptional, and I’ll be recommending Turtles All the Way Down for this aspect alone.

However, I wasn’t able to fully connect with any of the characters. While I liked reading about the protagonist because of the importance of OCD representation, I didn’t relate to her in any way or find my time with her particularly enjoyable. There’s nothing better than seeing even just a small aspect of yourself in the protagonist, but I didn’t see any semblance of myself in her. Sometimes that’s okay, but sometimes I feel that I would have made much deeper emotional ties with a novel if that had been the case. I would have also liked some queer representation, just because I’m always up for that. And it wouldn’t have been hard to make one of the main characters queer. Please. Just for me.

To me, the romance was pretty average. There’s a few stargazing scenes in this novel that make me never want to read about being looking at stars ever again, which is a real problem because I used to love stargazing scenes. Let me get this straight for writers — your character’s ability to name constellations does not make them any more swoon-worthy, especially when they seem to have this knowledge for no particular reason except to woo their potential lover. Anyway. Moving on. There was nothing about the romance that was particularly special, and I feel any type of connection to our protagonist’s love interest. He was just kind of there. I don’t know how many more times I have to say this: not every YA novel needs romance in it.

Finally, the plot itself was less than interesting. I didn’t care. I just didn’t care. I felt indifferent towards the characters, didn’t particularly enjoy the romance, and found the whole idea of a missing person and a fortune overdone and not compelling. For all I cared, they could have burnt the inheritance and tossed the lizard in the flames too. But of course I can’t say that because I’m vegan. All this book contained was stargazing scenes, canoeing down a river and spotting the one turtle that I was promised, texting that was meant to seem deep but came off as basic, and changing of bandaids. While I don’t feel like this book was entirely a waste of time, it was pretty average. If you’re interested in reading a genuine and realistic portrayal of OCD, then I’d say you should give this book a go. Otherwise, don’t bother. Go read Yertle the Turtle instead.

Rating:

2-stars

Let's Talk

Have you read Turtles All the Way Down yet? What did you think of it? Have you read all of John Green’s other novels? What are some other YA books with OCD representation? I’d love to know!

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28 thoughts on “TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN – Book Review

  1. ‘…your character’s ability to name constellations does not make them any more swoon-worthy, especially when they seem to have this knowledge for no particular reason except to woo their potential lover.’ YES SARAH OMFG
    Haven’t read Turtles and I don’t think I intend too? I remember getting Will Greyson Will Greyson and TFIOS when I was in London (at the ripe old age of 17) and I read Will Greyson for the entire flight back to Australia (I remember finishing it while Dad and I were waiting for a taxi home) But yeah, might give this one a miss :p

  2. I think I’m going to read this *eventually* but not anytime soon. Tuataras all the way down would have been a great title (and tbh I thought the title was a reference to discworld so) and I think Tuatara’s are very cool because I’m a New Zealander and I know ~something~ about them. Anyway, John Green is an absurdly big deal, and I’ve read all of his books except Will Grayson x2 (I was too lazy to write out the whole title). I’ve read a few books with OCD rep…my favourite was definitely Am I Normal Yet? By Holly Bourne.

  3. I don’t know of I would read this book, I’m not a fan of the author, I find that they are all quite alike, too, even if I liked some of them. But I had a lot of fun reading your words!! 🙂

  4. Oh yeah.!!!! stargazing and characters knowing constellations are overrated and too cliche laready.. I love your review. Too honest and I’m sure you’ll be in minority since everybody loves John Green and no matter how alike some of his books, they stll love them..,ANyway, I love some of his works too: TFIOS being top of the list and hatest is Paper Towns. God, I don’t even want to remember Paper Towns. 😦 😦

    • Haha agreed! And thank you! Yes, I do think I might be in the minority for disliking this one, but that’s okay. Oh goodness, AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES was my least favourite! I didn’t mind WILL GRAYSON at the time I think. Ugh. Not that I’ll be rereading any of them anytime soon! 💖

  5. I am currently reading this book and I am having a lot of the same feelings! I think he handles a character with OCD really well but that is about all I am enjoying about it. It would be interesting to go back and read his other books and see how I feel about them now. Excellent review!

  6. I have not read this book yet, but I know I will, because I am a fan. My favorite JG book is An Abundance of Katherines, so I am an outsider (I also felt that Alaska was overrated, but I still enjoyed it). I keep hearing good things about the rep and the not great things about the characters, but yeah, still going to read it.

  7. I love this review so much! I want to give this one a shot, but I’m slightly apprehensive about it. John Green and I have a rocky relationship, but I want to like him a lot more than I do.

  8. Honestly, I’ve only read The Fault In Our Stars, and I’ve been meaning to check out his other books. I think I will pick this book up, I’ve been asking about this book honestly, this is an honest review and I like that.

    However, I think I’ll just be checking it out from the library. I’ll keep an open mind, but lizards instead of turtles? That’s a spoiler girl. 😝

      • Ah damn, I typed a lengthy response, but it all erased and I don’t want to do it again, lol.

        But I just finished it, and I think that you’re being a little harsh with your rating.

        If you say, however, that most of John Green’s books are similar, I think that this is the last book I’ll read by him. I didn’t check it out from the library, btw.

        Aza’s OCD had me cringing at times. I’m glad that I don’t have it as bad.

        So you’re saying that Aza is mustard? See what I did there? Yeah, I think so too cause idk if I could handle her.

        The romance was meh, but her OCD and the romance was OMG! Then her drinking hand sanitizer was also cringe worthy, but she is a germaphobe, a huge one so maybe I don’t understand that aspect. I used to be a germaphobe as well, but not to Aza’s extend, now I’m just a little one though.

        This is a YA novel and I believe that it hits its intended target, however.

        I liked that Daisy writes Star Wars wookie romance stories, thought that was funny.

        I didn’t mind the star gazing parts, I mean hey a HS kid who can impress a girl cause of his knowledge? If I knew constellations in HS, you’d bet your butt that I would be using that to my advantage! So don’t hate, haha…

        I liked the quotes as well, like, “”Life is a series of choices between wonders.” I especially loved, LOVED, LOVED how in the end Green puts the mental health number, Jay Asher should take a note on how you’re supposed to write a mental health novel. Not that his addressed it much, but I’m going off topic.

        Let’s see, what else? Oh a story of the lizard’s side wouldn’t be much, I believe, considering that its probably hated and they wouldn’t be around it that much.

        And yeah… I think I covered everything that I wanted to say.

  9. such a great review Sarah! I just finished the book and I gotta agree that the romance was WEAK for me as well. I posted a review an gave you a pingback. Check out my post if you have time<3

  10. Ah, such lovely thoughts as usual! It took me a while to get into the book, and I think it’s because the plot feels so subsidiary to another story (the story of Aza’s mental health). Once that story started gaining traction, I couldn’t get enough. Classic John Green, he has the key to my tear ducts! I also wrote a review if you’re interested at all in reading it! xx

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