Turtles All the Way Down by John Green


by John Green

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I feel like I have to tread carefully here because it seems like everyone else LOVED this book. It was solid, don’t get me wrong. But I kind of thought that it would be… I don’t know… more, somehow, than it is.

Aza Holmes, aka Holmesy (to her best friend, Daisy Ramirez), is drawn into solving the mysterious disappearance of a billionaire whose son, Davis, was a friend of hers years ago at a camp for kids who had lost a parent. (Davis lost his mom; Aza, her dad.) Daisy pursues the case for a while, until Aza has reconnected with Davis and fallen into a relationship with him. But Aza’s OCD and anxiety keep her from fully participating in the relationship and in her own life.

I don’t know OCD from the inside, but Green’s depiction of what goes on in Aza’s mind seems utterly believable and terrible. I had this book as an audiobook and listened to it on my drive to Thanksgiving dinner and it was really hard to stomach. Some of the scenes were quite intense, especially when Aza swallows hand sanitizer in an attempt to kill bacteria inside her. I especially enjoyed Aza and Daisy’s fight when things finally came to a head for them – Green somehow nailed female friendships and how you can be totally loyal to someone and love them, and also be totally annoyed by them and find them self-absorbed. (Side note: Daisy has been writing Star Wars fan fic for years and Aza finally reads it and learns of an annoying character named Ayala who is apparently based on her.)

There were several themes throughout the story. The one I liked the best was about Aza’s grappling with the death of her father 8 years before. She (by which I mean Green) has some interesting things to say about the nature of death and mourning. I also learned about the tuatara, the pet lizard that Davis’ dad owns and thinks is the secret to immortality and therefore has left his entire fortune to, instead of to his own kids. Davis is really into both astronomy and poetry. I’m not a huge fan of the grappling-with-death-of-parent and high-schooler-mysteriously-super-into-poetry because I wasn’t that kid and didn’t know any of those kids in high school so it always rings fake to me and like the adult writing the story is more into those as devices for sounding deep. Aza’s dead parent story does add to the overall story, though, so I’ll give that one a pass.

I really just didn’t know how to feel about Aza and Davis’ relationship, or Daisy and Mychal’s. They both broke up and got back together and broke up with such apathy. And I couldn’t tell from Aza’s description of Davis whether he was cute or not. It threw me off. And the kissing scenes made my partner giggle out of discomfort at the awkwardness. But I did like Davis’ younger brother, Noah, and his struggle to deal with their dad’s disappearance. At 13, Noah is just on the cusp of adulthood and really teeters a lot – one minute acting like a full-on teenager, getting busted for pot at school and drinking too much, and the next minute crying like a vulnerable child.

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