Author: John Green
Publisher: Dutton Books
Publishing Date: 2017
Number of Pages: 286
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary, Romance
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.
On my previous book reviews, I have always been vocal about my disappointment with young adult fiction. Because of this, I have steered clear of them whenever I can. I find young adult fiction as stylized and romanticized works that cover banal topics that inevitably hound teenagers such as teenage rebellion, illness, sexuality and grief. Most of the time, they are inebriated with these issues that it is difficult to find tonic to fight their bitter aftertastes.
In spite of this hard-hitting prejudice I have towards it, there were some gems that have left indelible mark on me. However, these gems are few and far in between and they didn’t do enough to tip the scale favorably towards young adult fiction. One of the young adult fiction authors that made a great impression on me is John Green. He seemed genuinely capable of writing decent young adult fiction. Of all his works, Looking for Alaska hit home for me. Paper Towns, on the other hand, was a total disappointment. However, I am nonplussed by this disappointment so when he announced the publication of his new book, I was naturally delighted and looked forward to it.
Upon seeing a copy of his new work, Turtles All The Way Down, on the bookstore, I didn’t hesitate in availing a copy for myself. Because of my burgeoning anticipation for the book, I immediately delved on it the first chance I got. I put aside all the books I am trying to finish before the year ends so that I can devote my time for John Green’s new work.
The story opened up with an endless diatribe by Aza Holmes, the main character and narrator. Straightaway, the readers are introduced to Aza’s convoluted mind which is full of ramblings that are just stuck within her. The beginning was particularly strong as the reader is given immediately given an insight into what is wrong with Aza. John Green disingenuously established the pace and the focal point upon with the story is anchored.
The story got a little waylaid with the tackling of Russell Pickett’s disappearance. On any given day, this side story would have been effective because who doesn’t love a bit of teenage sleuthing. This slight interjection, however, only muddled the story, making it superficial. The story was sailing smoothly until Aza and Daisy decided to investigate Pickett’s disappearance. I feel that there are better and logical ways of tying in together the plot without having to resort to unrealistic side stories. This point is minute but abrasive to the overall plot.
On the other hand, I have to hand it to John Green for not making the romantic angles the focal point of his stories, the way a majority of the young adult fiction writers do. The story hinges on Aza’s internal struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), mental disorder in general and their consequences. Through Aza, Green did an amazing job of depicting mental disorder. In a manner of speaking, Green was speaking through Aza to retell the battle he himself had waged against anxiety.
By intricately highlighting and raising awareness on mental health, Green made the story soar. Obsessive compulsive disorder is just one in a plethora of mental disorders but the way Green dealt with it is insightful and commendable. By using first person perspective and using the person with disorder as the narrator worked in favor of the story as the readers are given a firsthand experience of the melancholic, confusing and labyrinthine mind of someone with this infliction. The readers are in for a rough ride as they are steered through every curve of OCD.
Another element that worked for the book is John Green’s uncanny ability of creating characters that stirs the reader’s emotions. He has proven that he is masterful in creating realistic characters when he conceived memorable characters like Alaska, Hazel Grace and Gus Waters. Green treats his characters as though they are adults. He doesn’t assume that teenagers are unintelligent. He didn’t obscure any details about the character’s lives from Aza’s struggles with anxiety to Davis’ naked hatred for his father. He carried over this mastery when he created characters that readers will strongly relate to.
Aza Holmes stands tallest amongst the characters in the book. She is the heroine who has the smarts yet cannot take a big leap of faith due to her infliction. She is joined by her best friend Daisy whose wit and street smart offset Aza’s endless and one-sided chatter, as is the tendency with first person perspective. Just like in every young adult fiction, Aza has a love interest in Davis Pickett. It is his Davis’ dad’s disappearance that Aza and Daisy are trying to solve.
I had very high hopes for Turtles All The Way Down because it is Green’s first work after a lengthy hiatus. Paper Towns, the last Green work I read left me disappointed but wanting for more. Unfortunately, Turtles All The Way Down failed to rekindle my interest in John Green’s works and young adult fiction in general. However, I still think highly of John Green and what he has accomplished so far.
Turtles All The Way Down inevitably fell on the same abyss that young adult fiction careen to. Hats off for the raising of awareness on mental health but still I felt deflated by the plot. It had the right ingredients to be a great fiction due to its memorable characters and their interesting backgrounds. The writing style is simple but great and effective as always. However, the way the story ended was unsatisfactory but leaves the readers to create their own conclusion.
Overall, the book could have used some tightening up. Some side stories and parts of the plot were implausible. This would have been acceptable for me had the story not been about people. Initially, it was grounded on reality but past the midpoint, the story got awry, causing Green’s work to fall off the mark. This work didn’t justify Green’s capabilities as a writer but it left me anticipating for his next work. I hope that it would be better than this.
Recommended for those with interest in mental disorder. The pace is best suited for readers who are seeking a light read.
About the Author
John Green is most well-known for penning one of the most memorable young adult fiction in recent memory, The Fault in our Stars which was published in 2012. The successful adaptation of his work into film further solidified his claim as being one of today’s top authors.
Green was born on August 24, 1977 in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 2000, he graduated at Kenyon College, majoring in English and religious studies. Post-graduation, he worked as a student chaplain at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Being a writer was not his dream because he wanted to be an Episcopalian priest. However, his experience of dealing with children with life-threatening illnesses inspired him to be an author instead.
In 2005, he released his first novel, Looking for Alaska which became an instant bestseller. This work won the Michael L. Printz Award by the American Library Association. He followed this up with An Abundance of Katherines (2006) and Paper Towns (2008). The latter won 2009 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Novel and the 2010 Corine Literature Prize and was adapted into film in 2015. He then collaborated with fellow young adult fiction writer David Levithan to write Will Grayson, Will Grayson (2010).
Aside from being an author, Green is also a renowned vlogger (video blogger), producer and editor. He was also selected by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2014. He is currently residing in Indianapolis, Indiana with his family.