Review: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

November 10, 2017 | Turtles All the Way Down is published by Penguin, RRP $27.99 (Hardback)

For a many people, I suspect this book will be a hard read, but not because of the writing itself. The main character Aza, suffers from mental illness, manifesting in extreme anxiety, germ phobia and thought spirals than run out of control. As the story is told from her point of view the depiction is often harrowing, particularly later in the novel in a scene in a hospital room.

The story is essentially a quest, where Aza and her best friend Daisy search for a missing billionaire so they can claim the huge reward on offer. The billionaire has run off because he’s being investigated for shonky business dealings. His two sons are left in the care of lawyers and housekeepers, in an eye popping mansion, and Aza just happens to have been friends with his son, Davis, in her past.

The friendships: Aza rekindles the relationship with Davis, and he is no dummy, so he calls her on her reasons for contacting him early on. This strengthens the friendship and I liked him for it. He is such a lonely figure, despite the wealth.

Daisy is a super popular fan fic author with trademark sharp humour that Green has become known for. When I discussed elements of the fan fic with my fan fic loving friends there was a bit of outrage and ‘that wouldn’t happen’ type conversation which I found enlightening. The banter between Daisy and Aza, while good, doesn’t have the humorous edge of The Fault in Our Stars.

The quest loses its punch by the second half of the book because for Aza there isn’t much at stake. Besides the real thrust of this novel is the difficulty of living with mental illness, day in day out, as the world spirals and you go down with it but always want to get off the ride. This is the real quest of this book, Aza’s desire to be free from the crippling thoughts and subsequent actions while under relentless, brutal attack from her mind.

There are some heartfelt moments in the novel that stand out; Davis in the kitchen with Aza’s mother, Aza with Noah in the lounge before she leaves the mansion, Aza and Daisy in the car and a harsh conversation about friendship, Aza’s hospital scene, her recollection of the day her father died. And here is one of my favourite lines from the novel, when Aza is looking through her fathers photos on his phone –

“My favourite pictures of my dad are the few where he’s out of focus – because that’s how people are really…”


Worth the read but watch for triggers.

© 2015 Melissa Sargent