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Review: “Turtles All The Way Down” – John Green’s Return to YA

Natalie Harper ’20 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

This summer, John Green announced that he would be publishing his first book since his 2012 international overnight hit, The Fault in Our Stars. Green has spent the five-year hiatus taking care of his two children, talking to his brother, Hank, on their popular Vlogbrothers series, overseeing the film adaptations of two of his books, and throwing away draft after draft of a story he just couldn’t manage to get right. It wasn’t until his wife, Sarah Urist Green, steered one of his projects in the right direction that his 2017 release, Turtles All the Way Down, was born.

To no surprise, Turtles still features all his usual formulaic elements that he uses to create his sharp, smart, and cliché young adult novels.

Brooding but quirky main character? Yes.

Obvious love story? Absolutely.

Annoying best friend character? You got it.

Parents that just don’t understand? 100%

Romanticizing nerd culture? How could that ever go away?

The novel centers around sixteen year old Aza and her decision to solve the mystery of the missing billionaire construction magnate, Russell Pickett, who disappears after a fraud allegation. Aza and her friend, Daisy, decide to go searching for clues, hoping that this will lead them to the $100,000 reward for information on his whereabouts. Russell also happens to have a really hot teenage son, Davis, that goes to their school. What a happy coincidence.

Also, why is this trust fund kid enrolled at a public high school in Indiana? Why are Aza and Daisy, two pretty self involved teenagers only interested in fan fiction, able to solve the mystery of a missing billionaire when the police and CIA are unable to?

In addition to these logical issues, Turtles is by far his hardest book to read. Aza has a cryptic, repetitive way of speaking. Although Aza is doomed to circulate her thoughts over and over again as a part of her mental illness, it can be frustrating and stretches out the length of the novel. The story is littered with cultural references from every corner of nerd culture. Reliance on modern speech (lightning fast conversations that are hard to follow) and technology (including scenes of texting and distracted driving) dates the narration and makes it sound very vapid and unaware of itself. It is unclear if Turtles All the Way Down will stand the test of time or not.

Turtles
Photo Credit: Goodreads

What makes this book stand out, though, is the fact that John Green has become more candid. The protagonist, Aza, suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and has constant thoughts and fears about bacterial infection, which leads her to constantly opening a self-inflicted cut on her finger so that she can keep it clean from the billions of germs all around her. This a more sensitive subject for Green, who has said in interviews and on his YouTube show, Vlogbrothers, that he, too, suffers from OCD. This honest and heart-wrenching writing style makes the reader feel what Aza does as she talks about her struggles with obsessive thoughts and how it takes over her life.

Due to this new bluntness, Green has decided to stray away from his usual style of using humor to mask his thematic tragedies. Green has always treated his teenage readers’ intelligence with more respect than other adults, including parents, teachers, and other authors. His stories often have much higher stakes than simply falling in love at sixteen. He’s written about the horrors of cancer, depression, premature death, loneliness, and the plight of being young and self-conscious. What separates Green from a drama writer is his absurdist humor, or what some people refer to as his quirk factor. Green floods his outlandish characters with features that make them feel like caricatures rather than real, fleshed out people, and the characters in Turtles are no exception to this.

Green’s popularity has dwindled down over his years of absence and his books are beginning to feel more like a phase. Regardless, Turtles All The Way Down is going to open the eyes of so many new readers and comfort those that struggle with mental illness. Green has never made his readers feel like they were alone in their personal battles and this comforting narration still keeps dedicated fans coming back for more. Still, John Green needs to do some growing up in order to keep up with his maturing fan base.

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