Emily May's Reviews > Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
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it was ok
bookshelves: contemporary, young-adult, 2017

“You’re deflecting.” I just stared at her. “You’re right that self isn’t simple, Aza. Maybe it’s not even singular. Self is a plurality, but pluralities can also be integrated, right? Think of a rainbow. It’s one arc of light, but also seven differently colored arcs of light.”

This is difficult to rate. Looking back, there were definitely certain aspects that I thought were done well, but I just didn't enjoy either the story or the uber-philosophical writing. Given that I consider three stars to be a mostly positive rating, I'm going with two.

Turtles All the Way Down is really only for those looking for deep cell-level evaluation of human consciousness and personhood. To give him some credit, Green captures Aza's needling anxiety and compulsions very well. That little inner voice of doubt that causes you to question things you know until maybe you're not so sure is spot on. It's everything else around Aza's inner turmoil that feels like what it is - filler.

It could very easily have been an interesting portrait of OCD and anxiety, but attempts to add a bizarre subplot of a missing billionaire (who is also the father of her childhood friend, Davis) don't disguise the fact that nothing really happens. I am not opposed to an introspective novel, especially in YA contemporary dealing with mental illness, but I cannot figure out why the author decided to add such a disjointed and nonsensical side story to the mix. Unless, of course, it is yet another "deep metaphor" for the nonsensical nature of anxiety, but I would have found Aza's story far stronger without it.

The ludicrous and boring plot acts as a superficial backdrop for Green to play out the usual "super precocious teens having philosophical conversations." Aza's mental illness and Green's philosophy bleed together into statements that are straddling the line between clever and nauseating:
I guess I just don’t like having to live inside of a body? If that makes sense. And I think maybe deep down I am just an instrument that exists to turn oxygen into carbon dioxide, just like merely an organism in this . . . vastness.

I had very little patience with hipster teens being hipster back when I was the age of these characters; I have even less now.

I don't know why Green has to create such annoyingly unrealistic carbon copies of himself. Even secondary characters like Daisy quickly become annoying - calling Aza "Holmesy" in literally every sentence she speaks is extremely irritating. And these text messages between Aza and Davis:
Me: You’re not your money.
Him: Then what am I? What is anyone?
Me: I is the hardest word to define.
Him: Maybe you are what you can’t not be.
Me: Maybe. How’s the sky?
Him: Great. Huge. Amazing.

It's not even right to say these characters don't talk like teenagers because that makes it sound like teens can't possibly be this smart (and they definitely can), but these characters just don't talk like any people I've ever encountered anywhere. Of any age. They sound like what I imagine old buddhist monks to sound like.

Green takes steps toward exploring the painful reality of living with a mental illness that deeply affects your everyday life and wellbeing, but it's sad that he pulls it back into the land of pretentious philosophical mumbo jumbo. For a while there, it felt real to me, and then it just became John Green talking to himself about the universe and the nature of "self". I guess I have to accept that early John Green - the kind who wrote Paper Towns - is a thing of the past.

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Reading Progress

August 10, 2017 – Shelved
October 15, 2017 – Started Reading
October 16, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-50 of 202 (202 new)


message 1: by Lauren (new) - added it

Lauren I just signed up for Book of The Month club and they have a code FREEBIE and this book was one of the options :) they send it to you early!!!!!!!!


Emily May Lauren wrote: "I just signed up for Book of The Month club and they have a code FREEBIE and this book was one of the options :) they send it to you early!!!!!!!!"

I saw that you could add it to this month's box for $9.99, which is a good deal but none of the October picks interested me, unfortunately. I'll just wait and get it on the 10th :)


message 3: by Dess (new)

Dess Hi Emilly! I can't wait for your review on this book. :)


Huso Did you get your copy yet?


Emily May Huso wrote: "Did you get your copy yet?"

Yep! Just finishing up a couple of other books first. I confess I'm a little apprehensive after I didn't enjoy The Fault in Our Stars :/


message 6: by Lauren (new) - added it

Lauren Oooooooh, I loved The Fault in Our Stars book although the movie ruined it for me and thus has resulted in preventing me from rereading the book /:


Huso Emily May wrote: "Huso wrote: "Did you get your copy yet?"

Yep! Just finishing up a couple of other books first. I confess I'm a little apprehensive after I didn't enjoy The Fault in Our Stars :/"


I received my copy of "Turtles" today too. I'm looking forward to reading it. I actually enjoyed several of John Green's books, even though I'm not a big fan of "young adult".


Huso Lauren wrote: "Oooooooh, I loved The Fault in Our Stars book although the movie ruined it for me and thus has resulted in preventing me from rereading the book /:"

Ha! That's why I never watch movies based on books I enjoyed. They tend to destroy the magic of the books.


S. Umar Well going to be waiting on what you have to say about the book!


message 10: by James (new)

James I was considering this...


message 11: by Gianne (new)

Gianne Won't get the book til you give a review <3


message 12: by Nicole (new) - added it

Nicole Can't wait to see your review on this!


message 13: by Candi (new) - added it

Candi (CajunReader) Gianne why do you say that might I ask?


message 14: by Lauren (new) - added it

Lauren Candi wrote: "Gianne why do you say that might I ask?"

because Emily May gives amazing, thorough reviews!!!


message 15: by Candi (new) - added it

Candi (CajunReader) ok thanks any other recommendations to other amazing YA reviewers please?


Jelske Grace I just finished it a few minutes ago and was pretty curious what kind of eating you would give it, I’m not surprised that we both gave it two stars.


Hamad Thanks, I read this the day it came, also gave it 2 stars and had the exact same thoughts, only you put it a zillion times better than me👏


Daboy Villacortes I thought I was the only one. YA writers never seem to realize that normal teenagers don't talk that very deep lol I laughed so hard at "buddhist monks" lol


Jolene Haack I disagree with almost everything about this BUT your review is awesome and I loved it.


message 20: by Jenny (new) - added it

Jenny I used to love TFIOS, until it started to sound like John Green speaking through three different characters. If this is the same thing, I might just smash my phone to bits.


Brittany's Pages I agree with your review. It just wasn't what I was hoping it to be. And the reality of the whole billionaire story is ridiculous.


message 22: by Chelsie Leigh (new)

Chelsie Leigh Totally agree with you about his style of writing.


message 23: by idiffer (new) - added it

idiffer Man. I'm getting very curious about this john green, but then I read the reviews. I'm all for teens having smart conversations, but monk talk is where I draw the line.


message 24: by idiffer (new) - added it

idiffer Candi wrote: "ok thanks any other recommendations to other amazing YA reviewers please?"
There are many. like Kiki or Khanh.


message 25: by Huso (new) - rated it 4 stars

Huso I liked Paper Towns a lot better


message 26: by Kay Dee (last edited Oct 17, 2017 01:21PM) (new)

Kay Dee I had very little patience with hipster teens being hipster back when I was the age of these characters; I have even less now.

yes!


Ashley Finally someone I agree with about this book.


PinkAmy loves books, cats and naps John Greene feels like one of those writers I *should* like, but I always end up rolling my eyes and trying too hard to see what I’m missing. I think I’ll skip this one.


message 29: by Rachel (last edited Oct 17, 2017 09:59PM) (new) - added it

Rachel Aranda You did a great job writing out your thoughts. Sorry this book was a 2 star rating for you.


message 30: by Whitney (new)

Whitney Finally, someone who agrees Paper Towns was good but his other books since have been trash :\ he’s too obsessed with coming off as philosophical. I agree 100% that his characters are unrealistic.


Charese My thoughts exactly, except you said them so much better in this review! :D


message 32: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth I understand why someone might not like John Green's books, but they are not trash. They are well-crafted.


Chris Umphryes I have read all of John greens books. paper towns is on the bottom of my list. This one is on the top. Very interesting. I see what your saying, but it also seems like your picking it apart for being too philisophical while also being too goofy or something. which, is what I find to be so great.


message 34: by Katya (new) - added it

Katya Vinogradova ugh. so it looks like more of the same and no hope for a change. great review though!


message 35: by Mars (new) - added it

Mars I haven’t read this one yet but I’m definitely going to give it a try since I like Green, both as a person and as a writer, and I’ve enjoyed his other work. I can see how his personality and style isn’t for everyone though.


message 36: by Izabela (last edited Oct 18, 2017 08:05PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Izabela Emily wrote:...but attempts to add a bizarre subplot of a missing billionaire (who is also the father of her childhood friend, Davis) don't disguise the fact that nothing really happens.

This was my biggest problem with the book! Thank you for your well written review. It echoes all my thoughts really well.


message 37: by Corinne (new) - added it

Corinne Silva @izabela jesus. maybe next time try spoiler alert!


message 38: by Laura (new)

Laura Love the title, but the book didn't sound that interesting, other than the title. Glad to know that my instincts were correct, and sorry you had to suffer through this.


Izabela Corinne wrote: "@izabela jesus. maybe next time try spoiler alert!"

i didn't spoil anything....???


message 40: by Shay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Shay Izabela, the whole point of the book is that nothing happens. Nothing happens because that's how life works. And especially in Aza's case, the whole point is that her own mind is attacking her to the point where she doesn't really notice the things going on around her. And one of the points of living is to be philosophical; to think about yourself and who and why you or anyone else is; to contemplate right vs wrong and the vast grey area in which we actually live. Some books are made to entertain, some to tell a fascinating story, and some to just make you reflect. This was a reflection book, and one of the reasons that I think he put Davis's dad into the story is that, in reality, there will be no plot twists. There aren't big questions and answers and clues to where a missing person went. Most of the time, people forget, or they mourn and move on. I find it intriguing that this review seems to think it would be more realistic if Pickett was found in a different way than he was. The characters felt so real to me; The way they used their technology, the way they interacted with each other; the way in the first chapter, Aza hints to the fact that friends will come and go but some relationships are stable. I think there needs to be empathy for the people that DO think about the nature of the universe and self. It may be pretentious, but there are people that think that was. If you were looking for a romance between two characters who have no philosophical or physical or mental problems, you probably shouldn't read John Green novels. They are made for the people that like to think. The use of "Hipster teenagers" is a bit insulting. People are the way they are, and if liking to think hard about life and purpose, let them be without judging them.


Michael I generally appreciate the time and effort you put into reviews, which is part of the reason this review surprises me. It feels like you didn't put much energy into reading this book.

Yes, the missing billionaire subplot is a bit ridiculous, but that was exactly the point, from the very first line of the novel where Aza says she thinks she might be fictional. One of the many, many challenges of mental illness is that it makes it very hard to figure out which parts of you are real and which are not, and what "real" even means when applied to you and your thoughts and your feelings and your obsessions and your anxiety and your despair. Heaven knows the world seems legitimately fictional sometimes, and if you're struggling to even feel like a real person yourself, it's that much more difficult to find anything truly believable.

I was a kid like Aza. I thought and talked like her, and even when I didn't, I felt like I was. Remember who is narrating this story, and remember what the last few pages reveal to us.

And maybe consider the value to people of all ages coping with mental illness of a story that shows us we go on. When things are good and when things are bad, we go on. That's not something we hear from the world very often, and it's not something we hear from our brains practically ever. It goddamned matters.


message 42: by Izabela (last edited Oct 18, 2017 08:05PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Izabela Shay wrote: "Izabela, the whole point of the book is that nothing happens. Nothing happens because that's how life works. And especially in Aza's case, the whole point is that her own mind is attacking her to t..."

Thanks for your thoughts Shay but I think you meant to respond to Emily?

Shay wrote: They are made for the people that like to think.

Wow thanks for insulting my intelligence while at it?


message 43: by Jenbebookish (new)

Jenbebookish I HATE reading conversations between teens that sound like no teens anywhere. (Or like you said, just no PEOPLE anywhere.) & if anyone actually ever DID talk like that they'd be beyond insufferable!


message 44: by Jenbebookish (new)

Jenbebookish Now I feel bad, because I left that comment before reading the comments above, & Michael saying he actually DOES talk this way. I'm sure Michael you are not insufferable and your deep philosophical speak is probably just lovely. But I grew up in LA, land of the hipsters & pretentious, & I've spent my life not just attending elite educational institutions but also hanging around "literary" types, brainy types, hipster types, emo types etc etc, I may have even fancied myself one of these "types" in my youth & whereas I may have made some half hearted attempts to emulate the kind of poetry I'd read and enjoyed & jotted down in notebooks some bits of philosophical John green speak, I certainly never spoke this way aloud, in real life, not seriously, & I never heard anybody else do it either. So maybe michael there are the yous of the world who literally speak like a YA John green novel, but the truth is they are few and far between. Most of us will go a lifetime never knowing a teen like Hazel Grace (or you,) so forgive us for finding it a tad bit....unrealistic.


Sarah Dobson Isn't the point that it's bizzare? I thought it was a play on a Sherlock Holmes mystery as he was supposed to have OCD and it was supposed to make him very astute, where with Aza it just drove her into a downward spiral.

So yeah I think that was the point


Emily May Sarah wrote: "Isn't the point that it's bizzare? I thought it was a play on a Sherlock Holmes mystery as he was supposed to have OCD and it was supposed to make him very astute, where with Aza it just drove her ..."

Oh yeah, I'm sure. Everything John Green does is deliberate and "deeply meaningful". I just don't personally like it.


Rachel Prince I didn't even really like Paper Towns. :/


Theresa I love that you took the time to give it a thoughtful review, and I just wanted to throw my 2 cents in as a response.

I kind of thought the "plot as a backdrop" was kind of the point? Her OCD hijacks everything in her life, just like it does to the narrative itself. The point of John's books are never really about the plot, but rather thinking about the world and our place in it. And that's cool if that's not your jam.

I just don't think he was trying to write a great mystery novel? Whereas mental illness is so often just the side plot, he turns it on its head to make this seemingly great detective adventure the side plot... like sometimes happens to one's life when mental illness flares up. Part of the point (at least in my eyes) was to make us uncomfortable by denying us a typical plot / narrative structure. And giving us insight into how that feels to have it taken away from us.

And while it's true that most teens don't talk / think that way, the really smart (admittedly at-times pretentious) ones do (believe me, I work at a high school, haha). They exist! And I love them.


Emily May Theresa wrote: "I love that you took the time to give it a thoughtful review, and I just wanted to throw my 2 cents in as a response.

I kind of thought the "plot as a backdrop" was kind of the point? Her OCD hij..."


Hi Theresa. I'm glad you enjoyed the book more.

I actually completely agree that it was supposed to be deep, meaningful and philosophical, though I personally thought something was lost in Green choosing that route. That's what I meant in my last paragraph. Aza's anxiety felt so real to me in the beginning and her story could have been so powerful, but (I felt) it was weakened by Green turning the plot into a pretentious metaphor. I understand many people love his "depth" but his last couple of books have really made me roll my eyes.

But I truly do understand that it's all perspective. I just need to finally admit that Green is no longer for me :(

And while it's true that most teens don't talk / think that way, the really smart (admittedly at-times pretentious) ones do

Exactly! But all of Green's characters talk this way, haha.


Savannah Lysaght "I cannot figure out why the author decided to add such a disjointed and nonsensical side story to the mix" - The answer to this could possibly be that OCD and anxiety are very often very disjointed and nonsensical. Hence, the side to the story is a metaphor for Aza's (and many others) mental health conditions. And it is mentioned in a book that solving a mystery gives you some kind of closure and clarity, but nothing magnificent and long-standing. Equally, solving the mystery of how and why you are the way you are and why you think the way you do, can give you some clarity and closure and help you in doing better, but it isn't going to"solve" you completely. You will always be you. Nothing against your review or valid opinions at all, just food for thought maybe..?


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