Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Publication date: October 10th 2017
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Turtles All the Way Down is my first experience with John Green and it left me mostly with…nothing. On the one hand, I applaud him for writing such an unsympathetic character, but on the other, I didn’t want to read about her. Her is Aza, a teenager with severe OCD. She has a loving and supportive mother, a good psychiatrist, and a drug that helps her—when she feels like taking it. Dealing with her mental health is enough to fill the novel but Green chooses to add a billionaire entrepreneur who leaves his two sons in the middle of the night because he is about to be indicted and a lizard-like creature that supposedly holds the secret to eternal life.
But I also had a life, a normal-ish life, which continued. For hours or days, the thoughts would leave me be, and I could remember something my mother told me once: Your now is not your forever.
I was part of a group discussion about Turtles that included a high school librarian. She raved about the book and said so did every student who read it. This is when it clicked for me. Unlike, other YA fiction I’ve read, namely The Hate U Give and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, this is truly YA for a teen audience. Too much of the novel veers between a vanilla blandness and incongruous plot lines in a way that is hard for adults to engage in.
Green’s deep dive into the world of OCD is well-done, but the rest of the novel feels disjointed. He wasn’t able to able to move Aza from the place of ‘other’—someone completely foreign and unknown—to a place that invites understanding. If you have teenagers this may be a great novel for seeing mental health issues up close, but as an adult it left me disinterested.
Ann Marie says
Such a bummer! This one is also on my shelf and I still plan on reading it but this helps me manage my expectations. Very thoughtful, honest review.
Thank you! I know people who have teens or work with them or are involved with people and mental health issues who really liked it. I just don’t meet any of that criteria- beyond my own neuroses!
Susie | Novel Visits says
Your review points to exactly why I generally avoid YA! It’s great when an exception pops up as in The Hate U Give, and for me, The Hunger Games series, but it seems those are few. Working with the target age group for a lot of YA books, I see clearly why stories with a lot of action, odd characters, and surprising twists might work better for them than really cohesive plots.
A boy in one of my classes was recently reading The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and I loved checking in with him about how he was liking the book. I’ve discussed The Hate U Give with several and that’s been really interesting. Some saw the big picture of racial inequality as what the book was really about, but for others that was just a part of the story about a girl, her parents and her boyfriend.
I don’t know what it says about me (not sure I’ve ever claimed the label “adult” – ha!) that I felt completely engaged by this novel and story, but I think the mental health aspect is what truly drew me in; having said that, I’ve since loaned it to three readers who do NOT have a professional life that includes dealing with mental health issues and they all enjoyed it, as well. I think when I read YA, I do not have the same expectations that I do for a literary fiction title, kind of like when I read what I call a “fluffy” or “light” book; I’ve only read one other of his novels, The Fault in Our Stars, and enjoyed it for what it is – strictly YA material.
That’s exactly it- the people who ‘got’ it were drawn in by the mental health aspects. I used adult because the group I met with who discussed it broke down that way. Anyone who didn’t work with teens or mental health issues was stymied- or bored.