Turtles All the Way Down by John Green was not a book I thought I’d be reading. I am not a YA reader anymore, and I haven’t been since I was 18. I have grown out of that phase many years ago, but I know this genre is still very popular among people my age and younger. I decided to read this book for a bit of nostalgia, but also a bit of curiosity as to what I’m missing in the YA world. The following review will have spoilers, so if you want to avoid them, I’d advise you to stop reading now.Let’s start with the things I liked about this novel. First of all, I love how the story focused on a teenager with an anxiety disorder. When I was growing up, there were no books for little kids, or teenagers, that explicitly talked about mental health, or anxiety at all. The books I read mainly gravitated toward accepting others, being yourself, etc. I can’t remember reading anything that focused on issues like this 8-10 years ago. It was really refreshing to see that YA books are discussing issues other than just “does this boy like me?”
I also really enjoyed the subplot of the novel, where it centred around Davis’s billionaire father missing, and the $100,000 reward for information. It wasn’t the main focus of the novel, but I thought this was really interesting. I thought this was a really interesting subplot for a YA book. However, I was a little disappointed that Aza and Daisy received the reward money so randomly from Davis. Davis didn’t care about the money, but who just gives that much money without a thought? I kind of wish the novel centred more on the mystery of his missing father, rather than Davis’s father ending up being dead the whole time. I feel like Green had a great way to introduce the characters and how they connected with this subplot, but then he didn’t know how to end it, so he made the father dead. I was disappointed in this, but it wasn’t a bad thing overall.
However, there were many things in the novel that I didn’t like. I think what didn’t like most was the fact that Aza’s anxiety disorder is never named. The whole novel centres around her anxiety and her struggles with it, but why does Green never explicitly disclose what she has? That may not seem like a real complaint to have, but if anyone who is reading this book has similar symptoms they wouldn’t know what to look for online, or to ask a doctor. This book could give so many people struggling with anxiety to have a character to relate to and feel less alone about. That connection is important especially if you’re young and struggling with mental health issues. It’s implied that Aza has OCD, but having it said in the novel could make a world of the difference. It would give a name to the disorder, instead of leaving it a mystery for the reader to solve.
The other problem I have with this novel is the relationships Aza has with Daisy and Davis. Daisy is Aza’s best friend but writes Star Wars fan fiction about how she hates Aza’s anxiety. I know anxiety may not be a fun thing to be around at times, but to have Aza’s best friend think of her as useless and annoying reenforces this stigma around mental health problems. Daisy’s annoyance with Aza is what drives the story to its climax where Aza gets into a car accident. This accident allows the girls to talk about their feelings, and eventually forgive each other. Obviously there are many people who don’t understand anxiety, or how to help others with it. But, to make a main character’s friend have a big issue with it suggests that Aza can’t even confide in a friend for help. I think I would have preferred someone who supported Aza and would have defended her when people thought she was strange, etc. Davis does have this support for Aza, which I liked, but he ended up being a YA stereotype I hate.
Here, we have Davis who is the typical boy in all YA novels. He likes Aza no matter what. He loves her body, her mind, and everything that makes her Aza. However, what annoys the hell out of me when it comes to YA novels is this constant need to have a love interest. Instead of Aza leaning on her friends and family for support, she has Davis instead to lean on. Davis is a the son of a billionaire who quotes Shakespeare and speaks unnaturally for a 17 year old. (I mean what 17 year old boy casually says the world “monosyllabic”?) Having a love interest in YA books is not a bad thing all the time though. I understand that as a teenager you have crushes, and want to explore your feelings, but this encourages dependency in young readers. It’s basically stating that it’s okay if life sucks, some Prince Charming is going to come along and make everything better. Davis wasn’t as bad as this stereotype, but the romance just felt unnecessary. If you would delete that part of the novel, it wouldn’t change anything with the plot. He could have ended up just being her friend and it would basically still be the same novel.
At first, I gave this book a 3.5/5 on Goodreads, but I changed to it a 3 after really thinking about my critiques about it. It’s not a bad book overall, and it does have value for young readers about mental health issues, and how people deal with them. I think Turtles All the Way Down is a great starting point as to what YA novels can be for young readers. These books can give a voice to people who can’t articulate what they’re feeling. I’m sure there are probably many YA books that are better than this one, but I really don’t hear any hype about them.
Let me know if you read this book, and if you have any YA books you would recommend!