YA Book Review: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Turtles All the Way DownTurtles All the Way Down by John Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Describing mental illness to someone who is not mentally ill is probably one of the hardest things to do. It’s like that game where you try to explain to an alien how to make a peanut butter sandwich when they don’t know what a knife, or bread, or peanut butter is. I think that John Green does an excellent job of explaining the way Aza’s mind works, or doesn’t work, as the case may be.

He is certainly the king of metaphors, and this novel is no exception. There are many “big picture” vs. “small picture” metaphors going on, and the characters all go through similar situations of feeling not in control of themselves or their lives. The “vastness” of life, and how our lives can spiral out of control so easily is the pervasive theme. And it is kind of scary to read, but also freeing and cathartic for those of us who have had similar thoughts and experiences.

A metaphor I found to be particularly cool: Aza is lost in her own mind and has trouble thinking of anyone but herself. She is only really able to see herself through her best friend’s Star Wars fan-fiction in a character that is eerily close to Aza. Which is ironic because part of Aza’s illness is that she cannot seem to find her real “self” even within her own body and mind, and consequently sees herself as fictional.

The characters, especially Aza and Davis, are both alone inside their own minds and situations, but are still connected to each other and the world. It’s the connections that keep Green’s characters going on and living and hoping.

As for the 4 stars…..while I think I understand most of the connections between the main themes and the backstory – billionaire goes missing, girl with mental illness and her quirky best friend try to find him, girl reconnects with billionaire’s son – it wasn’t the most captivating for me personally. And of course the precocious teen dialogue did get slightly deep into the philosophical realm, but I don’t think, as I know others do, that it is entirely unrealistic for teens to talk like this. In fact, it may be that more teens (and humans in general) think these kind of philosophical thoughts but they are fleeting and not as well-developed. It’s OK to put these into a novel. It’s fiction! It wasn’t my all-time favorite of the Green novels, but it was a good read.

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