Tuesday, December 19, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

TITLE: Turtles All the Way Down

AUTHOR: John Green

GENRE: contemporary / mystery

PLOT SUMMARY: Billionaire Russell Pickett is missing, and there's a $100,000 reward to anyone that can provide information that will lead to his being found. Aza isn't interested in doing detective work, but her best friend Daisy, has other ideas. Especially when she finds out that Davis, Russell's son, is a childhood friend of Aza's. However, Aza's mental health issues, and her own fear of the world around her, may get in the way -- not just of the investigation, but of life in general.

FIRST THOUGHTS: I've always been a fan of John Green's. Paper Towns is one of my favorite books of all time, and I, like everyone, cried my eyes out the first time I read The Fault in Our Stars. So when I heard he was coming out with a new book, I ordered it right away, without having a clue what it was about. This is also the first John Green book I've gone into completely blind; I managed to avoid all spoilers before I began. (For me, a TV Tropes fanatic with poor impulse control, that's incredibly impressive.) This wasn't my favorite of Green's books, but it was a great reading experience, and I think anyone who's a fan of his will enjoy it.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: By far my biggest complaint about this book is related to the plot. Not that it's bad, or anything -- it's not. It's just that the summary on the inside jacket cover presented the story as a mystery. While the mystery of Russell Pickett's whereabouts does get the story started, it ultimately doesn't play as big of a role as I expected, or would've liked. It gets things moving, but then it sort of disappears from the narrative until you're almost at the very end. The book's what I'd consider a character study; it's not so much about what happens to Aza as it is about Aza herself, and her internal struggle. If you like that sort of thing (which I do, if it's well-written, which this was), you'll probably like this book.

5 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: Most John Green books feature a strong ensemble, so I was a little disappointed when the only two characters that were really complex and compelling were Aza and Daisy. That said, both Aza and Daisy are extremely strong characters, and they easily carry the novel. I loved how fleshed-out their dynamic was, and how they both were very layered and nuanced people. As I said, this book is a character study; you gotta have three-dimensional characters in order to make that work. John Green's always been great at having compelling main characters, even when they're not at their most likable. (Aza is likable, but I defy you to find me a teenager who isn't five seconds away from being slapped sometimes.) My only real gripe with the characters is that, since all the depth went to our heroine and her best friend, the love interest, Davis, felt flat and uninteresting by comparison. Out of all of John Green's love interests, Davis is by far the blandest. It's not that I didn't like him; I just didn't know him well enough to care much about him one way or the other, and I didn't really see why Aza was so fixated on him.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: This is definitely the John Green I remember! One common complaint about Green's books is that all his teenage characters sound too mature, eloquent, and grown-up. While I do agree that it does sometimes stretch the willing suspension of disbelief, it's never been enough of an issue for me to mind. Personally, I like that about his books -- I like the well-spoken, intellectual characters, and their philosophical ramblings. But I do get why it's not for everyone. This is a very well-written novel, especially in the segments where Aza's internal monologue turns into a "spiral;" when her illness briefly takes over and controls her thoughts, causing her to go down a bit of slippery slope. Those segments were heartbreaking, but also some of the strongest writing in the book.

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: First, I'll get the smaller stuff out of the way. This book features several POC characters, including one of the leads, and it also touches on class and financial issues in a really unexpectedly realistic way. However, a lot of the buzz surrounding this book is due to the fact that it has a main character with OCD -- written by an author who has been very open about his own experiences with OCD. As a result, this is not the simplified, one-dimensional portrayal of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that you may know from TV. It's brutally realistic, and shows the ups and downs of Aza's illness in vivid detail. It doesn't define Aza as a person, but it does have a huge effect on her day-to-day living. I have no experience with OCD myself, but I know that a lot of people who do have said that this book's portrayal of the disorder really spoke to them and their experiences. I'm glad to hear that; mental illness is so often portrayed incorrectly or outright insultingly in fiction, so it's nice to find an exception to the rule.

8 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: I was so glad to read a John Green book again. I associate reading his work very strongly with being high school, so it was a nice little trip down memory lane. (Even though I wasn't in high school all that long ago.) If I were to rank Green's five solo works so far, this would be dead in the center. (For the record, my ranking, favorite to least favorite, is Paper Towns, The Fault in Our Stars, Turtles All the Way Down, An Abundance of Katherines, and Looking for Alaska.) I heard some rumors that John Green wasn't planning to write another book after TFIOS, so it was a real relief to find that that wasn't the case -- and that his return to the page was as good as this was.



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