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Review: Turtles All the Way Down

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

4/5 stars

TW: Anxiety, OCD, Mental Illness, Death of a Parent

“In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on." - Robert Frost

This book follows 16-year old Aza and her best friend Daisy as they try to find the truth behind a missing billionaire, who happens to be the father of Davis, an old friend of Aza's, who she then falls for and has a short-lived but perfectly-imperfect teenage romance with.

That description makes it sound sort of like a buddy-comedy, hijinks-y, romantic YA novel. But Aza also suffers from crippling anxiety and OCD, as well as the lasting trauma of having seen her father fall down dead in her front yard while he mowed the lawn.

Her mental illness and grief, along with the effect is has on her friends and mother, are so palpable and realistic. There is nothing shiny or romanticized about them. They are a painful part of her, but they are also just that - a part. An important and obtrusive part to be sure, but they do not constitute her entire person.

I read The Fault in Our Stars a few years back and enjoyed it, but also found it to be a bit sickly-sweet, and the relationships weren't always super believable. Turtles does a much better job of balancing out the sweetness with the bitter practicalities of teenager-dom, and the characters feel authentic. And like in his recent non-fiction book The Anthropocene Reviewed (which I reviewed on the blog), Green expertly expresses the parallels of how hard and unforgiving life can be with the beauty of being amazed at its many miracles.

A few quotes I especially liked:

"Like, the world is billions of years old, and life is a product of nucleotide mutation and everything. But the world is also the stories we tell about it."

"He's in that vast boy middle. Like, good-looking enough that I'm willing to be won over. The whole problem with boys is that ninety-nine percent of them are, like, okay. If you could dress and hygiene them properly, and make them stand up straight and listen to you and not be dumbasses, they'd be totally acceptable."

Regarding the death of Aza's father, and the loss of Davis' father:

"Every loss is unprecedented. You can't ever know someone's hurt, not really - just like touching someone else's body isn't the same as having someone else's body."

Artwork above is by English artist/writer Yasmin Rahman.


UP NEXT: Love in Color: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold, by Bolu Babalola

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