Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I have a lot of thoughts surrounding this book.
It's basically impossible to discuss this book without discussing John Green and the state of YA at this point, as this book is dropping at a weird time. First, looking at Green, this is his first novel release since The Fault in Our Stars close to 7 years ago. Green, in the acknowledgements, notes that Turtles was in the works for at least 6 years, and that does say something. I wonder if it's that he has a lot of irons in the fire between movie deals and the Vlogbrothers and Crash Course and what have you, but the book feels pretty engineered. I assume a lot of that is because TFioS was such a phenomenon in and of itself, but I can also imagine that being hard to top and this is sort of along the same lines as the whole "sick lit" thing that Green put into the adult lexicon after it spent so much time in the YA space.
That does lead us to the YA space a bit, because, as I write this, yet another flap about who gets to write about what is cropping up with the book American Heart, not too long after the flap surrounding The Black Witch. I know that Green is at least sympathetic to the crowd that takes issue with those books, and I can't help but think that the overengineered feeling this book gives (and the length of time it took to write) is at least part of this whole culture. And that's too bad, because I also wonder if he's being influenced by the "manic pixie dream girl" criticisms or by trying too hard to do right by too many readers who may never be happy, and, well, there are turtles all the way down that spiral of thought, too.
On the book itself? It's fine. It's informed heavily by Green's struggles with anxiety and depression, and as a human being with those same struggles, I totally related to a lot of this. Instead of doing what Aza did, though, I just retreated into activities and stuff to mask it. It wasn't sustainable, and Aza's behavior isn't sustainable either, and this book does a good job mapping all of that out. It's a book that says it's about one thing, but it's really about something more important than that, and it's what John Green excels at.
So why the low-ish rating? It just feels really forced, really overdone, and maybe a little eye-rollingly over-the-top. And we can argue that depression and anxiety make everything like that, but I didn't feel like the story was this way, but the book. If the story itself mimicked this feeling a bit, it might be impressive, but this is instead basically a standard anxiety book that fit in better with a contemporary YA trend of three years ago.
In terms of John Green books, this is definitely my least favorite, and it's not even close. But like some other authors, a mediocre John Green book is better than a lot of really good books by other talented writers. So don't skip this one if you're on the fence. But as an introduction to Green? I'm still handing you An Abundance of Katherines or even Paper Towns before this. It just doesn't work quite the way I wanted it to, or the way it needed to.
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