Parents' Guide to

Turtles All the Way Down

By Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 14+

Thought-provoking exploration of mental illness, first love.

Turtles All the Way Down Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this book.

Community Reviews

age 14+

Based on 12 parent reviews

age 12+

Absolutely Incredible.

This might well be one of my favorite books. John Green's writing is stunning, beautiful, and perfectly descriptive. For the age rating, if you've read John Green's other books, you will know that the books are filled with profanity, drinking, and in most cases, sex. (Um, Looking for Alaska, anyone?) I would say that this is the most mild book he ever wrote. There's minimal swearing, no drinking, and filled with positive role models and messages. Aza is the main character, and she has OCD. When a fugitive billionaire named Russell Pickett disappears, Aza and her best friend Daisy set out to solve the case. 5/5 stars, for sure.

This title has:

Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
age 12+

Thanks for the Turtle Treasure

I should preface this by saying my son is a reluctant reader - and was assigned this book for school. Thank you would not be a sufficient sentiment for his teachers. He read it cover to cover in one afternoon. So of course I had to see what captured him so. The first chapter blew me away. It was entertaining, witty, and relevant. Our kids are not sheltered in the way we imagine so just get past an occasional expletive - this is their world and they are struggling to figure it out - books like this, with characters who aren’t perfect, or “popular” and tackle relationships with parents and friends - they need more of this. Stop thinking about “the classics” that were from your childhood… these characters have cell phones and love fan fiction - our kids can see themselves in this story. They will read it more than once. It also shines a light on OCD and anxiety disorders which can be a bridge to conversations they are eager to have.

This title has:

Educational value
Great messages

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (12):
Kids say (43):

John Green delves deeper into the dark reaches of the teenage brain than ever before, creating a remarkable if occasionally hard-to-read story about a girl living with anxiety and OCD. While neither the protagonist nor the simple plot is as initially engaging as those in The Fault in Our Stars or Paper Towns, the story takes off once Aza rediscovers Davis. They're both half-orphaned and lost, but for different reasons. An avid astronomer, Davis looks up to the stars, whereas Aza concentrates on her self -- or selves, since she's focused on her body as a biodome for microorganisms (the body being roughly 10 percent human and 90 percent microbial). Green brings them together in a sweetly romantic way, but the romance is somewhat doomed, considering Aza's myriad neuroses (kissing, while initially pleasant, turns sour once the intrusive thoughts about the billions of bacteria they've shared begin).

For a book less than 300 pages long, Turtles All the Way Down requires a lot of unpacking and invites the reader to think, think, think about everything from mental illness to first love to the intricacies of Star Wars mythology. Like Aza's unique name (from A to Z and back again), there are endless possibilities for conversation points stemming from Green's themes. There are also extended therapy sessions, mini-lessons on the biological importance of the tuatara (a nearly extinct lizard-like creature that lives past 150 years and is actually more like a dinosaur than a lizard), and a great deal of existential angst. Green inserts gentle doses of humor, usually courtesy of Aza's vivacious best friend Daisy (who writes Star Wars fanfiction as a hobby), but this is ultimately a dark book about the trappings of mental illness. It also has one of the most memorable endings in young adult literature. Green's books aren't about happily ever afters but about the hope and love of moving forward, no matter how difficult that might seem.

Book Details

  • Author: John Green
  • Genre: Coming of Age
  • Topics: Friendship, Science and Nature
  • Book type: Fiction
  • Publisher: Dutton Books
  • Publication date: October 10, 2017
  • Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
  • Number of pages: 304
  • Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
  • Last updated: July 23, 2018

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate