High-school student Aza Holmes has a lot on her mind, all the time. Not only is she still dealing with the trauma of her father’s death, but her anxiety is constantly threatening to spiral out of control. So when her rich acquaintance’s father goes missing, Aza is reluctant to get involved. It’s only her best friend Daisy’s desperation for the cash reward that spurs her to re-connect with her old camp friend and start digging into the disappearance. As Aza renews her friendship with Davis Pickett, the two develop feelings for each other, feelings which are threatened by Aza’s condition.
Green is almost too good at portraying Aza’s overwhelming intrusive thoughts, which at times made this difficult read without developing anxiety myself. Green follows Aza down the well from as she starts to worry about things like cuts getting infected or kisses introducing foreign bacteria into her body.
Green also does a plausible job depicting the ins and outs of teenage friendship, as Aza and Daisy fight, forgive each other, and fight again in a nasty but recognizably human cycle.
Where Turtles All the Way Down falters is in its central mystery. The reader quickly gets the sense that Green isn’t really invested in Aza and Daisy’s “investigation” into Davis’s dad’s disappearance, but even so the lackluster resolution doesn’t sit well. And as good as Green is at characterizing teenagers, the adult characters are paper-thin and ancillary. Turtles All the Way Down is not much more than just a character study of an anxious teen, and while Green deserves kudos for his accurate and empathetic portrait, on the whole the novel is a slight, unmemorable read.