Turtles All the Way Down


John Green

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Turtles All the Way Down Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on John Green's Turtles All the Way Down. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of John Green

John Green was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, though he grew up primarily in Orlando, Florida. He graduated from Indian Springs School in Alabama. In 2000, Green graduated from Kenyon College with a double major in English and religious studies. He has said he studied mostly Mark Twain and Islam. Following graduation, he worked as a student chaplain at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Ohio with the intent of becoming an Episcopal priest. However, his experience working at the hospital, coupled with another job writing book reviews for Booklist, inspired him to begin taking writing seriously. His first novel, Looking for Alaska, was published in 2005 and became an immediate success. His second, An Abundance of Katherines, was published the following year. Although it's his least popular novel, it is the novel most commonly taught in schools, which he hypothesizes is because it contains the fewest mentions of sex out of all his novels. In 2007, Green began a videoblog with his brother, Hank, which is regularly updated and has led to a number of other media projects and humanitarian fundraising. Green published The Fault in Our Stars in 2012, which was met with overwhelmingly positive critical acclaim and was adapted into a film in 2015. Following The Fault in Our Stars, however, John Green struggled with the pressure to write a novel that would live up to the reputation he had earned, and suffered a temporary upsurge in his own mental illness as a result (like his character Aza, he suffers from anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). He lives in Indianapolis, Indiana with his wife and two children.
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Historical Context of Turtles All the Way Down

Aza struggles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a mental illness that was first identified in the early twentieth century—though it has been written about under different names for centuries dating back to Ancient Greece. OCD causes a person to obsess about something (in Aza's case, a bacterial infection known as C. diff) and then act on compulsions to relieve the fear or stress caused by the obsession (Aza's wound on her finger). Today, most individuals with OCD treat it with a combination of medication and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), particularly exposure therapy. Exposure therapy entails exposing a person to whatever triggers their obsession and then not allowing them to carry out their compulsion, the idea being that the person eventually becomes more comfortable not performing the compulsion. Turtles All the Way Down makes a number of contemporary references, including to the boy band One Direction (which split up in early 2016) and to the idea of corporate personhood—that is, the idea that corporations and companies can utilize rights and responsibilities enjoyed by human beings (hence why David Pickett Sr. can leave his fortune to a foundation that works with tuatara).

Other Books Related to Turtles All the Way Down

Aza's character includes references to several literary sleuths: her last name, Holmes, is borrowed from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, and her car is a nod to the Nancy Drew mystery series. The characters mention a number of classic literary works including James Joyce's Ulysses, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, and William Shakespeare's The Tempest. They also draw from the work of poets like Robert Frost. Turtles All the Way Down is considered an "issue" novel, which encompasses young adult novels that address teen issues like alcohol use, pregnancy, or, in the case of Turtles, mental illness. Other novels in this genre indclude Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak and Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why. Reviewers have also compared John Green's work in general to that of J. D. Salinger, particularly Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.
Key Facts about Turtles All the Way Down
  • Full Title: Turtles All the Way Down
  • When Written: 2012-2017
  • Where Written: Indianapolis, IN
  • When Published: October 2017
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Young Adult "Issue" Novel
  • Setting: Indianapolis, Indiana, 2010s
  • Climax: When Aza suffers a mental breakdown and drinks hand sanitizer in the hospital
  • Antagonist: Aza's anxiety and OCD, bacteria
  • Point of View: First person, narrated by Aza

Extra Credit for Turtles All the Way Down

The Great Gatsby. The many Gatsby references throughout the novel are intentional. John Green has said that he believes that because nearly all high school students read The Great Gatsby, all other texts are read in the context of Gatsby. Green has said, however, that Daisy's name isn't supposed to be a reference to Daisy Buchanan.

A Genre of his Own. New York Times writer A. J. Jacobs suggested in a 2010 review of Winger by Andrew Smith that John Green's books have created a new genre of teen lit: Aspiring John Green, or GreenLit. Qualities of this genre, according to Jacobs, include a "funny, self-aware teenage narrator," sharp dialogue, and heartbreaking twists.