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Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Read time- 8 hrs 



 (R) Recommended (High School Audience)
(C) Content- Profane/vulgar language, sexual references

National Alliance for Mental Health Hotlines
Call the NAMI Helpline 800-950-NAMI (6264)
M-F, 10 AM - 6 PM ET

Did They Really Read the Book?

Parents don't actually cover down on their high schooler's book reports, right?! ..Because it would strip the student of the opportunity to demonstrate responsibility, positive work ethics, and accountability for self...right?!

So, in lieu of the formal bullet point summary, here are the main threads:

  • This book captures the struggles of a smart, young woman named Aza, who suffers from a serious mental illness. It chronicles the various ways in which her illness ruthlessly consumes her and prevents her from maintaining meaningful relationships with those around her.
    • Aza is pre-occupied with  the though of contracting C. diff bacteria and has since the age of 11, habitually dug her fingernail in the pad of an adjacent finger to split open a callused wound to check for infection, it begins to heal, then she splits it back open fearing early stages of lethal infection.
    • Later she kisses Davis, and is wrecked with the though of his germs changing the composition of her microbiome- she develops a habit of drinking hand sanitizer to kill the germs
    • A car accident lacerates her liver and while in the hospital where C. diff is thought to be most prolific, she is caught by her mother cupping mouthful of foam sanitizer.
  • The story takes place in Indianapolis
    • According to the book, Indianapolis was founded on the banks of the White River for the access the waterway would facilitate for trading (except that the White River is almost too shallow for kayak)
  • Aza and her best friend Daisy devise a plan to find a local Billionaire who went missing on the eve of a legal indictment against his company
    •  $100k reward offered
    • Aza was previously friends with the Billionaire's son (Davis) and initially rekindles their friendship to find new clues
      • Aza and Davis develop feelings for one another and because Davis is used to the false pretenses of most relationships, he gifts Aza $100K to determine her motives for being with him
      • She splits it with Daisy 50/50 and continues to grow closer to Davis
  • Davis and his 13 y/o brother, Noah, have grounds keepers and service providers to care for them
  • For as long as Davis' Dad isn't found dead, his assets continue to support his kids, but upon his death everything is left to his pet Tuatara 
    • a distinct species with lineage traced back to the dinosaurs- It lives for 150 years and (in the book) is thought to hold the secret of aging in its DNA.
  • Daisy and Aza piece together clues that locate Davis' Dad (dead and decaying) in the unfinished tunnel project he was commissioned to build-Aza tells Davis, who anonymously tips the police towards the ultimate discovery.

[VOCAB (Oxford)]

pedantic (adjective -having the characteristics of a person who is excessively concerned with minor details and rules or with displaying academic learning.

suffuse (verb) -gradually spread through or over

Other Notes

Mental Health Resources

The National Alliance for Mental Illness provide a list of resources for anyone who needs help or wants to offer help.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Call 800-273-TALK (8255)
    • If you or someone you know is in crisis—whether they are considering suicide or not—please call the toll-free Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with a trained crisis counselor 24/7 who will help identify options and information about mental health services in your area. Your call is confidential and free.
  • Crisis Text Line – Text NAMI to 741-741
    • Connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message.
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline – Call 800-799-SAFE (7233)
    • Trained expert advocates are available 24/7 to provide confidential support to anyone experiencing domestic violence or seeking resources and information. Help is available in Spanish and other languages.
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline – Call 800-656-HOPE (4673)
    • Connect with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area that offers access to a range of free services. Crisis chat support is available at Online Hotline. Free help, 24/7.

Language/Sexual References

I could have easily been standing in line to buy a movie ticket or walking down the isle of my favorite late-night shopping retreat and heard the same quality conversation between two people... Turtles All the Way Down has a great deal of profanity- and for a high school audience, the language choice gives a natural authenticity to the story; it sounds real... and when you're riding along-side Aza as she's spiraling out of control, it feels real too.

Daisy receives unsolicited "dick pics" and discusses with Aza her desire to lose her virginity
Three major take-away's for me (...the unabashed parent)
Given the context, it would be a missed parental opportunity in my house, not to talk about the following:
  1. safe sex
  2. sexual harassment
  3. child exploitation 
    1. sharing intimate pictures
    2.  how those pictures circulate
    3. implications in adulthood of choices made as teen


Equally as prevalent too, were really good one-liners and  quotes...
"...with science, you don't get answers, you just get better questions..." 
This was my favorite, alluding to the inability to describe something because there existed no word to label it.
“... English, which can express the thoughts of Hamlet and the tragedy of Lear, has no words for the shiver and the headache...” - Virginia Woolf

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