logo 12min

Start growing!

Boost your life and career with the best book summaries.

Start growing!

Boost your life and career with the best book summaries.

logo 12min

Turtles All the Way Down Summary

10 min read ⌚ 

Turtles All the Way Down Summary

About two years ago, on September 20, 2016, in a video on his (and his brother Hank’s) YouTube channel VlogBrothers, John Green said something millions of people around the world didn’t want to hear:

“I don’t know if I’ll ever publish another book. And even if I do, I don’t know whether people will like it.”

It was, apparently, The Fault in Our Stars’ fault, which had turned Green from a Person Who Writes Books into a Person Who Wrote That One (Highly Successful) Book.

Fortunately, on October 10, 2017, “Turtles All the Way Down” was published.

And people liked it.

And there’s going to be a movie.

So – what are you waiting for?

Who Should Read “Turtles All the Way Down”? And Why?

Needless to say, “Turtles All the Way Down” will be a treat for all John Green fans out there.

People who enjoy watching “Monk” or suffer from OCD will probably enjoy reading the book as well; for one, they will have no problem identifying with the book’s narrator.

But as “The New York Times” said in a lovely review, “one needn’t be suffering like Aza to identify with it. One need only be human.”

John Green Biography

John GreenJohn Green is a bestselling American writer, the author of five hugely successful novels.

His debut novel, “Looking for Alaska” won the Printz Award in 2006, the year his second novel, “An Abundance of Katherines” came out.

“Paper Towns” was published in 2008 and adapted into a Cara Delevingne-starring film adaptation seven years later.

In 2012, Green published his most successful novel so far, “The Fault in Our Stars.” The movie came out two years later and was even more successful, earning more than $300 million against a budget thirty times smaller.

John Green is also a famous vlogger.

And – this is relevant – he takes medications for his OCD.


If you ever want to start writing a book, here’s a great way to start it:

At the time I first realized I might be fictional, my weekdays were spent at a publicly funded institution on the north side of Indianapolis called White River High School, where I was required to eat lunch at a particular time – between 12:37 P.M. and 1:14 P.M. – by forces so much larger than myself that I couldn’t even begin to identify them.

These words, uttered by sixteen-year-old Aza Holmes, instantly reveal to us that the narrator of “Turtles All the Way Down” is a bit of an OCD type of person (not to mention fictional).

Soon enough, we realize that she’s OCD all the way: sitting in the school cafeteria, it seems that all she thinks about is how the food she eats is then eaten by the bacteria inside her.

Because, after all – no need reminding us, Aza! – the human body is made up of about fifty percent bacteria. And, as far as she is concerned, some of these ugly little creatures will most probably kill her. Sooner or later.

Her strange defense mechanism?

Repeatedly opening a callus on her finger, draining out what she thinks are pathogens, and bandaging the spot once again.

Yeah, like that could ever work!

But, then again, someone who has to eat lunch at 12:37 P.M. afraid, on a daily basis, of getting a deadly Clostridium difficile (C-dif) infection – may not be able to think that straight.

And Aza doesn’t.

At the moment, she is so deep into her own thoughts that she has troubles following the quite exciting discussion her best friend Daisy has with another friend, an art student named Mychal.

Apparently, Russell Pickett, a construction magnate and a billionaire, has disappeared in the wake of bribery and fraud investigations. And his company, Pickett Engineering, is offering a $100,000 reward to anyone with any information regarding Russell’s disappearance.

Daisy reminds Aza that the missing person is actually the father of Davis Pickett, an old friend of hers; this brings in Aza’s mind a memory of her looking at the sky with Davis at a camp about five years ago; but, then again, the sentence in which she relives the memory is just too beautiful; so, we’ll leave it for later.

Anyway, before you can say “but, wait a minute – it can be dangerous” – adventure is on the way!

Daisy and Aza canoe across the White River and at sneak onto the Pickett residence. There, Aza downloads a photograph of Mr. Pickett from a motion-activated camera, but very soon the girls are caught by the security guard.

Aza and Daisy tell him that their canoe has holes in it and that they know Davis; so as to check their story, the security guard takes them to him. Fortunately for them, Davis does remember Aza and, after a brief chat, he takes the girls home.

Back there, Daisy shows Aza an article which says that the Pickett estate should be inherited by Tua in case Mr. Pickett dies.

Strangely enough, Tua is not the name of a brother or a relative of Davis, but the name of Mr. Pickett’s tuatara. And no – that’s not some Spanish word for “girlfriend,” but the Maori designation for a very interesting type of a reptile.

A reptile!

Some weird guy that Mr. Pickett, isn’t he?

One can hardly blame Aza and Daisy for continuing their investigation the day after – despite the scare from the previous evening. Especially after realizing – via some sketchy work by Daisy – that the police know less than them!

But, then again, the police always know less than at least somebody, right?

And they are not exactly flawless.

Anyway, Aza insists that, before they do anything else, she updates Davis with the missing info first (the photograph from the security camera) and the two start texting that evening.

The next day… well, the next day it’s time for a double date: Daisy has apparently made some arrangements with Mychal, but their date will go through only on the premise that Aza is to be there with Davis as well.

So, naturally, Aza invites Davis.

And, expectedly, he agrees to come.

Aza’s mom, however, is not that thrilled when she finds out who her date is, warning Aza on date night that wealthy people are often somewhat inconsiderate and insensitive. If you’ve ever been – or even seen – a teenager, you already know how this one ends: Aza snubs her mom and heads off to Applebee’s.

The discussion there is mostly about Daisy’s “Star Wars” fanfiction stories – Chewbacca’s love life… really? – and maybe even about some other things; however, our narrator is too disinterested and defocused to hear them, so we don’t hear them as well.

Be that as it may, after they finish their meals, the four agree to go to the Pickett mansion to watch a movie.

Obviously, we’re not talking about watching it on a laptop or even a big-size TV; nope – the Picketts have their own home cinema.

But before they go there – and while Mychal and Daisy are busy browsing through the invaluable art in the house – Aza and Davis go outside and take a stroll on the golf course.

Too romantic opportunity (remember camp, five years ago?) for Davis not to take Aza by her hand and for Aza to not open up about her anxieties and fears – as well as about her never-fully-healed wound on her finger.

Aza tells Davis that she is continually falling into a spiral. “The thing about a spiral is,” she informs us at the beginning of the book, “if you follow it inward, it never actually ends. It just keeps tightening, infinitely.” The catch: “Spirals grow infinitely small the farther you follow them inward, but they also grow infinitely large the farther you follow them out.”

Somehow, the cheerlessness of the discussions leads to a mentioning of Davis’ father.

Insisting that he cannot trust Daisy and Aza to keep quiet about their investigation. Davis gives her $100,000 – which he pulls out of cereal boxes!

(A quick question: why is there absolutely nothing of that sort in any of my cereal boxes, John Green?)

With the hush money in her pocket – it is literally that – Aza runs back to the house where – surprise, surprise! – Daisy and Mychal are kissing. Soon the girls leave – but not before being offered – and getting – the notes from Russell Pickett’s phone by Noah, Davis’ little brother.

Next morning, at Applebee’s, Aza goes through the notes and notices a strange phrase among these notes: “the jogger’s mouth.” Daisy arrives, and Aza gives her her share of the money.

Since it’s quite a lot of money, Daisy nearly starts crying and immediately goes on a daydream-tour of her future: she is finally able to quit working at Chuck E. Cheese’s and go to the college she wants.

Fast forward a few days, and you can see Daisy parking her new VW Beetle in the school’s parking lot; and at her house with Aza, just after the classes, she proudly pulls out her new laptop.

Aza – channeling her mother – scolds Daisy for being inconsiderate with her money; but Daisy replies that Aza knows nothing about what it means to be poor.

Speaking of someone who knows even less –

That very same night, Davis picks Aza up and takes her to dinner and then outside so that they can watch that evening’s meteor shower. It’s cloudy and it’s difficult to see anything.

But, just like when they were 11 years old doing the exact same thing, it matters not the least to either of them.

And that’s our cue for a sentence from the first chapter we promised you earlier:

We never really talked much or even looked at each other, but it didn’t matter because we were looking at the same sky together, which is maybe even more intimate than eye contact anyway. I mean, anybody can look at you. It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see.

Before too long, Davis opens up to Aza: apparently, don’t you know it – he’s a poet! And since poets are what girls usually dream about since the dawn of times – well, not exactly – Aza kisses him on the lips.

If you know someone with an OCD (or have ever watched an episode of “Monk”), you are probably aware of what follows next:

Aza immediately realizes that she has enough bacteria in her own body even without taking in some more, so she nervously interrupts the kiss.

(Fun fact: she has 80 million new bacteria)!

Time for a therapy session with Dr. Singh.

You’d think that he would be able to help, but, a few days later, the same thing happens all over again. Aza and Davis go to the movies (or in their case, Davis’ house) to watch “Jupiter Ascending” and, possibly disinterested (who can blame them?), they start kissing once again.

Once again, Aza breaks off the kiss and rushes off to the bathroom to clean herself from the kiss. And, naturally, she ends up drinking hand sanitizer.

Wait a second!

That’s not natural at all…

Well, this book is getting darker and darker by the page.

Aa is evident by now, if Aza and Davis go on dating they’ll have to find a way to date without holding hands, hugging, kissing and stuff.

The solution writes itself: FaceTime; aka – they use Macs.

In the meantime, Aza discovers two things: 1) that Davis has a secret blog; and 2) that Daisy holds a secret grudge with her… or, about a million of them.

How does she find out about the latter?

Well, one night, she decides to spend some time reading Daisy’s fan fiction. One of the characters, Ayala, is especially horrible: anxious, panicky, exhausting, spoiled, ruing everything for everybody… You know, just like… her?

That’s right: Daisy’s “Star Wars” fanfiction is actually a vent for her frustrations with Aza!

As a result, their friendship briefly deteriorates, leading up to a car accident during a heated argument between the two while Aza is driving.

Aza wakes up in the hospital, overhearing that her liver is lacerated and worrying that she’ll get C-dif infection anytime now.

The solution is in the bathroom: hand sanitizer!

Fortunately, Aza’s mom sees her.

And Aza, for the first time in her life, realizes that she is her own worst nightmare.

Turtles All the Way Down Epilogue

“The problem with happy endings,” notes John Green through Aza at one place in “Turtles All the Way Down,” “is that they’re either not really happy, or not really endings, you know? In real life, some things get better and some things get worse. And then eventually you die.”

Bleak. So bleak.

But a nice way to unravel the epilogue of this novel’s plot.

Not accepting any visitors, Aza spends two weeks in the hospital and returns to school in December. There, she comes across Daisy, and, catches up with everything happening in her absence.

One of these things is Mychal’s photographic work Prisoner 101 being accepted to an art show happening in an unfinished part of the Indianapolis sewer system.

So, Daisy and Aza go there the next day and, when Aza starts feeling anxious, the two take a walk and begin exploring the drainage tunnel system off of Pogue’s Run (built by Pickett’s company).

Soon enough, they realize that they are in “the jogger’s mouth”! The stench reveals one more thing: there’s probably a dead body near them.

So, the next day Aza tells Davis of her and Daisy’s discovery. Davis cries – and that’s the last time the two see each other in quite some time.

It is a few months later that Aza hears that the police have discovered Russell Pickett’s body. She texts Davis and some time later he knocks on her door.

He gives her a gift: a painting by Raymond Pettibon.

This painting:

Turtles All the Way Down picture

Then, he tells her that he’s moving to Colorado with Noah.

And then the twist: Aza tells us that the novel we’ve been reading all this time is, in fact, a product of her third mental breakdown, which has happened many years after the above-described events.

Apparently, Aza is now married with children.

And writing helps her feel healthier and more stable.

OK, somewhat less bleak.

But still bleak, nevertheless.

Like this summary? We’d like to invite you to download our free 12 min app for more amazing summaries and audiobooks.

“Turtles All the Way Down Summary Quotes”

Your now is not your forever. Click To Tweet True terror isn’t being scared; it’s not having a choice on the matter. Click To Tweet The worst part of being truly alone is you think about all the times you wished that everyone would just leave you be. Then they do, and you are left being, and you turn out to be terrible company. Click To Tweet I was beginning to learn that your life is a story told about you, not one that you tell. Click To Tweet You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person and why. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

“Turtles All the Way Down” (just like all other books by Green) is beautiful and moving, intriguing and humane.

In the words of Guardian’s Matt Haig: “It might just be a new modern classic.”

logo 12min

Improve Your Reading Habits in 28 days

Explore key insights and ideas from 2500+ titles in audio and text

logo 12min

Improve Your Reading Habits in 28 days

Explore key insights and ideas from 2500+ titles in audio and text

Scroll to Top