Discussion Questions for Turtles All The Way Down by John Green
1. What does Aza mean when she says, “You think you’re the painter, but you’re the canvas” (2)? Do you ever feel that way? How much control do you feel you have over the narrative of your life?
2. Aza states, “it’s kind of terrifying to me that what I think of as, like, my quote unquote self isn’t really under my control?” (105). Can you remember a time when you felt like you were not in control of your own self? How did you respond and what emotions came up for you?
3. Aza identifies that she can’t lose her mind, stating “it’s inescapable” (240). What do the other characters faceas “inescapable” in the novel?” What feels inescapable in your life?
4. Aza is told that she gives her thoughts too much power. Her therapist, Dr. Singh, insists, “You do belong toyourself, even when your thoughts don’t” (166). Why is this advice difficult for Aza? How important are yourthoughts in shaping who you are?
5. Dr. Singh states “pain is the opposite of language. We’re such language-based creatures that to some extent we cannot know what we cannot name. And so we assume it isn’t real” (89). The therapist continues by ex- plaining that catch-all phrases like crazy or chronic pain are poor linguistic attempts that minimize the reality others face. Do you need to name something in order to know or understand it? How have labels been helpful or harmful to you?
6. Daisy states, “You pick your endings, and your beginnings. You get to pick the frame, you know? Maybe you don’t choose what’s in the picture, but you decide on the frame” (277). Do you agree? Why or why not?
7. Aza states that often, nothing could deliver her from fear, but that Daisy helped straighten something inside her so she wasn’t walking on the “ever-tightening spiral” (66). What role do others have in pulling us outside of ourselves and into the present? Where, who, or what do you turn to when you seek to feel grounded?
8. Aza identifies one common myth about mental illness when she states, “Madness, in my admittedly limitedexperience, is accompanied by no superpowers; being mentally unwell doesn’t make you loftily intelligent anymore than having the flu does” (133). What are some other myths you have heard or observed regarding men- tal illness? Did this book challenge or change your perceptions of mental illness? If so, how?
9. After seeing Aza spiral, Daisy utters aloud, “I wish I understood it… Like, does it help to be reassuring or is itbetter to worry with you? Is there anything that makes it better?” (131). Aza never replies. What does it look like to be a friend to someone who cannot express what they need or find a language for their pain? Whenyou’re the one in indescribable pain, what do you need most?
10. When Aza tells Davis that she has thought spirals she cannot get out of, she also tells him that it doesn’t get better. She states “I’m not gonna un-have this is what I mean” (155). How does Aza process the grief of an illness that will not go away? Is there anything in your life that have come to realize you will not “get over” or “un-have?” How have you learned to live with the things you carry?
11. “Turtles All the Way Down” is a reference to a theory of the universe. Daisy and Aza interpret the theory indifferent ways on page 245. Who do you think is right? How do you interpret the theory?
12. “Love is not a tragedy or a failure, but a gift.” (285) How is love defined and explored in the novel? What role does love play in the making and remaking our own selves? What loves have defined you?
Discussion Questions written by Stacie Burley.
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Don’t miss author John Green on the Everything Happens podcast, available wherever you listen to podcasts.