Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for Turtles All the Way Down and Speak Easy, Speak Love

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for Turtles All the Way Down and Speak Easy, Speak LoveTurtles All the Way Down by John Green
Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers on October 10th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Purchased


#1 bestselling author John Green returns with his first new novel since The Fault in Our Stars!

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.


While not my favorite John Green book, Turtles All the Way Down was still a moving read for me.  I loved the main character Aza, who is smart, funny, and sometimes extremely quiet.  She’s quiet because she is living with OCD, which often occupies her thoughts and keeps her locked inside of her own head.  John Green does an incredible job of showing what OCD is like from inside the mind of someone who is actually experiencing it.  It’s raw and honest and sometimes quite painful to read.  If you think you know what OCD is like from either something you’ve read or maybe from someone you’ve watched going through it, you only know part of it.  Seeing from Aza’s perspective that ever-tightening spiral that kept her locked inside of her own mind was so enlightening.  Turtles All the Way Down is also an #ownvoices novel, so many thanks to John Green for sharing his own experiences with us.

In addition to the way it provides a greater understanding of OCD, I also liked the book’s focus on friendship.  While I wasn’t big on the part of the story where Aza and her best friend, Daisy, decide they want to play amateur detective and investigate the father of Aza’s friend, Davis, I was very big on their friendship.  Aza and Daisy have a wonderful relationship that is built on honesty, even if that honesty is sometimes a little brutal. I liked the idea that Aza ultimately knew she had someone in her corner no matter how tough things got.

What else? Oh, a really sweet romance develops between Aza and Davis.  I liked Davis a lot and thought he and Aza had wonderful chemistry.  More importantly, I didn’t feel like their romance took away anything from the rest of the story and I liked that romance was not a cure for OCD.

The only thing I really didn’t like was a distracting and seemingly random subplot about an ancient lizard called a tuatara that Davis’ father kept as a pet.  Maybe there was a deeper meaning there that I missed, but for me, the lizard was just in the way.  Still a moving and entertaining read overall.  3.5 STARS


Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for Turtles All the Way Down and Speak Easy, Speak LoveSpeak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George
Published by Greenwillow Books on September 19th 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction, Retelling
Pages: 432
Source: Purchased


Six teenagers’ lives intertwine during one thrilling summer full of romantic misunderstandings and dangerous deals in this sparkling retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

After she gets kicked out of boarding school, seventeen-year-old Beatrice goes to her uncle’s estate on Long Island. But Hey Nonny Nonny is more than just a rundown old mansion. Beatrice’s cousin, Hero, runs a struggling speakeasy out of the basement—one that might not survive the summer.

Along with Prince, a poor young man determined to prove his worth; his brother, John, a dark and dangerous agent of the local mob; Benedick, a handsome trust-fund kid trying to become a writer; and Maggie, a beautiful and talented singer; Beatrice and Hero throw all their efforts into planning a massive party to save the speakeasy. Despite all their worries, the summer is beautiful, love is in the air, and Beatrice and Benedick are caught up in a romantic battle of wits that their friends might be quietly orchestrating in the background.

Hilariously clever and utterly charming, McKelle George’s debut novel is full of intrigue and 1920s charm. For fans of Jenny Han, Stephanie Perkins, and Anna Godbersen.


Speak Easy, Speak Love was just such a delightful read for me.  It’s a retelling of one of my favorite Shakespearean plays, Much Ado About Nothing, and author McKelle George manages to capture all of the magic of the original play, while simultaneously crafting a fresh new story.  If you’ve read the original play, you’ll be particularly delighted to know that not only does she have her own Benedick and Beatrice, but their verbal sparring without a doubt rivals that of their Shakespearean counterparts.  I found myself laughing out loud numerous times, which is always refreshing.

Aside from bringing to life new versions of my favorite characters, George also chooses a fabulous setting for her retelling, New York in the 1920s.  The 1920s is such a rich and vibrant part of American history and I loved how George was able to incorporate so many important aspects of that time period.  She seamlessly weaves in Prohibition and speakeasies, the Mob, the Jazz Age, and with Benedick in particular who wants to be a writer, she also touches on the rise of great American authors like Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

I can’t recommend Speak Easy, Speak Love highly enough.  There are lots of great shoutouts to Much Ado About Nothing sprinkled throughout the novel too, so before you read the book, I’d definitely also recommend reading the play or, even better, watch the 1993 film version where Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson play Benedick and Beatrice.  So much fun!  4.5 STARS


About John Green

John Green is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, and The Fault in Our Stars. He is also the coauthor, with David Levithan, of Will Grayson, Will Grayson. He was the 2006 recipient of the Michael L. Printz Award, a 2009 Edgar Award winner, and has twice been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Green’s books have been published in more than 55 languages and over 24 million copies are in print. John is also an active Twitter user with more than 5 million followers.

About McKelle George

McKelle George is a reader, writer of clumsy rebels, perpetual doodler, and associate librarian at the best library in the world. She mentors with Salt Lake Teen Writes and plays judge for the Poetry Out Loud teen competitions (but has no poetic talent herself). Her debut young adult novel Speak Easy, Speak Love comes out from Greenwillow/HarperCollins in 2017, and she currently lives in Salt Lake City with an enormous white german shepherd and way, way too many books.

31 replies
  1. Diana
    Diana says:

    Great reviews. Both books sound great. I have a copy of Turtles All the Way Down and I can’t wait to read it. I am intrigued by the portrayal of OCD that you mentioned. I don’t think I know much about the conditions so I am glad to hear that the book is informative.

  2. Anna @ The Bibliotaph
    Anna @ The Bibliotaph says:

    Hmm I’ve been debating whether or not to read Turtles All the Way Down and your review helped me decide that it’s not something I need to do immediately, but probably should get around to sometime. Thanks for your honesty:)

    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      Yeah, the OCD rep was great and I’d totally recommend it for that alone, but John Green books usually have me in tears at some point and this one just didn’t.

  3. sjhigbee
    sjhigbee says:

    Ooo… I love the sound of Speak Easy, Speak Love – it sounds right up my street as I like the fact it is a Shakespeare retelling:). Thank you for the heads up regarding this one.

    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      It was a fun read for me and it made me immediately go out dig out my DVD of the Much Ado About Nothing, just to relive the original all over again.

  4. Greg Hill
    Greg Hill says:

    I think this has convinced me to read Turtles All The Way Down. the OCD rep and #ownvoices is kinda cool, nice to see that explored, plus the friendship sounds well done too. This will be my first John Green, and I’ve heard mixed things, but I don’t know this sounds like a good place to start w/ his stuff.

    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      Yes, I was very pleased with how the OCD rep was handled and would highly recommend the book for that alone. And it’s probably just me that didn’t like the various subplots. I’ve not seen many other complaints about those. If you try it, I hope you enjoy it!

  5. Lauren Becker
    Lauren Becker says:

    I’m glad you mostly enjoyed Turtles. I hope that read that soon – finally. haha I also really want to read Speak Easy, Speak Love. Much Ado About Nothing is my favorite Shakespeare comedy.


    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      Thanks! I do longer reviews for new releases but have decided for time savings reasons to write less for older books unless I feel like I really have a lot to say.

  6. Verushka
    Verushka says:

    Turtles has been commended over and over for its representation of OCD, which no matter what people think, of the book I mean, they do note that. Much Ado about Nothing is one of my fave plays too! I love the setting here — LOVE!

  7. AngelErin
    AngelErin says:

    Both of these sound so good!! I’d really like to try Turtles All The Way Down, but John Green is very hit or miss for me it seems. 😛 If I get too curious probably borrowing from the library would be best. Great reviews!

  8. bookworm
    bookworm says:

    I like John Green, I feel like he tackles tough topics with grace. Speak Easy, Speak Love sounds like a good one too, that setting especially. Great post!

  9. Literary Feline
    Literary Feline says:

    I haven’t made up my mind if I want to read Turtles All the Way Down. I’ve enjoyed John Green’s books before, but I do not often read contemporary YA. The OCD aspect does tempt me though, so maybe.

    I am not familiar with Speak Easy Speak Love, but it does sound good. I tend to take Shakespeare better in the re-tellings than I do the original work. Haha.

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