July 17, 2018

The Fault in Our Stars vs. Turtles all the Way Down | Book Battles

Welcome to Book Battles, a feature here at Crazy for YA where I put two books in the battle ring and have them fight it out to see which one is better. See all of my previous bloody, literary battles.

Today's fight is a vicious fight, two masterpieces from the same creator, a cult classic vs. the new book on the scene, The Fault in Our Stars vs. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green.

In case you want to catch up with the record of our contestants today, you can find my original book battle between The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska here.

In addition to both being written by the same author, TFIOS and TATWD are extremely similar. They both deal with tragedy, death, and philosophical teenagers. Both novels have a female main character who has to deal with these unfavorable circumstances aided by a love interest. Parents play a large role in both stories, unlike his other novels.

Today, I am going to investigate which of John Green's stories is superior.

The Competitors

The Fault in Our Stars
By John Green

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.
Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green's most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.
Turtles All the Way DownTurtles All the Way Down
Also by John Green

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. 


Turtles All the Way Down: The conflict of the novel revolves around the ridiculous notion that Aza's disgustingly-rich childhood best friend's father is missing and his capture is worth thousands of dollars. Like the true best friend that she is, her primary goal in the story is to find his father and get the money. Yes, there are nuances that complicate the story, but everything is founded on the conflict between having a relationship with her former best millionaire friend and ruining his life for the sake of money. 

The abnormal circumstances of the novel and the constant appearance of absurd wealth made the conflict less relatable to me (minus the realistic interruptions from Daisy). But there is some fun in the absurdity and the removal from everyday life is a breath of fresh air in YA contemporary.

There is also the internal conflict with Aza's OCD but I will address that facet of the novel in a separate section. 

The Fault in Our Stars: The conflict in The Fault in Our Stars is a little more nuanced than the conflict in TATWD. There is less of an end goal in TFIOS, no fight to be won or a reward to earn. Despite all of our hopes, the end goal isn't merely to beat cancer. The end goal in TFIOS isn't a specific action to be reached, but just learning how to live. There is the obvious conflict about two star-crossed lovers who are fated to be ripped apart by cancer, but there is also the conflict between infinity and oblivion. The conflict was more philosophical and psychological compared to the more obvious and somewhat materialistic conflict in TATWD.

Both novels are based on an absurd premise (the reward for the capture of your rich former best friend vs. the new couple that wins a trip to Amsterdam together) that would not happen in real life. TATWD's plot was less nuanced than the more ambiguous conflict in TFIOS. However, both conflicts relied on complex internal conflicts that kept me thinking long after the last page.

The battle for conflict ends with a tie.


Turtles All the Way Down: TATWD features not only one, not only two, but three dead/missing parents. The trope is strong with this one.

My favorite relationship in the book was between Daisy and Aza. Daisy was not just a funny side character, but a partner in a complex relationship that raised important points about friendship, mental illness, and money. Their relationship had ups and downs, actual development, and many moments that made me want to steal Daisy as my own BFF.

There were moments when I rooted for Aza and Davis but 1. his name is too close to her best friend's name for my comfort level and 2. the relationship felt unnatural. I mean, I had a bunch of best friends from elementary school, but if I stumbled upon one today I would turn the other way and run, not make out with him. There just wasn't enough chemistry for me to root for them. Honestly, the romance was expendable to the story. It felt like more of a device to explore Aza's OCD than an actual romance.

The relationship between Aza and her mother is alright, but I would have loved to see more especially with her father out of the picture.

The Fault in Our Stars: From his very first appearance on the page, I loved Augustus Waters. He had all of the charisma that Davis didn't. Also, Hazel and Augustus spent more time together on-page (like in Amsterdam) and were able to develop their romance more fully. 

The presence of Hazel's parents was also a large bonus for TFIOS. They were supportive and funny with personalities that didn't center around the fact that they were dead. TFIOS is one of the few YA books that I can recall off the top of my head with a great parent-child relationship.

The one loss that I will admit to TFIOS is the lack of friendship. Isaac was incredibly funny, but he was used more as comic relief in the periphery than as a proper example of friendship, unlike the complex relationship between Aza and Daisy. 

Romance, parental units, and friendships all play important roles in each story, yet TFIOS offers more well-rounded relationships that don't fall prey to the ever present "dead parent trope" of YA.

TFIOS wins in the battle for the best relationships.

Own Voices

Turtles All the Way Down: One of the main selling points for TATWD for me was the own voices representation of Aza's mental illness. John Green himself deals with OCD in his everyday life and I could see the representation through Aza and her conflicts. I personally do not deal with any mental illness so take my words with a grain of salt, but I enjoyed the emotion and knowledge put into the development of her mental illness. 

I loved the focus on Aza'a therapy sessions and the mention of her medication. There was no sugar-coating her mental illness.

The Fault in Our Stars: To my knowledge, TFIOS is not an own voices story. In fact, I would say that there is very little talk about the actual cancer aspects of Hazel's life, with the main focus just being on her relationships. Unlike TATWD, there is less direct talk about Hazel's cancer and treatments. The little that is mentioned is a fictional medication that does not speak to the real treatment of cancer. 

Turtles All the Way Down wins in representation with the own voices representation of mental illness that didn't minimize Aza's struggles.


Turtles All the Way Down: If there was one weak point of TATWD, it is the ending. The only emotion that I felt while reading the ending was confusion. Without giving anything away, there was a weird change in POV that I was not expecting and I still don't know what the point was. The end did solidify the "message" that mental illness cannot simply be cured by love, but had already gotten that from the rest of the novel. Nice message, but confusing execution that left a bad taste in my mouth after the last words of an otherwise great book. 

The Fault in Our Stars: I cried when reading the end of the book. I also cried while watching the end of the movie. If I were to read the book again, I would cry again. The ending of TFIOS is not a surprise, but it is emotionally devastating. I knew exactly what was going to happen, yet the story managed to decimate my heart. The ending takes all of the amazing characterization, hope, and romance built throughout the story, and beautifully wrecks it. I have never been so impressed that my heart was broken.

I also like that the ending is also fairly ambiguous, with Hazel's future still being up in the air. The treatment for her cancer is nowhere near a certain cure. Even though at its heart TFIOS is a sappy love story, it doesn't end with the cliche happily ever after.

TFIOS wins the better ending that leaves the story open for the reader's imagination after unapologetically ruining their emotional stability.


If you read TFIOS and loved it, then there is a very high chance that you will love TATWD. If you disliked TFIOS, then TATWD is not the book for you. Both novels are distinctly John Green with the foundation of tragedy, absurd circumstances, and philosophical tangents. Both novels also have the beautiful and thought-provoking writing style expected of John Green that I absolutely love.

That being said, I highly recommend both books. The competition is very close with these novels. The conflicts and themes addressed in both novels are more complex and internal than those in other YA contemporaries, which I think is worth reading a little bit of purple prose.

If you were the judge, which of these books would win? Do you agree with my scoring? If not, let's fight! (Or civilly discuss our differences, whatever you prefer). What is your favorite John Green book? Which books should I pit against each other next?

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