Date of Defense


Date of Graduation




First Advisor

Gwen Tarbox

Second Advisor

Morgan Shiver

Third Advisor

Meghann Meeusen


Midwest, Midwestern literature, adolescent literature, John Green, cars, identity development


The 2017 novel Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, a notable work of contemporary adolescent literature, is often praised for its humanizing depiction of a teenager living with mental illnesses. This thesis further explores the novel’s exploration of adolescence by focusing on the ways in which the young characters’ setting—the American Midwest—impacts their burgeoning identities. Specifically, I examine the development of the protagonist Aza and her best friend Daisy as they relate to and exist around cars. The novel places Aza and Daisy in the car to experience key scenes, reflect on the novel’s central themes, and build essential aspects to their relationships and identities. By giving such relevance to cars, the novel shows that cars are a fundamental factor shaping Midwestern adolescence. Drawing from national and regional symbolic meanings of the car, three key understandings of the car shape Aza and Daisy in the novel. First, the car can be understood as a tool for agency. With the freedom and autonomy that the driver’s seat provides, the Midwestern adolescent experiences the ability to make decisions about their life. Second, the car can be understood as a status symbol. Cars can demonstrate the Midwestern adolescent’s wealth and define their personality in relation to others. Third, the car can be understood as a private space. Constantly surrounded by adults, the Midwestern adolescent can use this portable privacy to develop their relationships with friends. Together, these uses and understandings of the car in Aza and Daisy’s life demonstrate the impact of the car as they develop separately and together in a close female friendship. This thesis accounts for the young women’s differences in identity, such as disability and socioeconomic status, and draws from multiple disciplines to observe the ways that culture, literature, geography, and identity intersect in this novel and beyond.

Access Setting

Honors Thesis-Restricted