Fighting the stigma of mental illness


   Turtles All the Way Down, John Green’s first book release since the blockbuster bestseller The Fault in Our Stars, was released on October 10, 2017, nearly six years after his first success. Even though the book’s release hasn’t even transpired its one month anniversary, critical acclaim has already come pouring in for the author and his quirky young adult fiction novel. Positive reviews from the New York Times,, and the Guardian have only added to the surge of approval currently surrounding Green’s work as a whole.

   In his latest addition to an already plentiful and diverse array of novels, John Green bravely journeys into the realm of discussing mental health disorders and the harmful effects it has on its victims, teenagers in particular. Obsessive compulsive disorder, shortened as OCD, is the specific mental illness that Green valiantly attempts to cipher to an audience generally unfamiliar with mental health problems as a whole. Green himself, who has fought a lifelong struggle with the disorder, wanted to shed light on an issue that is commonly discredited as insignificant and not worthy of genuine acknowledgement. After the deluge of success the followed the release of The Fault in Our Stars in 2012, Green suffered from a severe relapse in his own mental health due to the high levels of pressure and expectation pertaining to the release of his next novel. After over a year in mental health treatment facilities during 2015, Green was finally deemed mentally fit to carry on his prior lifestyle, although the effects of his relapse are said to still take a substantial effect on his daily life.

Green has admitted that due to the stress levels that came with The Fault in Our Stars’ success, the pressure of writing another bestseller became too much to bear. In order to gain artistic inspiration, Green abruptly began to stop taking the medication necessary to keep his OCD and anxiety symptoms at bay, which ultimately contributed to his mental health collapse in 2015.

Shortly after his release, Green began his work on Turtles All the Way Down, with newfound inspiration for discussion of mental health disorders affecting teens all over the world.

   The novel centers around Aza Holmes, a mentally troubled 16 year old girl living in Indianapolis, Indiana who first introduces herself as her best friend Daisy’s “sidekick.” Green’s foreshadowing attempt is blatant. Nevertheless, a novel that begins with the insidious paranoia of an Orwellian dystopia when discussing the crude world microbacterial colonization and gut twisting diseases such as C Diff, quickly developes into a quirky teenage psuedo-romance blanketed with heavy existential ruminations and a half hearted attempt and a murder mystery that is quickly shelved for Green’s central interest, mental health disorders. Yes, that was a mouthful.

   But, with Green’s mastery of prose, the heavy load of precocious and sometimes overbearing dialogues and subject ponderings are skillfully tranquilized with the simple likeability of the central characters. Aza and Daisy journey through a world of loss, lack of control, and hormonal confusion as they befriend Davis Pickett, the recently orphaned son of an Indianapolis billionaire, who lost his mother when he was young and his father due to litigation pursuing his shady business practices. In the search for his whereabouts, Aza and Daisy initially pursue a $100,000 reward set by Pickett’s company, but end up discovering the bountiful rewards of teenage consolidation and acceptance.

   Quirky first dates, Star Wars FanFiction, references to Rene Descartes and James Joyce, and the potency of hand sanitizer are all topics that both pepper and sooth the poetic flow of Green’s novel. In the end, while the initial story line of high risk, high reward mystery solving may give Turtles All the Way Down the label of a “teenage Grisham novel”, Green uses the ever so reliable diversions of teenage love interests and mental health limitations as dutiful tools to bring the wafty storyline down to Earth, landing right smack dab in the middle of Aza’s psychological thought processes. With fears of being “fictional” and losing complete control to external forces such as bacteria and ominous novelists, Aza gives a fresh perspective on the gripping and persistent trials of mental health disorders.

   Turtles All the Way Down, never failing to exceed the expectations of heartbreak and heavy emotional weight, should not be written off as simply another teenage ballad of angst and misrepresentation. Instead, the subject matter discussed regarding mental health in the United States and abroad is eye opening and vital to the current level of misunderstanding of mental health and abroad. Green gives the story of both his and millions of others’ daily struggle through the eyes and thoughts of Aza, a character intentionally left as vanilla and commonplace in order to increase her relatability.

   Much like Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man”, Aza is both a character and device used for the education and validation of the mental health crisis affecting teens today. This novel shouldn’t be ignored for the uncomfortable subject line, but rather serve as a universal window into the trials and tribulations of various mental disorders with which millions of people cope. Whether these disorders affect you or not, Green’s both sympathetic and inclusive approach to illustrating the symptoms of bad mental allow for an easy and sometimes light hearted explanation of the struggles affecting millions worldwide.