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The Blue & Gray Press | August 21, 2019

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John Green novel conveys complexities of mental illness

John Green novel conveys complexities of mental illness


Staff Writer

On Oct. 11, George Washington University’s bookstore and coffee house, “Politics and Prose,” hosted author John Green’s second stop on his book tour. He was promoting his new book “Turtles All the Way Down,” which had just been released the day before.

Green is best known for his novels “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Paper Towns,” which were made into major motion pictures. He is notorious for basing his plots around young adult romance, but this time he decided to focus on mental illness with just a little romance.

Green began the talk by giving some background information on the book’s plot and reading a section where the main character, Aza, is repeatedly worrying about, cleaning and opening a self-inflicted wound. No matter how much she tries to resist the urge of partaking in this cycle, she cannot break free.

“We project our biases and expectations and experiences and so on, on to everyone and everything else because we are stuck with just this one consciousness,” said Green. When listening to this passage the audience began shifting uncomfortably in their seats.

It has been five years since he released his last book, the longest he has gone since he released his first novel in 2006, and says this is because it took that long to for him to be able to portray his message in the book. Green himself suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), anxiety and depression. He wanted to write this book in order to show what it is like to be coping with these disorders.

“My kids are my kids, my parents are my parents but in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Scout isn’t my anything;” said Green. “Instead I’m asked to live inside of her consciousness to see the world as she sees it… I think every novel was a way out of your life and into others and [with] “Turtles All the Way Down,” I wanted to give people a look at what it’s like to be stuck with a mind that doesn’t always feel yours.”

Although this book has nothing to do with turtles as the title may suggest, it is a metaphor originating from an old folk tale. There once was a teacher explaining that the world was round and not flat, a student countered his explanation with her own theory that the world was indeed flat and it lays on the back of a turtle. When the teacher questioned what that turtle was on top of she explained that it was just turtles all the way down. Green explained that whenever he is feeling at his worst he is constantly looking for the turtle at the bottom; an escape.

Green spoke of how hard it is to be a functioning human being when he becomes frustrated with himself and how today’s society romanticizes mental illness. Because of artists and authors like Vincent van Gogh and Virginia Woolf, we correlate having mental disorders with abilities to create masterpieces naturally. However, Green aims to break this idea because, as he says, only when he can gain control of his mind is he able to function enough to read and write.

“I do think stories can help us to empathize but I don’t they can ever tell us precisely what someone else’s life is like and that’s why we mustn’t think that reading a book or even many books makes us qualified to speak over other people or on behalf of them,” said Green.

His goal is to humanize those with mental disorders so people can understand that it’s not a conscious decision and many are aware of their actions but can’t always control them. “I understand that I too am real,” continued Green. “…That I may not always control my thoughts but I am none the less a real creature, a singular noun, capable of loving and being loved, not just capable of love, in fact, but also worthy