A Writer’s Review: Turtles All the Way Down

I finished reading Turtles All the Way Down back in October 2017, but as this week is Mental Health Awareness Week, I felt it was a perfect time to share my thoughts on John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down. In the past, John’s been very open about his OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). And in Turtles, OCD is something the main character Aza suffers from. Mental health is a huge issue, and it can be surprising to see the statistics on how many people struggle with a mental illness. I’m sure a good portion of those that read Turtles don’t struggle with OCD, but there would also be some that do.

Everyone struggles with OCD in different ways. The character Aza has obsessive thoughts about germs which leads to a physical compulsion to dig her fingernail into a callus on her finger. Those thoughts are irrational and yet inescapable, and due to the nature of OCD, she is unable to eliminate those thoughts from her mind. If you’ve every seen a YouTube video by John Green where he talks about mental health or other videos about mental health, they always say talk to someone. Not only does talking to someone provide an outlet for support, but for someone suffering from mental health it can also provide perspective. That’s exactly why my review for Turtles All the Way Down is a positive one, because that’s exactly what this book and other well written novels on mental health do well; provide perspective.

No one case of mental health is the same, even with an identical label like depression, OCD, anxiety, bipolar. Turtles gives a perspective through the eyes of Aza and her struggle with OCD. It allows the reader to experience the feelings going on inside her head. But unlike many novels that centre around mental health, it doesn’t demonise mental illness, nor does it romanticise it. Rather, it’s a tool for those who suffer from a mental illness to realise that others struggle with the same things they do. It gives them hope that they can continue living their life—even through the ups and downs—just as the main character does. It shows people that they’re not owned by their mental illness and there are ways of combatting it. And it also shows they’re able to maintain friendships even in the rough patches they might face. Not only does this book give an example for those who suffer from mental illness, but it’s also an informative tool for those who don’t.

This book gives those who don’t necessarily deal with a mental illness—or at least those who don’t suffer from OCD—an insight into the thoughts of someone who does. And the insight Turtles gives can be adapted to many mental illnesses in a non specific way. It shows that people who have issues with mental health can’t always control certain aspects of their lives, that they don’t choose to have their illness and they don’t want to suffer the way they do. It also shows the guilt they can feel when their illness has an impact on someone else.

I think this is a wonderful book, not only because of its exciting storyline—of chasing after a missing billionaire or links to New Zealand with the reference of a Tuatara—but because of its positive light for mental health. Showing it from a more human perspective rather than a clinical one. I hope to see more novels come out in this subject matter, aside from the fact it’s a subject I like to write about and is something I personally have to deal with, it’s a conversation that needs to be continued. More, and more.
– Michael Topschij.

A Writer’s Review: Challenger Deep

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman was a tremendously written alternative approach to mental health. Neal used a method of portraying our main character’s mental anguish as a somewhat split storyline, that eventually for the reader started to tie together and make sense. It alternated between Caden’s real life and a fictional-fictional journey to Challenger Deep. As I came to the end of the book, I started to have moments of “oh I get it now” and “oh that’s who it is!”

At first, I felt a little hazy. As the characters and events in Caden’s internal storyline started to come into existence, it took some time before I realised this journey on the ship wasn’t real. But once I came to appreciate the voyage to Challenger Deep (and the diverse characters onboard) was related to things in Caden’s life, I began to value the book even more.

Mental health is a tough subject to write, specifically because the feelings related to each and every case are different. No one person ever feels those things identically, and so no one author can depict mental illness in it’s entirety. All they can do is present a perspective of it, and hopefully have an impact on it.

No one author can depict mental illness in it’s entirety.

That, is exactly what Neal Shusterman has done with Challenger Deep. The novel brought to light Caden’s schizophrenia in a unique way that drew me in like never before. I felt Neal’s technique of leaving myself to unravel who the characters were functioned as an excellent tactic to keep me on the edge of my seat while not being left entirely in the dark. As a slow reader, I found myself excited every time I curled myself away to read this book. And when I finished, there was (and still is) a promising desire to explore more from Neal Shusterman.

– Michael Topschij.

A Writer’s Thoughts: Wonderful, Wonderful

While on my three month hiatus in the US of A, my favorite band of all time today have released their new album; Wonderful, Wonderful. Today was also the day that tickets for The Killers went on sale for their concerts back home in New Zealand. Thanks to awesome people on the Reddit forum I got the pre-sale code and was able to buy tickets to all of the concerts, but of course.

I’ve been listening to the album through and through today and wanted to share some opinions. And my opinions will actually include a broader topic than just this wonderful new album from The Killers (I tried to be a comedian there, sorry). In the iTunes editor write up for the album, I noticed a comment about Brandon’s wife dealing with depression. As I listened to “Rut” which was said to be Brandon’s song that addressed the fore mentioned depression, and then listened to songs like “Some Kind Of Love” I really started to put together a theme for this record. A song like “The Man” pokes fun at fame and fortune and shows the shallowness of it, while “Run For Cover” for me shared thoughts about the world and it’s flakey state that it’s in. Heck, that song even made comments on politics and almost to me sounded like there were a couple of stabs at U.S president Donald Trump (“big smile, fake news, run for cover you’ve got nothing left to loose”). I’m probably far off with that one, but the theme I’m more pointing at is that of mental health.

In some alternative way, my favorite band and my favorite author (John Green’s New novel; Turtles All The Way Down) are creating content that is highly influenced by what is becoming a bigger and bigger issue. Heck, it’s recently been brought into the spotlight thanks to the horrific representation by the 13 Reasons Why Netflix series. And even more with other novels like All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven which is on its way to becoming a film. I’ve researched, looked at statistics and read multitudes or articles on this topic. And my thoughts are going to shadow a lot that already exist out there. Is mental health becoming a larger issue, or are we just talking about it more?

– Michael Topschij.

A Writer’s Thoughts: 13 Reasons Why

13 Reasons Why remains to be my favourite novel. It was a book that I connected with on so many levels. And if I hadn’t of been so busy this year, I would have been traveling to meet Jay Asher himself. Unfortunately, my excitement for 13 Reasons Why being released on Netflix, was rather quickly destroyed when I started to view it. It’s an age old saying, the book was better than the movie. I was prepared for that. But that’s almost an understatement in this situation. Netflix has caused an outrage amongst many. News outlets have been posting about how many people are being affected by this on various levels. And this is not referring to a positive impact. But rather, in ways that are causing ones to become very distraught, anxious and low and behold… Depressed.

Quite frankly, the Netflix series is delivering this story in the wrong way. They are presenting the show in an unhealthy manner. It pushes a stereo type of this severe problem that is impacting millions of young adults around the world. They graphically show Hannah Baker’s suicide on screen. The book, does not do this. The Washington Post stated that “the show deviates from the book”, and that is most definitely true. An actor in the show stated that making audiences “past uncomfortable was a very deliberate decision.” They thought this would “show the ugliness and not use these events and issues as plot devices or romanticize them.” But instead they are causing the world to mock mental health and make people view suicide attempts and depression as ways to seek attention.

In my opinion. You don’t need to show a suicide attempt on screen. It’s freaking obvious what’s going to happen. And can have even more of an impact by getting people to think about it, rather than see it. Instead, this only causes problems and distress. And it does NOT help the cause of raising awareness for this issue.

– Michael Topschij.