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 Review: Playlist For The Dead

When I first read the synopsis for Michelle Falkoff’s Playlist For The Dead, I for a moment thought that it had some striking similarities to Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why. Thankfully it wasn’t too similar. The story was unique even with its reminders of the girl who doesn’t want to fit in any more, like in Jennifer Niven’s All The Bright Places. And how she starts to become the shoulder to lean on for the boy who’s struggling. This book deals with suicide because of bullying, which does indeed to some degree catch some similarities with 13 reasons. But at the same time there wasn’t any connection with sexual abuse and whilst yes, this is a story about mental health, it’s portraying it in another light.

One thing that I struggled with to some degree while reading this book, was keeping track of who’s who. There were quite a few characters with usual names, like Jack, Jake, Jason etc… The introductions to some characters that we saw quite often like Sam’s sister were rather brief, however much we continued to see her pop up during the story. With that said, I don’t think that’s a drawback. It may just be my inability to concentrate that could be getting in the way. As always, the reason I review this book with satisfaction is because of its ability to draw me into the story. I noticed myself smiling at moments of joy, and concentrating deeply for moments of conflict. All in all, it was a book that I enjoyed to the end and was happy being able to keep turning page after page.

– Michael Topschij.

A Writer’s Review: Extraordinary Means

Well, I was not expecting it to have all of the emotions of John Green’s; The Fault In Our Stars, but that was exactly what started to happen as I got closer to the end. This would be the third book i’ve read about cancer. Well, actually, it’s not about cancer, it’s about TB. But this story was about Lane and Sadie. Two young teens who have both ended up at a hospital for young ones with tuberculosis. I really enjoyed the storyline, I loved the characters and what was going on. I found it really easy to follow along with. Again this book grabbed the style of using two characters to tell the story. Switching chapters between Lane and Sadie. I think this was used in a really good way, to keep the pace of things and make it easy to see what was going on. It also meant that you could see the emotions, thoughts and reactions from both sides.

Unfortunately though, one thing I think that to a degree failed with this book, was the progression. It took a long time for it to get anywhere. I would say the first 60% of the book was introducing us to the characters, the world around them and building their back story. It wasn’t until the near end when connections started to happen and events began to un fold. I’ve been thinking about this, and deciding whether that’s a good or a bad thing. Was the book unenjoyable? No, it was an enjoyable novel. Did I find myself bored at times? No, I found it quite easy to read. So why would the slow progression be negative? Honestly, I’m not sure. I feel a story is a story, and you need to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Whereas this felt like a beginning, a beginning and then an end.

– Michael Topschij.

A Writer’s Review: Thirteen Reasons Why

I quite simply do not know where to begin. I don’t know if I want to splurge everything out right at once or hold back suspense for my reaction. Because, that is how this book worked, and it was amazing. I want to take a couple of days to think, because there is somewhat of a decision I need to make; this book may have just become my favorite novel. Currently standing is John Green’s Looking For Alaska. But this, well, oh my god was it fantastic.

The story is about a girl named Hannah. A girl who has taken her life. Prior to doing that, she has recorded her story onto cassette tapes and organized for them to be passed along to people who were involved in her story. This is told to us through a guy named Clay. I won’t spoil how he’s involved, but obviously he is one of the people who have made an impact on her life.

The majority of this story, is about showing what impact people can have on those with depression. I finished this novel in a period of under 8 hours whilst on a flight from Dubai to London. I had to keep turning pages. And this book, most definitely created some emotions. The way it was written, the way you started to build a connection to the characters. I seriously found myself getting extremely concerned, and sad for fictional Hannah. When it came to the end, and she started explaining her plans for suicide, I found myself grasping desire to try and stop her… That’s right…

I wanted to try and save this fictional girl in this fictional novel. 

So I’ll just clarify that, I was sitting reading a book and wanted to try and save a girl that did not exist. That’s how well written this was, that’s how amazing the words on these pages were. But, I’ll add some bias here… I am currently writing a YA novel on depression. So the likelihood that something like this will connect with me is 10x higher than it might normally. But that being said, I’ve read many NY times best sellers (this too is rated as an international best seller) and without a doubt hold back no reservation to assign this to my favorite books collection. And again, am feeling very confused about whether I will be setting this as my favorite novel I’ve ever read. John, I’m sorry bro, imma let you finish. But Jay Asher’s got one of the best ya novels of all time! (Sorry, just had to make that reference there). Again, Jay Asher, well done. This was your first book, and damn, was it an astonishing start.

– Michael Topschij.