Thumbs all the way up

John Green portrays mental illness in the modern landscape

Thumbs+all+the+way+up

Photo: Illustration by Emily O'Connell

Mental illness has been portrayed multiple ways by the entertainment industry, but often to the detriment of the one in five Americans who have a mental illness.

More often than not, media portrays mental illness as either curable or completely unmanageable. The “cure” depicted by the entertainment industry often comes in the form of love interests, epiphanies or friendship, and the “unmanageable” depicted in those films can end in death, institutionalization or even the dramatized villainization of those diagnosed.

The film “Split” that came out in January 2017 stigmatizes schizophrenia by having Kevin Crumb, a man with 23 personalities, act inhumanly and commit murder, while the 2001 film “A Beautiful Mind,” set in the 1950s and 60s, depicts schizophrenia with compassion and realism.

With some films accurately portraying mental illnesses and others notably out-of-date, few young adult novels, TV show or films in recent years have captured the truth of mental illness in today’s society — until now.

“Turtles All the Way Down” by John Green released on Oct. 10, 2017 gives a long-awaited, refreshing and truthful depiction of mental illness.

In the novel,  Green conveys his experience with mental illness through the story of his protagonist Ava Holmes, who like him, has obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety. The story is set in John Green’s hometown of Indianapolis, where Holmes attends high school as a 16-year-old.

Yes, there are cliché elements to the story – like many other highschool based young adult novels today – but “Turtles All the Way Down” overcomes these typical clichés to create an odd and wonderful adventure involving a missing person’s case, breaking the law (a few times), a prehistoric lizard-thing named Tua and the accidental discovery of $100,000.

This story’s wannabe detective Ava Holmes is a not-so-subtle reference to literature’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. The story follows Ava as she combats media portrayal by investigating a missing person case despite her OCD, not because of it.

Green intricately leads the readers through the highs and lows of just a few months of Ava’s life, following her through her everyday life and struggles, from texting a cute boy and to talking with a distant friend.

While the novel’s beginning is relatively slow and confusing, it builds momentum until it is entirely impossible to set down, even for a minute.

This book brings forth important, necessary questions as well as an entertaining adventure, as it discusses mental illness, wealth, a parent’s love, dating, friendship and so much more.

All the while, the reader becomes more understanding and knowledgeable about the navigation of mental illness in the modern age from seeing Ava manage the pressures of relationships and communication and the high expectations from teachers and parents.

The most admirable aspect of the novel is the fact that, while Ava does have doctors, love interests and adventures, these elements are not intended to be her cures. Instead, Green allows her to reach a state of understanding of her mental illness as it continues throughout her life.

I am not diagnosed with a mental illness, but after seeing the struggles those with mental illness face, I understand much more about being a teenager and respecting other people’s stories and lives.

This novel and its irreplaceable lessons about true friendship, the power of the mind and self love are incredibly important for people of all ages to read.

If you choose to read this book, you will not regret it (unless you’re in it for turtles).