John Green’s latest novel, about a teen girl with OCD, initially hit me as an existential crisis. I mean, he starts right off the bat with Aza talking about all the microorganisms in her body and how she wasn’t really one animal at all but a host for parasitic organisms all trying to live their own lives… how much further would you read before you went down that existential rabbit hole? To be fair, I’ve been having quite a few existential crises lately.
Aza’s story is on the one hand, wild. Aza and her best friend decide to go looking for the missing father of a childhood acquaintance of hers who also happens to be a billionaire. Along the way, they end up with boyfriends, and start discovering more about their relationship as friends. They learn more about their mental health and how they cope with the cards they were dealt.
My favorite scene was one between Daisy (Aza’s best friend) and Aza. In it, Aza and Daisy both say a lot of hurtful things to each other, and Daisy comments about how difficult it is to live with Aza’s mental illness all the time. In the end, Aza simply states, you know how difficult it is for you to live with my mental illness? Imagine never being able to escape it. This scene felt so real to me, as a best friend and I have been through a very similar argument, where both sides felt hurt and misunderstood, but in the end we were able to pull through and sort our friendship out.
Another special scene for me is with Aza’s boyfriend. The two of them are talking, and Aza says she’s always going to have her OCD/anxiety feelings, and that it’s never going to be fixed. She keeps explaining how some days are better and some days worse, but at the end, he keeps asking if it’s because of him, or if they take it slow if they’ll be able to kiss. I believe both scenes speak to how people living with mental illness, especially those who’s illness is generally considered “annoying,” get treated, and how difficult and isolating that can be to have that conversation often with people. How people either feel like it’s a nuisance or that there’s a way to be fixed, rather than accepting that’s part of you.
One of the most important things for me, as someone with anxiety, has been learning to accept myself as I am. I’ve got coping skills, and I use them, and I feel like I’ve been making progress, but as soon as I came to accept that I wasn’t going to finally have some magic fix, I found I have a much better sense of self-respect. I can love myself as a person who has anxiety, and I’m often able to manage it, fortunately, but I can’t beat myself up every time I have an anxiety attack. That only leads to more anxiety. Thank you to this book for stating that loud and clear. Accepting and working with our mental health is the best we can do.
I kind of loved that there was no solution in the end. Aza’s never cured of her mental health disorder, rather she (theoretically) learns how to live with the ups and downs and begins to cope better. I love that she broke up with her boyfriend because she wasn’t able to reconcile her mental health with their relationship, and in the end it was okay and not the end of the world or the focus of the book. I love that her relationship with Daisy went through a rough patch, but eventually they made it through. They carry the optimism of youth with them towards feeling like they’ll have an eternity of best friendship. I love it.
I have a love/hate relationship with John Green’s books, as how come he is able to write books all about teenage girls, and how does he write about people with disabilities when he doesn’t have those specific disabilities? But at the same time, his books are compelling, easy to read, and start a good conversation to be had between people, even if they are a little cliche.