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Book Review: Turtles All The Way Down + Schizo

John Green’s Turtles all the Way Down (Penguin, 2017), and Nic Sheff’s Schizo (Penguin, 2014), are young adult novels that feature two high school students navigating their teen years with friendships, love interests, family, and school, all while trying to manage their mental illnesses.

Sheff’s character Miles has schizophrenia, and as his life story unfolds, we learn that his first psychotic break occurred at the beach two summers earlier, and while his parents were calling the medics, his unattended younger brother disappeared. Miles is wracked with guilt thinking he failed his family, which causes him to fixate on black crows that spy on him from atop the wires of his neighborhood. The crows make him think his crush Eliza is out of his league, but she returns his interest, and they kiss. However, intrusive thoughts of his missing brother derail his sanity, and he runs away from Eliza, determined to either find his missing brother or take his own life.

This culminates with his hospitalization, but the ending offers an unexpected twist and a chance for hope, showing Miles that he can have a normal life with family and friends and music, and no secrets. Green’s character Aza is similarly smart, creative, and she also loves music. Her story begins at the school lunch table, where her thoughts spiral around the cacophonous sounds of the parasitic organisms in her digestive tract while she attempts to chat with friends, trying to be normal. Aza’s love interest is Davis, whose father recently disappeared.

Aza and her friend Daisy are determined to find Davis’ father, but the friends have a falling out as Aza’s obsessive thoughts and then a car accident derail their friendship, leaving Aza feeling guilt and shame about being a failure, but this story also ends with an unexpected twist and a peek at a future life well-lived. Both authors give the reader careful descriptions of the pain and grief caused by intrusive thinking that characterizes mental illness, and both are realistic in their acknowledgment that symptoms must be managed, and relapses will happen, but they also both tell gratifying and hopeful stories about these wonderful characters - Miles and Aza.

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