Popular young adult novelist and video blogger John Green is touring the United States to promote his new book, “Turtles All the Way Down”, following the book’s release on Oct. 10.
Fans gathered in Bellingham, Washington, at Village Books at Western Washington University to see Green, who works with his brother, Hank Green, to produce the popular YouTube channel “Vlogbrothers.”
It has been six years since the release of John Green’s previous book, the critically acclaimed “The Fault in Our Stars.” This highly successful young-adult novel was Green’s fifth book and spawned two movie adaptations, launching his career into mainstream acclaim. Despite great success, Green found the pressure and attention insurmountable, particularly when coupled with his personal bouts with severe mental illness. He struggled to write a new book.
“I thought that I had to be this better writer, make something worthy of my success,” Green said during the event. “It was only when I took a step back, and remembered that I liked writing, that I was able to get at the story I wanted to tell.”
“Turtles All The Way Down” is about a young woman who is trying to solve a mystery while struggling with everyday thought spirals and chronic mental illness. Green described the “thought spirals” that are both central to the book and illustrated on the cover as “thoughts that I don’t want to have, that come from outside of me, that hijack my consciousness.”
While some mystery novels and television shows feature a protagonist whose mental illness puts them in an extraordinary position to crack cases that others couldn’t, the protagonist of Green’s novel, Aza Holmes, is in opposition to that narrative.
“Aza’s obsessive behavior and crippling thought spirals make it difficult for her to observe anything outside of herself, and that makes her a terrible detective,” Green said.
Green continued to describe the obsessive compulsive disorder shared by his protagonists, highlighting mental illness as something that cannot be seen or felt by others, but alive in the real and frightening thoughts of the individual living with it.
Additionally, John Green explained writing as a form of expression that makes the “way-down non-sensorial experience of living” something that can be acknowledged, making the experience of one’s consciousness accessible to another. He highlighted the highly-stigmatized society we live in, where mental illness can be viewed as an infliction that is indistinguishable from creativity, and at times glorified.
“I have a mental illness that at times has taken over my life,” John Green said. “It has been very hard to get to a place where I live alongside it, and also to find myself in a place to write about it.”
Members of the community that has sprung up around the Vlogbrothers refer to themselves as Nerdfighters. They pride themselves on celebrating intellectualism and having continued a positive, open and welcoming internet community for over 10 years. Kendra Pederson, from Vancouver, British Columbia, has been watching the Vlogbrothers since 2008. Pederson drove to the event from Vancouver with her friend Lauren Martens, whom she met through the Nerdfighter community.
“We met five years ago on the ‘Fault in Our Stars’ tour, and decided that wherever [the Green brothers] would come in Washington, we were going to reunite to make the trip,” Pederson said.
The two friends made turtle friendship bracelets to hand out to fellow Nerdfighters outside of the event.
“Lauren came up with the idea to make bracelets to hand out and make friends,” Pederson said. “This community is so awesome we thought we would do something special for the new book!”
Inside the event, each person received a signed copy of the book and had the opportunity to ask a question for the live Q-and-A portion of the show and to take pictures with cardboard cutouts of the brothers. To begin the show, John read from excerpts of “Turtles All the Way Down” and answered fan-submitted questions on his process and struggles. Hank performed his songs, described by him as “songs mostly about science.”
Cathryn Thompson, a third-year history major at Seattle University and a seven-year Nerdfighter, traveled to the event with her friend Natalie Neumiller.
“I wouldn’t read as much and I wouldn’t care about people as deeply if I didn’t grow up listening to Hank’s music or reading John’s books,” said Thompson. “It’s hard to find people that see the world as complexly and as beautifully as they do. John and Hank have created this cute little community around their videos, a place where you can be unapologetically enthusiastic about something and you don’t have to feel afraid about being yourself.”
With a night of music and emotion, the “Turtles All the Way Down” book tour created a space in Bellingham that not only gave visibility to invisible illnesses, but made an online community excitingly real.
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