Turtles All the Way Down – John Green

turtles all the way down book cover john green

A young adult novel about life, love, and living with mental illness

You might be tempted to skip over this book because it is classified as a “young adult” novel. Please take a moment to let me explain not only why I really love this book, but also why I think it is an important book to read. The world is overflowing with young adult coming of age novels that are filled with cliches, cheesy teen romances, and neat, happy endings – this isn’t one of those books.

Aza, the protagonist, struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety. The author does a fantastic job of taking you on a journey to help you see and feel what it is like to live with a mental illness. It is a very personal and vulnerable book, as well as a good story. Consider this quote from a review of the book:

“In an age where troubling events happen almost weekly, this deeply empathetic novel about learning to live with demons and love one’s imperfect self is timely and important.”

Publishers Weekly


Mental illness – the main character struggles with intrusive thoughts and compulsive actions. She knows the obsessions and compulsions are irrational, but has difficulty controlling them.

The self – who are you at your core? What makes you, you? These questions are asked again and again by different characters in different ways.

Grief – characters in the book deal with grief in different ways. Some are more socially acceptable and healthier than others.


I love this book. I can relate to it. If you know someone who struggles with mental illness, maybe this book will help you to have a better understanding of what it feels like to be in their shoes. Maybe you are the one who struggles and this book will help you to feel like you’re not alone in the world. The characters are rough around the edges, the relationships complicated, and the pain and grief are real. And I love it for that.

Learn more about the author and this book on his website. Here’s the Wiki link to this book.

Lastly, if you are struggling with mental illness and/or mental health issues, please know that help and hope are possible. Here are some resources:

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: get help right now by calling 800-273-8255

National Alliance on Mental Illness: find support groups and helpful info

To Write Love On Her Arms: finding hope and help through story sharing


Lost Connections – Johann Hari

johann hari lost connections book cover

Social connections are more important than you think

This book is a look at the social and cultural factors that play into and can cause anxiety and depression. Written by a journalist who also has personally experienced depression, the author explores how it’s more than just biology that influences whether we have anxiety or depression. It’s a controversial book, for sure. I don’t necessarily agree with all of his conclusions, but he brings up things that are far too often overlooked, especially the mindset that a pill fixes everything.

Before I get into the usual review/breakdown, I want to add this link about a critical review of an article that Johann Hari released ahead of print of this book. While this critical review is based on the article Hari wrote, it also is applicable to the book. I recommend that people read that review before or after checking out this book.

Topics Covered

The “Chemical Imbalance” view of depression: the author does a good job of explaining how the view of depression and anxiety being solely a serotonin problem gained traction and became part of the public (mis)understanding of how these conditions work. Yes, SSRIs help people, but not in the ways that psychiatrists originally thought. Serotonin is a chemical that does and is involved in a lot of brain/body issues. Medical professionals are more aware of this than Mr Hari lets on, but the public is still largely misinformed about this topic.

Social factors of depression and anxiety: the excessive focus on biology and chemical imbalances have largely pushed discussion on social factors of mental illness out of the picture. Our modern, Western lifestyle runs contrary to many of the ways that humans have lived and socialized for thousands of years. We shouldn’t overlook this. This is part of what is called social determinants of health (often abbreviated as SDOH). You can find out more about SDOH via this link from the CDC.

Loneliness: many studies and statistics show that people are more lonely than ever, despite living in the internet age of constant connection. This is part of the SDOH as mentioned above, but deserves to be singled out as a primary, concerning issue. Connection is so very important for us humans. We are a social species, after all. We need personal, face to face interaction with others to be healthy in mind and body. I’ve written a post about this topic on another blog for those interested in learning more.


While I don’t agree with all the conclusions that Hari makes, or how he frames some of the book, I appreciate that he was willing to share his story and what he’s learned along the way. He makes several great points about how social factors are often overlooked, issues such as SDOH, and rightly critiquing the overprescription of meds. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about those specific parts of the discussion on depression and anxiety.

The main caution I want to make with this recommendation is that people should do more research into this topic before making permanent decisions on medical care, medication usage, and such (for themselves and for how they view others). Please read the critical review I linked to at the top of this post if you’re going to read this book.

You can find the book on Amazon here. Here’s a link to the website for the book.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma – Bessel van der Kolk

the body keeps the score book cover

Exploring the neuroscience of the brain-body connection in mental health

In “The Body Keeps the Score”, Dr Bessel van der Kolk shares what he’s learned as a researcher and mental health professional in caring for patients who have experienced trauma. The author covers the medical history of how we have treated those dealing with mental health conditions, what we’ve learned along the way, and he shares many patient stories that help to illustrate the topic.

“Being able to feel safe with other people is probably
​the single most important aspect of mental health;
safe connections are fundamental to
meaningful and satisfying lives.”

“Neuroscience research shows that
the only way we can change ​the way we feel
is by becoming aware of our inner experience
​and learning to befriend what is going on inside ourselves.” ​

Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. https://besselvanderkolk.net/index.html

Trigger warning: this book doesn’t go into graphic detail, but it does cover topics that may be disturbing to some readers who have experienced trauma. For example, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse are discussed, as is addiction and self-harm.

Topics Discussed

Adverse Childhood Experiences – also known as ACEs and discussed in a previously reviewed book Supernormal – are traumatic events or lived experience of abuse and neglect throughout childhood. The higher your ACE score, the more likely you are to develop chronic conditions (mental and physical) later in life. Dr van der Kolk pays special attention to how this relates to psychiatric diseases like PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

The Science of Trauma – Dr. van der Kolk goes over the history of how our understanding of trauma has changed over the years, including the neuroscience of how the brain processes threats, danger, abuse, and trauma. The development of advanced imaging techniques (fMRI and PET scans) has allowed scientists to see which parts of the brain are over or underactive during various mental states.

Treatment Options For Psychiatric Disorders

Talk Therapy – the ability to talk about our experiences and problems has been shown to help many people. Perhaps the more studied of these is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but there are many others that are covered in the book.

Yoga – connecting with your bodily senses in a meaningful way is what yoga is all about. This is a way to integrate physical activity into healing the mind.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing – this type of therapy uses eye movement while processing negative events from your life (trauma) and the feelings and emotions connected to it.

Internal Family Systems – also known as Self Leadership, is a system of therapy that helps you to look at how your conscious mind is a collection of sub-personalities. IFS can be used to evaluate each perspective/personality in the system and address negative, harmful, overly critical, or violent ones. (I didn’t do a very good job of explaining it here, which is why you should read the chapter about it!)

Neurofeedback – this type of treatment uses electrodes on your head to detect the electrical signals happening in your brain. With these on, the patient then goes through guided imagery to learn how to engage parts of the brain that are helpful for focusing attention, calming anxiety, and processing emotions.


This is a really, really important book that I highly recommend. I appreciate how the author explains the science and research while mixing in patient stories to help illustrate the concepts and topics. Some of the patient stories were too painful for me to read and I’m guessing that anyone with a history of trauma or abuse may have a similar experience. I especially recommend this book to anyone who works in healthcare and for those who have friends or family that have experienced trauma.

You can find the book on Amazon here. Click this link to go to the author’s website.

Supernormal: The Untold Story of Adversity and Resilience – Dr Meg Jay

book cover supernormal childhood resilience

Why are some people more resilient than others, despite childhood adversity?

Supernormal, by Meg Jay, Ph.D., is the best book I’ve ever read on the topic of resilience. We live in a culture where “hustle” and “grit” are buzzwords used by many to draw attention to themselves or show how productive they are. But resilience is often misunderstood. Is it a character trait, something you’re born with? Or is it an adaptive response to what you’ve experienced?

If you’re interested in understanding the social determinants of health and the long-term effects of childhood trauma (adverse childhood experiences), this is a must-read book. I’m really tempted to copy and paste a lot of info here, but I’ll restrain myself and stick to the main highlights.

What are ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) and why are they important?

If you’re not familiar with the ACEs data, you can read more here. In summary, the more adverse childhood experiences you have, the more likely you are to face multiple chronic conditions – both physical and mental. An adverse childhood experience can be a single event, such as witnessing or being the victim of domestic abuse, or it can be something more continuous, like living with a parent who has a substance abuse problem. ACEs are more common than you might think, with up to 75% of the population having experienced at least 1 of the criteria and up to 40% with 2 or more.

The best part of this book is how Dr Jay provides a case study example, from her clinical expertise, on the most common (and detrimental) experiences that people face and how it tends to shape their life. Data can sometimes be impersonal and it can be easy to gloss over statistics. The author does a great job of helping you to see and feel what abuse, neglect, and trauma does to the soul of a child. It is both powerful and painful.

Trigger warning: As a heads up, some parts were a little too much for me. If you’ve experienced some of these things, it may be the same for you.

What makes someone resilient?

According to Dr Jay and other researches, many resilient people don’t consider themselves as being resilient. Being resilient doesn’t mean that you no longer have problems, it’s something you learn how to do to adapt when bad things that happen. Pain and struggle are almost always part of the untold story of adversity and resilience.

At some time or another, we all learn how to cope with difficulties in life. Some coping skills are very helpful and healthy, but some are detrimental.

“one of the single best predictors of good adjustment after adversity is having external support.”

Resilient people are more adaptable and “adoptable” per the author. This means that while they might not have family support, they are able to find external support through teachers, coaches, or mentors. They often learn how to develop skills (and a personality) that helps them be better received. Healing is always found in community, of one type or another. Loneliness and isolation are dangerous.

Many people find that their trauma is transformed when they actively serve others through volunteer work, support groups, or other services. This is what the author calls “altruism born of suffering.” There are many emotional, mental, and physical benefits to serving others. Many resilient people feel compelled to help others who have been through similar situations and traumas. In turn, they unexpectedly find healing in themselves at the same time.

What makes a life well lived?

According to Dr Jay, what’s the single best predictor of a life well lived, of well-being in adulthood? Love. Here’s a great quote to close this post regarding love and when we need to “reboot” our lives after hardship.

“Part of the untold story of adversity and resilience then is that, for many, love is the greatest reboot of all.”

You can learn more about Dr Jay and this book on her website. You can find her book for purchase on Amazon here.