Aza Holmes is 16 years old. She has a faithful best friend and does well in school. She also has anxiety and invasive thoughts that threaten to derail everything. Her thoughts about disease and germs spiral into themselves, and she is caught inside. Her anxiety is getting in the way of her relationships and her ability to study. When she renews a friendship with Davis Pickett, an old friend from camp, a whole new level of frustration begins. As friendship turns to romance, Aza’s invasive thoughts make romance seem impossible.
Author and teen whisperer John Green dug into his own experience with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to bring to light the struggle that faces someone trapped in their own thoughts. This young adult novel is heartbreaking and enlightening as a window into the disorder.
It also gives a glimpse of how mental health problems can affect not only the one suffering a disorder but the people who love them as well. Mom is always on the lookout for symptoms; best friend Daisy gets frustrated that Aza is so absorbed in her own mind that she sometimes seems to give no thought to others.
As in his best-selling The Fault in Our Stars, while Green gives voice to problems that real teens are dealing with, he adds a touch of the unbelievable—that the possible love interest Davis also happens to be the son of a billionaire who is missing strains credulity at multiple points.
He also tends toward a quick-witted conversation style, in this case with Daisy, that seems unlikely. At the same time, the author stays true to the strong language and sexual discussions that are common among teens, much to the chagrin of parents and librarians. But he also references what real love is all about, even describing “the Corinthians variety” that Aza’s grandmother has told her about.
The very real and frightening feelings that Aza experiences are more than enough to have me recommending this book to many people. Her character is written with honesty and compassion. This book offers a new level of understanding for those who have never had to deal with mental illness, and it offers the comfort of recognition for those who do. Green stays real about the fact that this disorder does not just go away. It is chronic, and those afflicted will be dealing with it for the rest of their lives at some level. But he also leaves them with hope that it will not always be the defining characteristic of their experience. With parental discretion, this could be for ages 14 and up. (Dutton)