Revolutionary John Green OCD Novel to Release Risky Film Adaptation

Fans of Green’s 2017 novel Turtles All the Way Down and OCD sufferers alike react to the news of a film adaptation of the beloved book.

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Sketches of a person in mental crisis with thoughts swirling in a bubble above their head. Next to them is a sketch of a film camera and then the Turtles All The Way Down book cover.

Author John Green announced on Instagram last week that his book Turtles All the Way Down has been adapted into a movie to be released on MAX later this year. On February 2, author John Green, best known for his book The Fault in Our Stars, which was released in 2012 and adapted into a highly successful movie two years later, announced that another of his books will be available to stream in 2024. In 2017, Green released Turtles All the Way Down, another Young Adult novel that deals with serious illness and the friendship it takes not to overcome the illness but to live with it. 

According to Green’s Instagram announcement, the Turtles All the Way Down film has already been completed and will be made instantly available to stream on MAX upon its release. The film will star Isabela Merced (Instant Family) as Aza Holmes, the primary character and protagonist who suffers from severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. 

A Story That Speaks to Millions

Turtles All the Way Down focuses on Aza, a sixteen-year-old high school student who lives in Indianapolis, as she follows the case of her missing billionaire neighbor. Aza and her best friend, Daisy, find out about a $100,000 reward for information regarding the whereabouts of missing billionaire Russell Pickett, the father of Aza’s childhood friend, Davis. As Aza gets closer to Davis, the symptoms of her contamination-based OCD progress significantly, making it difficult to maintain any of the relationships in her life.

The news of the movie’s release was met with overwhelmingly positive support from Green’s followers. 

As someone with OCD this book was the first time I’d seen OCD accurately represented and was a big piece in me getting my diagnosis. So glad the movie is finally coming.

@ssierrarose, Instagram

Other users felt similarly.

As someone with OCD, almost the same type as Aza (I worried about Ecoli and thought things similar to Aza), this book has been the most accurate portrayal of OCD ever and I just want to thank you for writing it. It’s helped me and I’m sure so many other people too. THANK YOUUUU.

 @delaney.coco.nner, Instagram

Aza is Not Alone

As someone who has lived with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder since childhood, I was eager to tackle Green’s book as soon as I heard the news of its adaptation and read the positive comments from other OCD sufferers. 

I started Turtles All the Way Down, highly skeptical that Green, a self-proclaimed non-OCD sufferer, could possibly portray the type of cyclical thinking so common to the minds of people suffering from OCD. My skepticism grew in the first few chapters as Green painted the portrait of a stereotypical science and health-obsessed neurotic female with OCD. I nearly stopped reading, frustrated as I was by the perpetual representation of people with OCD as neat freaks and germaphobes.

Thick spirals going downward behind the words TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN JOHN GREEN

However, the further I got into the book, the more my skepticism waned. Despite Aza’s obsessions and intrusive thoughts being that of the stereotyped OCD sufferer (germs, germs, germs), Green’s representation of her symptoms varied immensely from any other media representation of OCD that I had ever seen before. As such, I was forced to acknowledge the extensive research and care that had been taken by Green to write this book. Not only that, he was careful in his representation of Aza’s primary invasive fears versus the personality traits completely separate from her OCD, such as her perpetually messy bedroom. This, if nothing else, demonstrates the care and understanding of Green toward OCD sufferers as he embarked upon writing his novel.

The Separation of the Self From the Thought

Aza’s primary OCD-related fear is extracting C. diff from normal everyday activities such as exposure to other people and places such as hospitals. She thinks constantly about the bacteria that is around her, that is inside her, or that could transfer to her from contact with other people. 

The fear that Aza experiences is not rational, and she knows that. She knows that she is crazy. She knows that she is being illogical. Yet, the fear persists. Even when her therapist tells her that her thoughts are separate from her, she finds herself incapable of separating her self from her thoughts.

Woman sits on sofa in feminine surroundings while wearing pink sweatshirt with flowers that says "OCD is not an adjective."

This, exactly, is the existence that I have lived in since I was seven years old. The fear that the irrational, illogical, often terrible thoughts that I have translate directly into the makeup of my being. Green was so utterly able to portray the essence of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that he was not only able to educate the masses on the fact that OCD is not a cute personality trait to be thrown around as a commonly used adjective but also show the 1 in 100 adults who suffer with OCD that they have finally been seen and understood.

The Importance of Understanding OCD

With the announcement of the Turtles All the Way Down movie adaptation, however, there are new concerns that arise within the OCD community. Primarily, how will Aza’s circular thoughts be represented without making her yet another OCD caricature?

When my thoughts spiraled I was in the spiral and of it.

John Green, Turtles All the Way Down

One possible solution to this issue could be the personification of OCD, which Green uses in his book to display the internal fight and dialogue Aza has with her real self versus her OCD self. This is a technique also used in OCD therapy, where the sufferer must speak to OCD as a being entirely separate from themselves. It is easy to visualize this tool being used on-screen with the actress playing Aza, followed by her mirror image, who is shouting her intrusive thoughts at her. 

 Another method for exposing this duality on film could be the implementation of a better therapist character, with whom Aza could have real, down-to-earth conversations and share more of the processes happening in her mind. Aza’s therapist in the book, Dr. Singh, is characterized as a non-smiling, constantly serious, stereotypical shrink whom Aza fails to connect with on any deep level. 

Therapy, Varieties of OCD, and Turtles

In my own experience, by using NOCD as a platform to find a therapist, I was connected with a therapist who is the complete opposite of Dr. Singh. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is difficult to diagnose and then treat, often because of the sufferer’s inability to voice the horrifying (to them) thoughts that exist constantly in the recesses of their mind. In my experience, it took 20 years of suffering before I was connected with a therapist who could actually help me. My therapist is outgoing, smiles and laughs with me, asks me about my kids, and does not look at me with pity. If a therapist like that could be represented in the Turtles All the Way Down movie, it might not only give a desperately needed outlet to voice Aza’s innermost fears but also give real-life OCD sufferers hope. 

Hope for OCD sufferers would be doubly made if the inclusion of other varieties of OCD could be somehow included in the film in order to broaden the understanding that OCD fears are not solely germ, cleanliness, and health-based. 

As a young teen, I went to my parents after having already experienced two primary OCD themes. I was crying hysterically and begging them for help, telling them that I thought I had OCD. 

I was met with the response, “No, I think that’s just when people wash their hands a lot.” This response was not due to the ambivalence of my parents, who, like Gina Holmes in Turtles, loved their daughter unconditionally. It was due to ignorance.

Extreme ignorance over OCD and the belief that it is a conglomeration of eccentricities like flipping switches, adjusting picture frames, needing even numbers, etc., have permeated the media for so long that it has made many people unable to get treatment due to their lack of understanding. Furthermore, the extremely frequent use of OCD as an adjective degrades the experience of people who suffer constantly because of the disorder. 

The Power of Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles All the Way Down was revolutionary as a novel properly representing the life of an OCD sufferer, from the visualization of circular thinking and despair to the impact OCD can have on relationships. Having this monumental story turned into a movie is exciting and potentially very impactful, but it is also scary. For OCD sufferers, it is so important that this movie be handled as carefully as Green handled the writing of his novel. Upon its release, Turtles All the Way Down has the potential to change the lives of many people, whether they are OCD themselves or love someone who might be suffering silently. Hopefully, the film will stand up to the task.

If you or someone you love might be suffering from OCD, you can contact the NAMI HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or 

Or, reach out to NOCD to get help from a therapist and a community of other OCD survivors.

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