Sometimes I can’t stop thinking about how Zuko accidentally spoke against his father and begged for forgiveness, on his knees with tears in his eyes, and got half his face burned off and banished from his home
Then Zuko betrayed his uncle and everything Iroh had ever taught him, begged for forgiveness on his knees with tears in his eyes, and got a hug and complete forgiveness and unconditional love
a harry potter au where potions is taught by gordon ramsay
"YOUR DRAUGHT OF LIVING DEATH COULDN’T KILL A FRUIT FLY"
"YOU PUT SO MUCH GINGER IN THAT POTION IT TASTES LIKE A WEASLEY"
And when Neville makes a mistake, “It’s alright. Don’t worry, we can fix this. You added too much eye of newt right? To counteract that, we’re going to add a little extra wool of bat. There. That’s it. You’ve got it.”
I really, really do not like John Green, and I particularly despise his novels. I have not read all of his books, but after a lot of thinking, I have finally nailed down what my main issue is with the two I have suffered all the way through: Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns. Pretentious, non-realistic dialogue, annoying one-dimensional obvious author write-in characters, and almost non-existent plots aside, my real issue with John Green’s writing is his characterization and romanticization of mental illness.
Both Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns feature pretty typical Manic Pixie Dream Girls (say what you want about trying to “subvert the trope” in the latter, John Green: you failed miserably). In both, a pretty average guy who is obviously a romanticized version of John Green falls in love with a deeply troubled, quirky girl and learns some “profound” life lesson from chasing her with varying degrees of ultimate success. This is bad enough as it is, especially considering that most of John Green’s audience is impressionable teenage girls that are looking to find security in their insecurities, which is not at all healthy. However, nobody seems to be talking about the biggest problem with these characters: They are obviously mentally ill, but while their illnesses completely define them, their problems are barely (or never) actually addressed. This is not healthy for anyone involved.
Perhaps I am so offended by this because I have been dating a great guy who just happens to suffer from mental illnesses for over two years. I am not offended on my own behalf or because I like being angry; I am angry on his behalf, and on behalf of anyone else who suffers from a legitimate, real-life mental illness who has to suffer the cultural effects of the John Green apocalypse. John Green’s books promote all kinds of awful, harmful stereotypes regarding relationships with people who are mentally ill. He constantly writes male protagonists who are interested in mentally ill girls because of their illness-induced “quirkyness”. They are literally interested in these girls because they are sick and struggling. The bland male protagonists seem to think they can save the (possibly literally manic, in this case) Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and not only do they often (surprise, surprise) fail, because awkward teenage boys without counseling degrees cannot cure mental illness, but it’s okay, because Mr. Protagonist-who-totally-isn’t-John-Green learns something from the girl’s suffering, at least.
When I started dating my boyfriend, I knew he had a mental illness; he had just been released from a mental hospital after spending about a month there. That’s actually how I met him: he started sitting with a mutual friend at our lunch table in high school while he tried to re-adjust. Even before we were dating, I knew what had happened to land him there, what he had been diagnosed with, and what medications he was taking. However, I did not agree to go out with him because he was sick, nor did I date him in spite of the fact that he was sick, nor did I simply take pity on him. I went out with him because I liked him as a person. He was funny and interesting (but not pretentious—looking at you, Augustus Waters) and all of the usual things that make people seem attractive and potentially date-able. After two years, I still love him for who he is, and his disorders are just a small part of the whole package.
The thing about dating people with mental illnesses that I don’t think John Green gets is that you can’t make your relationship about (or worse, due to) one party’s illness, but you also can’t ignore it. If you’re involved in the relationship at all, you’ll know about the other person’s feelings, struggles, mood fluctuations, and medications. You’ll have to change plans occasionally because your partner’s agoraphobia acts up in a certain restaurant or they’re feeling too depressed to go out. You’ll accompany them to doctor’s appointments and keep track of the strange things they do while manic so they can tell their psychiatrist why they need more Geodon. You may even have to drag your semi-conscious, unknowingly OD’d on Klonopin boyfriend halfway across the Atlanta airport to get him on a plane to go see his crazy, estranged father (true story). However, these things will not define your relationship, and they will either be inconsequential in the context of the big picture or they will later be mutually considered hilarious (like the airport incident, believe it or not). My real-life relationship with my boyfriend works because I appreciate him for his whole personality instead of just his disorder, but we still talk about it, which is the exact opposite of what John Green does with his mentally ill characters.
Both Alaska and Margo clearly have some major issues that need to be dealt with, but despite the fact that they are usually described and revered based on qualities that come from those issues, those issues are never addressed or named. I guess Alaska’s come to light after she commits suicide because of her untreated and unaddressed mental issues, but that’s not good enough. The people who read John Green’s books are mostly pre-teen and teenaged girls, and he’s teaching them that mental illnesses are “cool and quirky” and will attract guys who will go to unrealistic lengths to “save” them. This prompts girls who are perfectly mentally healthy to mimic disorders (in some cases, they could even develop one that they were already predisposed to), and it prompts guys to go after “troubled” girls and try to “save” them, which is incredibly unhealthy for both parties. These books encourage teenagers to not only take on these huge and life-threatening issues, but they suggest that they do it without involving adults at all. Real teenagers with mental illnesses don’t need a cross-country van ride or an alcohol binge to solve their problems… they need lots of support from family and friends (peers and adults alike), professional help, and to be seen as people, not disorders.
If John Green is going to write about mentally ill characters (which, IMO, he should not, because he clearly has no real-life experience with mental illness, nor does he appear interested in doing research—I remember hearing that he deliberately skewed and ignored the facts about cancer in The Fault in Our Stars for the sake of the story), he needs to work harder to portray people with mental illnesses as more than their disorders, and to accurately portray the complexities of a healthy relationship where at least one party has a disorder. If he can’t do that, he needs to stick to writing about boring, dorky white people who don’t have problems that are scary and life-threatening in the real world. I know this is not his intention, but John Green is inadvertently hurting a huge group of real people who have enough problems being recognized and receiving help without attracting hordes of fake friends who want to “rescue” them and/or fall in love with them. I have seen this happen to my boyfriend, and these friends inevitably leave as soon as they realize that they have taken on something bigger than they can deal with and that they do not actually like him as a person… and I am left to help him pick up the pieces.
We live in a society that barely acknowledges mental health issues, but when it does, it does it wrong, thanks to people like John Green. I don’t know who he thinks he’s helping, but I have a sneaking suspicion that he writes purely to encourage awkward white boys like he once was (oh heck, still is) to go on pseudo-intellectual journeys and find their inner “coolness”, at the expense of any other group of people and their struggles, and that honestly makes me sick. We can do better than John Green, and we owe it to our family members, friends, significant others, and children with mental illnesses to make that publicly clear.