On a balmy Tuesday night in New York City, 15-year-old Katey Grillo is about to cover the red carpet premiere of "Paper Towns," the big screen adaptation of one of her favorite novels. She's nervous, excited and really glad she wore her black Converse sneakers instead of her heels.
Flashback to less than 24 hours ago when Katey was a ball of nerves in the back of a taxi cab. We were stuck in the middle of the city's own hell mouth: Times Square. She reached for her book. "I need to read," she said as she dived into "Throne of Glass" by Sarah J. Maas. For Katey, who suffers from bouts of social anxiety, reading is the only thing that helps her relax when she's feeling stressed.
Surpassing even depression, anxiety is the most common form of mental illness in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, roughly 12 percent of teens suffer from an anxiety disorder of some kind. Even more unsettling, the average age of onset for people with anxiety disorders is just 11, which means many anxious adults were first anxious pre-teens.
There are ways to combat anxiety: having a strong support network, eating a balanced diet and finding ways to relax and recharge. For Katey, it's reading.
"Katey reads when she's nervous," her mom, Holly Grillo, told me. "I can't really think of a time I don't bring books with me," Katey added. And if there was ever a time to be nervous it was in that moment, in the back of a taxi on her way to meet John Green. Yes, the John Green -- bestselling author, teen whisperer and Nerdfighter.
Katey has read nearly all of Green's books, with the exception of "Let It Snow." "I'm waiting for winter to read it," she clarified.
He was also one of her primary inspirations for starting her very own YouTube channel, An Abundance of Books, named after his novel "An Abundance of Katherines." Well, him and the desire to make internet friends who loved YA heroines and fantasy novels as much as she did.
"About three years ago, I just started watching different people on YouTube and John Green was actually one of the first people I started watching," Katey said. "I really loved his books. Then I started watching Booktube and decided that I wanted to try it. I love talking about books! And I really wanted to make friends who loved books just as much as I do."
The "Paper Towns" author was even the subject of her first official vlog -- and it found its way onto Reddit, where it attracted a lot of attention from bookworms and residents of Nerdfighteria alike. Of course, as the manifestation of the best and worst parts of the internet, Reddit did what Reddit did best and reacted, both beautifully and terribly. (Editors note: The original Reddit post has now been taken down.)
Katey, understandably, felt completely overwhelmed by all of the newfound attention. "It was extremely nice, but at the same time, really hard for me," she said. "One day, my mom sat down and went through all of the comments. I didn't know how to respond."
One of her viewers just so happened to be Green himself. The author has been touring the country (and internationally) like a madman, promoting his new movie "Paper Towns." But for Katey -- and thanks to some creative scheduling from FOX 2000 Pictures, who produced the film and was helping manage Green's worldwide tour -- he made the time. Which is how we ended up in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel on Monday afternoon.
"I just can't believe this is happening," she said as we were swept inside the hotel restaurant. As we approached Green's table, Katey's chill was pretty much gone. In fact, when she first saw Green sitting there, she burst into tears. But it's not like that's unusual for this kind of occasion; wherever John Green goes, emotional teens will follow.
Green greeted her with a warm smile and a hug the size of Alaska Young's beloved Blue Citrus. Chill restored. They sat and talked for nearly 15 minutes. Katey gave Green a pop-up book illustrating Edgar Allan Poe's gothic poetry and a blank notebook "for his thoughts"; Green gave Katey some invaluable advice from one vlogger to another: "Ignore the haters."
"He said it can be really hard to internalize all of of the positive comments because of the negative ones," she said. "But that I just have to do my best to ignore them because their opinions don't matter."
"He understands us," Katey said after meeting Green. "He understands how we feel and what we think. He gets us. He's just a really great guy too," she added. "He has a childlike spirit."
Because of her channel's unique success, Katey got the FOMO-inducing opportunity to not only meet her favorite author in person, but to also cover the premiere of his latest movie "Paper Towns" for her channel and talk to the film's stars, including Q and Margo themselves, Nat Wolff to Cara Delevingne.
Watching Katey on the red carpet was a magical experience. She wasn't the same girl I met in the back of that cab -- the one who was overwhelmed and unsure of where to go or what to do. Here, she completely owned it. She exuded confidence and the kind of DFTBA (Don't Forget To Be Awesome) attitude that Green champions.
"He taught me to be confident in who I am," Katey told me when I asked her what she's learned from Green. "To not be afraid to be a nerd. That's one of the reasons I really like him. He's really nerdy and he's not afraid to admit it. He embraces it."
"Paper Towns" hits theaters on July 24. To watch more of Katey's interviews from the red carpet -- and way more amazing book content to come -- head to An Abundance of Books on YouTube.