For awhile now, I've been collecting recent YA books dealing with mental disabilities. It's not that huge of a list, nor is it comprehensive; rather, it started off as a response to think about mental illness in America, and morphed into people dropping by and giving me their suggestions for books not on the list that they thought I should read, think about, or know about. You're always free to add more to the list - I think it's an important personal resource, as well as a shared place to keep our stories in the limelight.
Reader Gut Reaction: SO MANY reactions. First, this novel reminded me of a recent Letters of Note, where a father talks about the inevitable barrier - the wall - that comes between parents and children. The walls between the characters in this were almost visible. Another reaction might well be tears as you read this -- the deftly chosen phrase, just the right words - the right phrases - may make you understand part of the book so fast that tears actually squirt airborne, as you clench your eyes shut in an agony of recognition. Painful - but so perfect. Another reaction you will have will be to the thoughtful truths in Rumi's poem The Guest House; the fact that this novel is both painful and exquisite, like the emotions that come to us in every moment. This is a smoothly written, thoughtful novel that isn't a race-through-it- page-turner, but one which stayed with me, when I wasn't reading it, and to which I'll come back again.
Taking care of people is hard, period. Taking care of a person with a mental illness, when it's not their fault that they do not conform to the corners and shapes of this world, when it's too easy to let pettiness or frustration or rage and despair guide your actions - whoa. It is so hard. And, harder still, if you are the child, and they are the parent, and just once, you'd like it to be about YOU.
Concerning Character: Sophie's life is pretty circumscribed. She goes to school, does her homework while she eats her lunch, goes home, makes dinner, sits with her mother in her tiny storage room art studio, and goes to bed. And some days, it's not a bad life - her mother is sometimes directing invisible symphonies as she paints, and the question of "what are we having for dinner" makes both of them laugh. But, other days -- those other days are what Sophie suffers through, when, one day she finds her mother's studio carelessly unlocked -- and her mother flung across the bed with the force of her depression - and a spatter of emptied pill bottles - those are the days Sophie just can't take anymore of. Not that anyone asks her - she's gotten a lot of stuff just shoved onto her. Her cousin Leila got popular in middle school, and just - went off into popular-land, taking their sidekick and best friend with her. Following her mother's long-ago expressed wishes, she's forced to rely on her Uncle John and Aunt Cynthia - from whom she and her mother have been estranged for five years - for a roof over her head, and food. It's not the life she wants. But then, when has she ever had that life? And, is there a way to get it...?
Recommended for Fans Of...: Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story; Dia Calhoun, The Phoenix Dance; Christine Fletcher, Tallulah Falls; Bleeding Violet, by Dia Reeves; A Blue So Dark, Holly Schindler; Get Well Soon, Julie Halpern; Your Own, Sylvia, by Stephanie Hemphill, and many more.
Themes & Things: Mental disability or mental illness is a fine and squiggly line in YA lit, because most teens experience some brush with mental illness in some way, and one and five teens in America are classified and categorized as mentally ill. Even if a YA book includes a therapist, a debilitating emotional trauma, a stay in a psych hospital, or intrusive thoughts, it doesn't always signal mental illness. Life just isn't that simple, much less fiction. However we look at the ways our brains work, as we interact with one another, we can at least agree that this book simply comes under the heading of How To Deal. Sophie has a lot to learn about pushing past the normal barrier of her personality, the barriers of silence and secrecy - and most of all, fear - to get what she needs. Without any other reason, that's what makes this book awesome, and a candidate for Erika's List.
Cover Chatter:The sort of funky rainbow colors are a lot less subdued on this novel than they could have been - and I like that. I like that there's a house on the cover, which mirrors both the guest house, and the architectural firm where Sophie interns. I like the field of weeds and the dilapidation, and I can't see where they go with the paperback cover - there's an art project which could lend itself very nicely. I don't, of course, love the floating face of the girl. I don't see Sophie like this at all, and don't think she resembles the model on the cover. Still, I know her undecided expression will hook some readers, and we should all learn to ignore covers either way, right??
Authorial Asides: This is a very strong debut novel, and here's to more from this author.
FCC:This book came to me courtesy of the author and publisher, via NetGalley
As of September 2013, you can find THIS IS HOW I FIND HER by Sara Polsky online, or at an independent bookstore near you!