Atheneum, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, 2018
This little, cerebral thriller of a book packs a punch. However, there’s a few things to consider before you read it. It is a book about mental health and schizophrenia. It is not a fluffy cuddly book. This one bites, and confuses. The author has South Korean origins, meaning that the Eastern influences are heavy in the writing style of the book. And why do I say both things before I even review the book? Because if you’re expecting a perfectly “coherent” fluffy book, this book is not it and it definitely isn’t a Western view of the world even if it is set in the US.
Throughout the novel we get to know Grace, who saw her mother deteriorate in the grips of schizophrenia, and then ultimately disappear from her life. Her mother has never been found, which has led Grace’s father on a desperate quest to find a cure for this debilitating illness. Grace interns at the lab where her father works. He is a headhunter, bringing in the top scientists from around the world to join forces in search of the key that will unlock a cure for Grace’s mother—the love of his life—if only they could find her.
This is a non-linear novel that uses the seasons of the year to anchor you in the story. Na is a master of imagery and it felt to me that her arresting descriptions of the weather coincided with Grace’s moods and mental state. I could be reading too much into it, but nothing in this book felt accidental.
In addition to jumping back and forth between the seasons and around in the story, the reader is also left to parse between reality and delusion. This made for an intriguing and gut-wrenching, but unenjoyable read. Though, I would argue that “enjoyable” was not the goal, and for this I was glad.
Though a novel, this did not read like an attempt to make schizophrenia into entertainment. This felt like a deft effort to bring understanding to an illness that continues to be misunderstood, despite decades of research. The portrayal of this mental illness and how it breaks the mind apart from the inside out was honest and elegant. It does not glorify the disease but rather exposes it in all its gruesome tragedy.
It was definitely worth the read, and I believe an important work for helping people understand what schizophrenia looks like from the inside out. It’s a confusing illness, and to wrap up the story with a neat little bow would have been disingenuous. In the end, I appreciated the beauty and tragedy, and clarity and confusion Na wove together to create this novel. There are a lot of twists and intriguing bits in the story where at first you aren’t sure but as the story progresses you begin to realize how much Grace is fighting and what “enemy” she’s fighting. In my opinion it was a clever book with the way it sets things and how it leaves you guessing
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