Book review: Crazy by Amy Lynn Reed

Simon Pulse, 2012

CRAZY, from author Amy Reed is an emotional rollercoaster ride through teen angst, romance, and the very real hopelessness that some feel and don’t know how to face. The novel, written in the unique and engaging format of email correspondence between just two characters, follows teens Isabel and Connor, who live in different cities and virtually different worlds but have become each other’s greatest confidant. They meet at summer camp and become friends. Connor is falling in love with Isabel and Izzy is falling over the cliff of sanity.  At times, their relationship is very close and other times, very destructive.  

Izzy suffers from bipolar disorder. Connor is trying to help her and at times Izzy is very selfish and mean to him. The emails between the two are open and honest and at times, painful to read. Izzy’s family life is a mess and most of the time she feels very alone and that no one cares.  She is wrong about her friendship with Connor though. He refuses to give up on her so while she keeps pushing him away, he keeps trying to pull her in.   Izzy suffers from depression and low self-esteem issues and as a result has random hookups.  When she goes off on these emotions, Connor is always there to pull her back down to reality.

As Izzy descends into a dark spiral driven by what she has yet to learn is the onset of bipolar disorder, Connor tries desperately to reach her. In one instance she nearly sets her house on fire. Connor is falling in love with the girl who doesn’t know how to be loved, or to love herself, and all he wants to do is show her just how loved she is.

What begins as a seemingly typical tale of a moody teen slowly turns dark as Izzy’s ability to function with her disorder deteriorates. Connor finally begins to fear for his friend, understanding just how grave her situation is, until she finally sends one email that tips him off to her attempted suicide. The boy is forced to find the strength inside himself to go to their parents and the authorities and find the help Izzy needs before she is lost to him forever.

The authors treatment of the spiral of depression in the teen years that can lead to suicide is insightful and touching, and very real. Reed paints an intimate image of the confusion a person experiences that can lead to feeling like there’s no way out—and the fear and helplessness felt by those close to them as they try to understand and help.

Book review: Therapy by Kathryn Perez

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014

Kathryn Perez created characters for this book that were deep, flawed and in some ways broken. She revealed such effortless depth depicting depression, bullying, and self-harm.

Jessica Alexander, the poet protagonist in this YA novel about mental illness is tormented by high school struggles and suffers from self-mutilation. It’s a story about friendship, self-discovery, redemption that is interspersed with heartache. The trials and tribulations of depression add to the facts that she doesn’t fit in in any high school cliques, or have meaningful friendships. She doesn’t know anything about love or hope and allows boys to use her for sex by being easily accessible attracting ridicule from the popular kids. Deep down, Jessica wants to be loved and has no real family to support her. She’s lost. She uses her body and sex to build her own self confidence and self worth making her unpopular and gets her attacked by her bullies. On one particular beating occasion, Jessica is saved by a popular boy.

So, enter Jace Collins, who is a smart, athletic boy with a heart of gold who protects and stands by Jessica’s side and may have his own dark side which allows him to empathize with victims. like the fact that he lost his younger sister to bullying. While Jace is confident, Jessica has low self-esteem and lacks confidence. Her clinginess may ruin what they’ve found in each other. But Jace really sees her and gets her, so he sets their relationship on the correct path to protect her from the same demise as his younger sister. Their friendship turns into a budding romance, but one final thing will tear them apart for six years where Jessica suffers in silence.

Jessica made decisions because she honestly felt that she was doing the right thing.  Seeing how these decisions impacted her life in the future was often times painful and heartbreaking. It’s a sad journey that teaches us life isn’t easy and that you need to learn from your mistakes. But what if one learns to love oneself? Is there a guiding power that once you become a better person sets you on a path of redemption?

This beautifully written, deep, and emotional tale finds Jessica suffering in silence, and after six years is forced to face her past. When a series of unexpected events arise, will secrets be revealed and will lies become truth? Jace crosses paths with Jessica again in the most unexpected way.  Seeing them as adults, the reader sees that Jace is that guy in school that you never got over, the one who sticks with you through the years wondering what they are up to, always a constant within your heart.  There were so many missed opportunities, so much wasted time, and so much heartache.

Enter Kingsley Arrington who throws the reader for a loop and steals your heart. He comes into Jessica’s life at a time where she was so down on herself and her life. He meets Jessica in therapy. She’s there for cutting, promiscuity, and depression; He is there with a plethora of his own secrets. Kingsley shows her unconditional love, kindness and how to truly live life. Result: love triangle. Who will Jessica choose? All the while battling her depression. Watching Jessica’s journey struggling with mental illness as well as the stigma of the disease is devastating yet beautiful.

Book review: The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart

15 Guys, 11 Shrink Appointments, 4 Ceramic Frogs, and Me, Ruby Oliver

Ember, 2011

This YA novel is about self-discovery while attending prep school. The narrative is about fifteen-year-old Ruby Oliver and her relationships about which her psychiatrist, Dr. Z. focuses her therapy sessions. Ruby is a social outcast that has lost her boyfriend and her best friend (in fact, the two are now dating).

It’s a humorous at times and heartbreaking at others look at teenage angst and confusion while portraying psychiatrists very well and not coming across as sanctimonious. The protagonist’s voice is written well. with relatable traits and personality while maintain her uniqueness.

Ruby learns that lust exists outside of love and that it is natural and okay to feel one without the other. It’s how you deal with those feelings that is key. There is a lot of slut shaming in The Boyfriend List. In fact, the characters learn how emotionally charged the social context of this word is.

This light look at feminism follows Ruby (judgmental, pretentious, and oversensitive) as she sees how her behavior results from commonly accepted gender roles like passively waiting for the boy to make the move. In the novel, Ruby learns her voice and that it means she doesn’t need to wait for things to come her way. The story develops seamlessly and isn’t the least bit didactic as it follows a imperfect character as she makes mistakes and learns lessons along the way.

This quick, short read is funny writing at its best; a book about the challenges of being a teenage girl: boys, high school, gossip, dances, female friendships, toxic relationships, and the influence on panic attacks and mental health.

Book review: The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos

Balzer + Bray, 2016

Seventeen-year-old Imogene Scott sets out around New England scouring for clues to find her mystery writer father with depression and bipolar disorder who recently disappeared on Valentine’s Day, and the mother (troubled waters) that abandoned her when she was just two years old. She does so using clues and tips from her father’s detective books as well as other mystery writers, scouring hospital records, and neighbor interviews. All Imogene knows of her mother is the bedtime story her father told her as a child.

The Noir like tone of this YA novel matches the backdrop of cold, harsh, New England winters. This engaging, suspenseful mystery bears testament to loyalty, perseverance, and love despite learning that the stories about her parents are fictional just like Joshua Scott’s medical mysteries. While she has little in the way of clues, between her wits and the assistance of her best friend Jessa she starts out on a path that will impact her life forever.

The masterful weaving of mental illness, resiliency, precise plotting, unexpected twists, dynamic characters, and a sensitive treatment of mental illness makes this YA novel shine.

Book review: Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes

Harperteen, 2016

Paula Stokes YA novel, Girl Against the Universe is a fresh, informative, and powerful look at PTSD, grieving, and the rollercoaster of falling in love when your world is imploding. In this book we follow the protagonist, high school junior Maguire Kelly, who believes she makes bad things happen. After all her father, brother, and uncle died in a car crash that Maguire walked away from, a tennis mishap with Jordy, an unfortunate fall by his sister, or the neighbor’s house catching fire. There was even a time when a rollercoaster went off its tracks injuring her two friends leaving her thinking she’s a jinx.

So, what does Maguire do about it? She buys good luck charms and performs rituals, compulsive behaviors, so bad things don’t happen when she’s around. What she doesn’t do is listen to the logical explanation by her therapist. Instead, Maguire shields herself and hides away in her bedroom. That is so no one else can get hurt. What changes? Maguire meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star who enlists in helping her break her unlucky streak. They’re supportive of each other both in and out of therapy. It’s a very realistic, contemporary romantic tale about young love, therapy, and family relationships at a time when the character believes the whole world is against her.

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