Book review: When We Collided by Emery Lord

Bloomsbury, 2016

In this intensely romantic and emotional rollercoaster of a story, Vivi is the type of girl who wants to live her life to the fullest and to record her passage through life, but she has a disease: bipolar disorder. Although she wants to live, the treatment leaves her to be miserable and so she stops taking her medications. Jonah is a boy who lost his father to a heart attack. He and his two older brothers have to take care of the house and their three little brothers. Jonah doesn’t really get to experience everything other kids his age do while Vivi does whatever she possibly can. Throughout the novel, the two characters learn a lot from each other and learn to engage in a lot of new things they usually wouldn’t.

This YA novel was filled with many moments of suspense and joy as it brought out so many different perceptions of each character and overall was just a very exciting read as its storyline is magnificent with its appreciated details that take you into Vivi and Jonah’s world. This well-written experience about accepting yourself and helping others while continuing to live on even though things might not be at their best right now and taking life rain and shine. It’s about how sometimes even our scars can help others and give a little bit of light to those we meet. This book shows how lives can be messy but beautiful while still leaving an impact on so many others, too.

Enjoyed this post? Why not check out my YA novels about mental illness or Native American mystery series on Amazon, or follow me on TwitterInstagramFacebookGoodreads, LinkedInBookbub , or AllAuthor.

Book review: Underwater by Marisa Reichardt

Farrar Straus Giroux, 2016

High school junior Morgan Grant can divide her life into two parts: Before and after the devastating events of October 15. Before, Morgan was a bright, popular athlete with a promising future, whose days were filled with friends, sun, sand, swimming and school. After, Morgan is a survivor of a deadly tragedy whose worsening anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder have caused her to become a shadow of her former self.

Traumatized by what she has experienced, terrified of a world she can neither control nor predict, and haunted by feelings of guilt and culpability for what has happened, Morgan’s agoraphobia worsens until she no longer is able to leave her family’s two-bedroom apartment and she seeks comfort in a familiar, daily routine filled with little more than soap operas, home schooling, and grilled cheese sandwiches. Underwater is a sincere, heartfelt exploration of mental illness and a topical, all too important reminder that the story does not end when the final shot has been fired and the cameras finished rolling. For some, the story has only just begun.

Morgan’s journey to recovery is a difficult one. This YA author offers no easy answers or simple solutions for Morgan’s agoraphobia, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, but rather demonstrates the impressive mental and emotional labor and strength required to rediscover and remake oneself in the wake of a tragedy. Though Morgan’s progress is gradual and she often becomes frustrated with her missteps and failures along the way, Reichardt’s inherently charming and endearing protagonist is never presented as any less worthy of help, love or acceptance or as being beyond hope or recovery. Morgan is allowed to shine in other ways, most notable of which is evident in her devoted relationship with her single mother, a hard-working nurse, and her precocious younger brother, Ben, for whom she clearly cares deeply. Though the circumstances surrounding Morgan’s illness and the severity of what she suffers are arguably extreme, there’s little doubt that the essence of Morgan’s story – of being unashamed of one’s illness and working to better take care of oneself – will resonate with Underwater‘s readers, particularly those who also suffer from anxiety, as Morgan does.

There have been many novels written the about the subject of school shootings in recent years. Many writers have tried to make sense of an act that is, by its very nature, senseless, but what’s different about Underwater from its peers is its chosen focus. While other stories have focused largely on the psychology and motivation of the perpetrator or the details of the shootings themselves, debut author Marisa Reichardt instead chooses to focus on the devastating aftermath of such an event. Reichardt neither sensationalizes nor exploits this topic, instead offering a sensitive, empathetic portrayal of the repercussions of such a tragedy. In doing so, Underwater has the potential to act as a source of comfort for those who suffer from anxiety, agoraphobia and/or post-traumatic stress disorder and an excellent resource for readers who wish to better understand and empathize with those who do.

Underwater‘s synopsis does the novel a disservice in that it implies that Morgan’s recovery is mainly due to Evan’s appearance in her life. In reality, this could not be further from the truth. While a potential romantic relationship with Evan can provide Morgan with an additional incentive to pursue treatment and regain some semblance of normality, it is not the sole motivating factor in her recovery. Before Evan’s introduction, Morgan had already been undergoing treatment for her anxiety, agoraphobia, and post-traumatic stress disorder for four months. This treatment includes both the use of prescription medication and ongoing therapy with her psychologist, Brenda. Evan is not perfect–Evan grows frustrated and impatient with Morgan’s progress (or lack thereof) and is not always as supportive or as understanding as one might hope–but it’s to be commended that their blossoming romance is never presented as a solution to Morgan’s problems. There’s also something to be said for the strength and empowerment that can be drawn from a strong support system and the grandness in forming such a community. From her burgeoning relationship with Evan to her unconditional love for her mother and brother, Ben, Morgan has several positive relationships in her life from which she draws comfort and courage.

Underwater is a poignant, powerful, and ultimately uplifting and inspiring story of recovery and forgiveness that successfully attempts to lessen the stigma surrounding mental illness. It accomplishes this by providing readers with a positive and responsible portrayal of therapy and medication as effective tools in managing mental and emotional trauma and encouraging readers to embrace hope and possibility, even in the face of what might initially appear to be insurmountable obstacles. This YA novel is a genuinely kind and heartwarming narrative about triumph and love in the wake of adversity. 

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: Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Delacorte Press, 2015

Fourteen-year-old British teen Audrey is making slow but steady progress dealing with her anxiety disorder, which she developed after a car accident and tremendously difficult bullying. This mysterious altercation(s) with the mean girls at her school has sent her deep into an anxiety spiral so her life has changed dramatically since she has been battling depression and anxiety disorders. She is now always wearing dark sunglasses, unable to leave the house, doesn’t attend school, and has an attack if she talks to anyone besides her family. Audrey records what goes on in her house since she has a very hard time going outside and the drama of her family. Her brother Linus’ friend comes into the picture, and her recovery gains momentum.

This YA romance novel with excellent dialogue was a witty and sassy quick read. It showed us the recovery from mental illness as opposed to the descent into it that many others reveal. Her dysfunctional family provided some comic relief, even though the author kept the mental illness topic gentler and more lightweight than other books on the same subject.

It was a lighthearted, limited angst, ofttimes humorous story about teen life, anxiety, first love, and family love that discussed mental health therapy techniques, but I’d have loved to hear more of the backstory that caused her the issues the book talks about.

Book review: A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

Simon Pulse, 2018

This heartwarming, challenging novel about a girl, without her best friend, that can’t speak and a boy that can’t hear. Steffi has selective mutism and Rhys is deaf; but then the principal puts them together and Steffi crushes deeply. This novel is full of British Sign Language, which appears similar to ASL, starting with the inside of the cover we have the alphabet and the numbers, then every chapter number has its equivalent in the sign language. Even during the story there are lines that explain how to signs specific words in BSL like “thank you” or “I am sorry”. 

The backstory is full of complex families and relationships. She can express herself at 100% only to people she knows pretty well, and she is comfortable with her family or best friends. Tem, a daughter of refugees, who is the opposite of Steffi, is chatty and able to fill all the silence of Steffi. Tem never judges her best friend and never forces her to talk.

Steffi’s brain can pass from a good thing to a disaster quickly. No matter if she has any reason to think about something terrible, which leads to depression, and sometimes it’s really impossible to get out of it. “Panic attacks are a lot like being drunk in some ways, you lose self-control. You cry for seemingly no reason. You deal with the hangover long into the next day.”

Steffi comes from a loving, supportive family, has access to a good therapist, and has a trusted friend at work where Steffi communicates sometimes. This romantic character portrayal with racial diversity is a quick issue driven read. and is a relatable, perfect depiction of anxiety.

Book review: Under Rose-tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

What happens when one day you just wake up with mental illness, like agoraphobia, anxiety, or OCD? For thirteen-year-old Norah Dean that is her reality. There is no concrete reason why her, but now seventeen-year-old Norah no longer leaves the house without having a panic attack. She can’t even walk down the stairs without a ritual. So she has extremely limited human interaction with that being her mom, therapist, and an occasional guy from Helping Hands. She relies on social media and her house to feel a sense of security.

Then seventeen-year-old, courageous Norah meets charming neighbor Luke, and now she wants to get better and get over her illness. This novel is about Norah’s struggle with her insecurities and self-perception, but can she do anything to stop it. Norah, the heroine, works hard to not let these things define her throughout the story.

The author’s descriptions of social anxiety were spot on and had me recognizing similar feelings myself. Louise Gornall didn’t shy away from mental illness; instead, she explains the mortifying effects of mental illness that can leave one sheltered and lonesome. On the lighter side, the book had humorous dialogue, particularly between the mother and daughter. It is a brutally honest read that also leaves you entertained and appreciative that Norah was beyond her illness and for shedding light on mental illness with an accurate portrayal of her mental illness and self-acceptance.

%d bloggers like this: