I picked up a book for teens by an author I had read before. It sounded interesting – its main plot line is the experiences of a girl with mental illness – so I thought I would give it a try. It was an enjoyable read, very accessible too. A quick synopsis from the book’s back cover:
Life is very grave for Anise. Hospitalized for anorexia, she wonders about the point of it all. Her frigid mother and ineffectual father seem oblivious to her struggle. Her beloved brother is too busy screwing up his own life to take note of hers. Living on the loony ward seems not to be making any difference at all, and Anise feels like a prisoner. Her only free choice is to turn to her journal – the place where she can make scathing observations about her family, other people, the world; the place where she can dream, and where she can decide whether to live or die.
Like I said, it was an easy and enjoyable read. I think Gail Sidonie Sobat, the author of this book, has a way of making any topic interesting. She talks about very important issues in this book. Not only about anorexia but also suicide, cutting, hospitalization, and the treatment options for of mental illness. It was surprising to see such bold discussion of these topics – I know that I expect only allusions to suicide or cutting, but in the book there is outright discussion. I give credit to the publishers, Great Plains Publications, for printing the book so raw. I think this fact cannot be over emphasized as I think it is very important for youth to have resources for thinking about these issues.
These facts aside, the book was a bit disappointing. I think there was so much potential for greatness that was not realized. The characters were simplified and predictable. I think Anise’s life was oversimplified as well. While I don’t want to dismiss the experiences of those similar to Anise’s I really thought the book portrayed a very simple and, honestly, easy experience with anorexia. Mental illness, especially illness requiring hospitalization, is devastating. Women, girls and men who are hospitalized and force fed are often at the edge of death. All aspects of your life are affected and relationships are often ruined. I wanted to see a book that really recognizes the depth of suffering people with mental illness endure.
Sobat secured a hopeful ending which is a positive thing… but is it realistic? The reoccurrence of anorexia is something like 90% but Sobat left the reader thinking that as long as Anise works hard, she will be successful. Maybe that is true, or maybe mental illness can be so strong that it can rip through people like nobodys business. I kept wondering if this was because the author was writing from an outsider perspective. Perhaps she has experienced hospitalizing anorexia or had only known someone who had (or perhaps neither). Her bio mentions that she is a teacher at the Alberta Hospital (a mental institution) so perhaps the book is a reflection of her experience there. I recognize that the publishers probably wanted a happy ending for such a heavy topic. Also, I think it is good to give a message of hope to the teens who read the book (or twenty-somethings like me). I do think there is a way to be hopeful while also recognizing the long, and often grueling, times ahead. I have recently read a book that was successful at doing this which I will be reviewing in the future, so more on this later.
So, in summary, the book was interesting and I was thankful for it but didnt quite meet the heights it could have reached. Check it out!