Laurie Halse Anderson: The Impossible Knife of Memory

For the past five years, Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.

Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.

I want to title this review:  The Impossible Mediocrity of Mental Illness YA. For as complex and nuanced as mental illness is–you’d think that we would get more than just textbook representation in our stories. Unfortunately, time and time again, it’s all I see. So rarely do I find a novel about mental illness that truly shows what it is like to be in the thick of it–instead the depiction is flat and gray.

PTSD is such an important subject, and finding good help for our soldiers is a crucial, difficult task. That is one thing about this book that I did agree with:  how Halse Anderson wrote Andy’s character refusing help or medication. His characterization wasn’t incorrect, I think I just had a hard time with Hayley’s narration of it.

Something else stuck out to me–Finn and Hayley were going through such a similar situation:  they both had family members who were addicts. But instead of talking about it or having that bring them closer together, all they did was fight and scream at each other. Their whole relationship was a weird dynamic, but that really seemed off kilter. Also, it wasn’t lost on me that Gracie continuously suspected Topher for cheating on her as a projection from her dad…though I think everyone else in the story missed that detail. Those sort of plot holes bug me.

But mostly, it’s Hayley that bothers me. Her attitude is horrible, and she’s an unreliable narrator of the worst kind. And maybe that’s the problem. I don’t mind unreliable narrators if there are ways to fill in the holes, but I felt like that knife just cut through the plot until I had an impossible amount of memory to fill.

Trigger warning:  PTSD, Panic Attacks, Knives, Blood, Suicide Ideation/Thoughts/Planning, Drowning, drugs, alcoholism

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Nikki Dubose: Washed Away

Trigger Warning:  eating disorders, rape, domestic violence, sexual abuse, addiction, self harm, mental illness, obsessive behavior

Washed Away: From Darkness to Light is a memoir that recounts the experiences of model Nikki DuBose as she overcomes a more than seventeen-year battle with abuse, child sexual victimization, eating disorders, psychosis, alcoholism, drugs, depression, suicide attempts, body dysmorphic disorder, and various other mental health issues, all while trying to navigate through the dark side of the fashion industry.

Her journey began as a young, introverted child with a florid imagination growing up in Charleston, South Carolina. By the age of eight she had been sexually, physically, and emotionally abused and had developed an eating disorder. The abuse warped Nikki’s self-perception and sparked patterns of psychosis, depression and destructive behavior that stayed with her into adulthood. In her early twenties she began working as a television host and started a career in modeling. Eventually Nikki attained success, appearing on the covers of magazines such as Maxim, shooting for editorials like Vanity Fair, Glamour and FHM, and appearing in campaigns for Perry Ellis.

Cast into a world of excess, superficiality, and vanity, Nikki traveled the globe and experienced the finest that the material world had to offer, all while feeling empty inside. Her disorders, addictions and mental health issues took her to the brink of mortality and only through a deeply painful inner-battle and her mother’s death was she able to reconnect the lost pieces of her soul and see the person she had so long rejected.

Her recovery from a nearly lifelong struggle with PTSD, psychosis, addictions and eating disorders has left Nikki with a passionate longing to help others who are also suffering by advocating for mental health and self-acceptance. Washed Away: From Darkness to Light will serve as a testimony to others to let them know that they are not alone in their fears, doubts, and frustrations, and that through recovery all things are possible.

 

Remember back when I read Lady Injury, when I told you that I liked a book…but then warned you not to read it? That’s exactly how I feel about Washed Away. In fact, the books are as similar as they are different, just as the two women are. Both books are about eating disorders and extremely severe mental illness. Both books are horrifically triggering and devastating. But, just as no two people are the same, no two mental illnesses are the same–and thus, no two memoirs could be the same either.

Washed Away is the story of two women, actually–not just Nikki herself, but also her mother. Nikki’s story illustrates just how strong the ties of mental illness can be–both nature and nurture. Her life was basically just a boulder rolling down a mountain–there was no way to stop it until the very bottom–and that boulder crushed everything in its path.

And Nikki was crushed by everything imaginable. I don’t often put a trigger warning at the beginning of my reviews, but it was necessary for this one. It is so easy to feel hopeless while reading a book like this because there seemingly is no end to the tragedy that this woman went through in her life. But she found her way out. I cannot imagine how impossible recovery seemed, but her epilogue was full of all the hope that was missing in the rest of the pages. It’s worth reading the rest just for that.

If you are looking for a story about someone who got out, someone who fought through bulimia and mental illness and came out on the other side–maybe look at Nikki’s book. Just be aware that this is a very triggering story, so take care.

I received a copy of this book from Book Publicity Services for an honest review. This post contains affiliate links.

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Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness

The Close sisters are descended from very prominent and wealthy ancestors. When the Close sisters were very young, their parents joined a cult called the MRA, or Moral Rearmament. The family was suddenly uprooted to a cult school in Switzerland and, ultimately, to the Belgian Congo where their father became a surgeon in the war ravaged republic, and ultimately the personal physician to President Mobutu. Shortly after the girls returned to the US for boarding school, Jessie first started to exhibit symptoms of severe bipolar disorder (she would later learn that this ran in the family, a well-kept secret). Jessie embarked on a series of destructive marriages as the condition worsened. Glenn was always by her side throughout. Jessie’s mental illness was passed on to her son, Calen. It wasn’t until Calen entered McLean’s psychiatric hospital that Jessie herself was diagnosed. Fifteen years and twelve years of sobriety later, Jessie is a stable and productive member of society. Glenn continues to be the major support in Jessie’s life.

In RESILIENCE, the sisters share their story of triumphing over Jessie’s illness. The book is written in Jessie’s voice with running commentary and an epilogue written by Glenn.

I am of two opinions on Resilience. Jessie Close shares an incredibly personal journey of her battle with rapid-cycling bipolar disorder. She also shares the alcoholism, self-destruction, and many marriages that came out of her periods of mania. Her son also suffers from a terrifying mental illness. The struggles in this book are enormous, and I applaud her fight and bravery for sharing such an intensely personal story.

However, this is not a well written memoir. It pains me to be critical of such a narrative, but from a review standpoint, it just doesn’t measure up to others I have read in this genre. The same sentences were often repeated twice, and the wording was often awkward. It is always frustrating to have such a mismatch between strong content and poor writing, especially in a book fighting to bring light to such an important subject.

I think the content wins out though. Glenn and Jessie are fighting to bring awareness and education to people and reduce society’s stigma through their organization Bring Change 2 Mind. Check them out this week for Mental Health Month!

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The Far End of Happy

*deep breath out*

It’s been awhile since a book has made me this emotional. If you are looking for a book that hits all of the feels–look no further than Kathryn Craft’s The Far End of Happy.

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Divorce, depression, and alcoholism combine into a Molotov cocktail ready to blow as soon as it hits the ground. This nightmare becomes reality one morning as Ronnie rushes to get her kids to school on the day her husband is supposed to move out. She had expected drama, but not the kind where he threatens her and the boys. The day becomes a roller coaster of agony as he holds himself and the community hostage.

As you can imagine from the description, The Far End of Happy is not an easy book to read–at least as far as content goes. The imagery is vivid and sucks you right into the action with the characters. I appreciate that Craft wrote the story from three different perspectives, and I like that there were memory flashbacks as well. At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the unclear definitions between flashback and reality, but it made the narration purposefully unreliable and it worked in this very tense moment.

By the end, I could hardly set the book down because my nerves were stretched so thin, worrying what was going to happen with (or to) Jeff. It’s for that reason I am going to put a TRIGGER WARNING on this–this book is all about depression, alcoholism, and most importantly, suicide, so if any of those things are harmful to you, be aware that it is a very intense and anxiety-inducing book.

That said, Kathryn Craft has done a marvelous job with her novel. Ronnie is a fantastic character, someone who faces struggles head on, and does what she has to do to take care of her children, even if it’s not the easiest choice, and not what everyone else thinks is the right one. Add this to your TBR if it’s not there already, but make sure and bring some tissues!

 

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