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

BUY HERE:

This post contains affiliate links.

AJ Mendez Brooks: Crazy is My Superpower

Three-time WWE Diva’s Champion A.J. Brooks’ Crazy is My Superpower is a literary memoir chronicling her unlikely rise from 100-pound nerd growing up in extreme poverty and enduring years of abuse to international sex symbol and professional wrestling champion (known as A.J. Lee). A.J. fought against stereotypes, forced the men in her industry to view her with respect, and inspired a huge fan base of over 2 million Twitter followers with her fierce independent streak.

Let me start this review by telling you:  I know ZIP about professional wrestling. I have friends who set up a ring in the backyard and held their own faux championships, but outside of that and Dwayne The Rock Johnson…nope. Nothing. NA to the freaking DA.

What I’m trying to say is…if you’re looking for a review from a well educated wrestling fan, run in the other direction. That is not me.

But there was a nerdy girl in Chucks on the cover of this book talking about mental illness, and I’m all here for that.

Another thing I’m here for? AJ Mendez Brooks is a girl who gives ZERO fucks. And I do mean zero. She has been through hell a million times over and just doesn’t have time for people’s shit. She is going to conquer this world, whatever she puts her mind to–through poverty and a mega dysfunctional family and her own bipolar disorder. She’s just gonna do it. Also, she thinks abandoned dogs are the greatest thing since sliced bread and I am DEFINITELY here for that.

There are two things that gave me pause:

There is a lot of “I’m not like other girls, I’m just one of the guys” going on. I get it, you’re a TomBoy who wrestles on TV, wears sweats, and doesn’t brush your hair all the time…but sometimes it got a little superior in attitude. (Also she kept calling her sweats “asexual sweats,” and that’s just…asexuals can be fashionable too, you know?)

Also, if there is a negative or derogatory term for mental illness, she used it. I did hesitate when requesting this book–not because of my lack of wrestling knowledge, but because of the title. It’s a little off putting to me. However, like I said, she just gives zero fucks. And in the end, she tells us why she uses the word ‘crazy’ so much. For her, the only way to reduce the stigma surrounding the word is to reclaim it.

I think AJ could probably eat me for breakfast and move on. I absolutely admire her strength of character. I don’t agree with everything she said in her memoir, but her quirky writing style had me entertained right up until the end. I loved her diary entries that were interspersed between the chapters, and the drawings (I think by her brother Robbie) were kick ass. If you’re a wrestling fan, comic book fan, or just general all around nerd, I think you’ll like this memoir.

Blogging for Books and Crown Publishing provided a copy of this book for unbiased review.

BUY HERE:

This post contains affiliate links.

 

Andrea Petersen: On Edge–A Journey Through Anxiety

A celebrated science and health reporter offers a wry, bracingly honest account of living with anxiety

A racing heart. Difficulty breathing. Overwhelming dread. Andrea Petersen was first diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at the age of twenty, but she later realized that she had been experiencing panic attacks since childhood. With time her symptoms multiplied. She agonized over every odd physical sensation. She developed fears of driving on highways, going to movie theaters, even licking envelopes. Although having a name for her condition was an enormous relief, it was only the beginning of a journey to understand and master it—one that took her from psychiatrists’ offices to yoga retreats to the Appalachian Trail.

Woven into Petersen’s personal story is a fascinating look at the biology of anxiety and the groundbreaking research that might point the way to new treatments. She compares psychoactive drugs to non-drug treatments, including biofeedback and exposure therapy. And she explores the role that genetics and the environment play in mental illness, visiting top neuroscientists and tracing her family history—from her grandmother, who, plagued by paranoia, once tried to burn down her own house, to her young daughter, in whom Petersen sees shades of herself.

Brave and empowering, this is essential reading for anyone who knows what it means to live on edge.

I’ve been reading a lot of fiction lately, and it’s been a little while since I’ve reviewed any psychology nonfiction. I was excited to read Andrea Petersen’s On Edge–it’s always so encouraging to hear success stories from people who have had similar battles with anxiety that I have had.

However, I was confused right away, because On Edge is supposed to be Andrea Petersen’s memoirs…and it is not that at all. But neither is it exactly an objective journalistic history of psychology.

On Edge smothers us with too much information. In an effort to explain her diagnosis, Petersen gives a complicated back story of mental illness, pulling the reader in too many directions all at once. We are with her grandmother in the institution, we are with Petersen in a mid-flight panic attack, and then we are deeply entrenched in an incredibly boring History of Psychology class. I couldn’t figure out what end was up!

I would love to read Andrea Petersen’s memoirs. And I would love to read a book written by Andrea Petersen giving me detailed information about anxiety and mental illness. But to try and combine the two, and still keep the history sections objective just were not happening. Maybe that wasn’t the point, but it sure made it hard on me to switch gears so often. She needs to pick one and stick with it. This was a DNF–I made it halfway and then just couldn’t keep going. That’s highly unusual for a book of this subject matter.

NetGalley and Crown provided this ARC for an unbiased review.

BUY HERE:

This post contains affiliate links.

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.

BUY HERE:

Damion Searls: The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing

The captivating, untold story of Hermann Rorschach and his famous inkblot test, which has shaped our view of human personality and become a fixture in popular culture

In 1917, working alone in a remote Swiss asylum, psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach devised an experiment to probe the human mind. For years he had grappled with the theories of Freud and Jung while also absorbing the aesthetic of a new generation of modern artists. He had come to believe that who we are is less a matter of what we say, as Freud thought, than what we see.

Rorschach himself was a visual artist, and his test, a set of ten carefully designed inkblots, quickly made its way to America, where it took on a life of its own. Co-opted by the military after Pearl Harbor, it was a fixture at the Nuremberg trials and in the jungles of Vietnam. It became an advertising staple, a cliché in Hollywood and journalism, and an inspiration to everyone from Andy Warhol to Jay-Z. The test was also given to millions of defendants, job applicants, parents in custody battles, workers applying for jobs, and people suffering from mental illness—or simply trying to understand themselves better. And it is still used today.

Damion Searls draws on unpublished letters and diaries, and a cache of previously unknown interviews with Rorschach’s family, friends, and colleagues, to tell the unlikely story of the test’s creation, its controversial reinvention, and its remarkable endurance—and what it all reveals about the power of perception. Elegant and original, The Inkblots shines a light on the twentieth century’s most visionary synthesis of art and science.

So often when we think about study psychology, we talk about different methods–but we rarely think about the people who dedicated their lives to figuring out the science behind those methods. Aside from Freud and Jung, how many psychologists can you name? Not many! We see inkblots everywhere in our culture, and not even just as the tests themselves anymore. They are mimicked in art and on album covers, on tshirts and in the media. But I never knew who Hermann Rorschach was–when he lived, how he died, where the inkblots came from.

It’s all pretty fascinating, actually. Rorschach had a troubled childhood, but he was a good person, and genuinely wanted to help people. Medicine wasn’t enough, he wanted to see them for who they were. He worked his whole life with schizophrenics in asylums, trying to determine whether it was a life sentence or not, how he could get inside their heads and bring them back. He didn’t create the first Inkblot Test, but he perfected the cards used today.

The Inkblots is a very dense book. It is not only a biography of Rorschach himself, but also a biography of the Inkblot test. Hermann died young, and so the Searls shifts halfway through to the modern history of his test (WWII-current). The discussion of the Nuremberg trials and how the Rorschach test was used there stopped me in my tracks. Some of the results were so surprising…and poignant to today. I’ve certainly put more reading on my TBR surrounding that subject!

This isn’t a book to be missed for anyone interested in the history of psychology. As I mentioned before, it is dense–definitely not a fast read or something you’re going to fall in love with on vacation–but certainly fascinating. Also, Hermann Rorschach was HOT, and that’s all I have to say about that.

Blogging for Books and Crown Publishing provided a copy of this book for unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

BUY HERE:

Louise Gornall: Under Rose-Tainted Skies

Norah has agoraphobia and OCD. When groceries are left on the porch, she can’t step out to get them. Struggling to snag the bags with a stick, she meets Luke. He’s sweet and funny, and he just caught her fishing for groceries. Because of course he did.

Norah can’t leave the house, but can she let someone in? As their friendship grows deeper, Norah realizes Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can lie on the front lawn and look up at the stars. One who isn’t so screwed up.

How do some books just find you at the perfect time? It seems that I’ve read bad book after bad book lately (with one or two exceptions), and then blammo, right when I needed it, this book happened. Two days after I was FINALLY diagnosed with OCD, I pick up Under Rose-Tainted Skies.

I was hooked within the first couple pages. The narrator described her obsessions almost the exact same way I had written about them in my journal the day before my therapist appointment, and I got CHILLS. So much of what she talked about rang true with me. Mine is not near as severe, and I don’t have agoraphobia, but it was incredible to have such representation in a book.

But enough about me and back to the review. There are a lot of similarities between Nicola Yoon’s Everything Everything and Under Rose-Tainted Skies. However, Norah doesn’t have to be “fixed” to have a relationship with Luke. Instead, he comes to her. He makes an effort to learn about her disorder. In the process of their relationship, she does heal some, but she isn’t magically better. It’s baby steps, or “new pathways,” as her therapist would call them. Luke helps her grow a bit out of her comfort zone.

This book is going to be triggering for some people. There is a component of self-harm, and a very traumatic scene. Norah also experiences panic attacks throughout the book–those were difficult for me to experience, as they were very vivid. Right on target, but also hard to read through if you are one who has panic attacks yourself. Representation is everything, and amazing…but just proceed with caution if you also suffer from these kinds of mental illness.

I loved this book, I found it so helpful to read about someone like me. We need so many more Own Voices books about people with mental illness in this world. Definitely put this on your list for 2017!

DiversityBingo2017:  MC with an Invisible Disability

NetGalley and Clarion Books provided an ARC for unbiased review. This post does contain affiliate links.

BUY HERE:

Magen Cubed: The Crashers

At 9:17 AM, a subway train crashed in East Brighton City. That was when everything changed.

Five survivors emerge from the accident: former detective Kyle Jeong; single mother Norah Aroyan; Afghanistan veteran Adam Harlow; the genius Clara Reyes; and the dying Bridger Levi. These five strangers walk away from the crash unscathed, only to realize the event has left each of them with strange new powers. As their city falls into chaos around them, they find themselves drawn into a story far more dangerous than they ever knew – and it will change their lives forever.

Death, undeath, superpowers, and apocalyptic visions. Welcome to East Brighton City – hope you survive.

When people start getting shouty on twitter about books I must read, they usually end up on my TBR. When people start getting shouty on twitter about books I must read that are free today on Amazon…well…they get added to my Kindle IMMEDIATELY DO NOT PASS GO OR COLLECT $200–especially when they out of the LGBTQIA and/or POC community. Please shout at me all of the books.

The Crashers was one of such shouty books, just before my vacation. I actually intended to take my Kindle with me, but already had a couple book books going so didn’t manage to get to it while traveling. It has everything: POC leads, gay leads, bisexual leads, disabled characters, mental illness, several badass women who take no shit, and did I mention they are superheroes?

Also, the author’s bio says she lives in Texas with a little dog named Cecil, so how in the world could I pass that up?

The story itself was just a little slow to start for me, but I think that was just the anticipation because I knew it was going to build up so much. It was a case of being TOO excited to read it. I LOVED almost all of the characters. There were one or two that I didn’t quite mesh with, but Adam? Ohhh Adam. I’m so in love with him. Is there anyone in the world who isn’t in love with Adam?

If you love cop dramas, superheroes–especially dark ones (think DC, not Marvel)–you’re going to love this. The Crashers has so much grit. SO MUCH, you guys. I think there’s still some in my teeth. I need a graphic novel version with blacks and grays and reds. Sin City style.

OOCH I cannot wait until Koreatown. GIMMEE GIMMEE GIMMEE.

bookdragonbookdragonbookdragonbookdragon

BUY HERE:

This post contains affiliate links.

Mental Illness Awareness Week 2016 #MIAW

I saw this video on Facebook this morning, and shared it with the following post. I’ve been trying to think of what to post today, and I think this is exactly how I need to kick this week off. Thank you, Neil. You’re an inspiration to us all.

This poem will make you laugh. It will make you sob. You might think “Wow! This guy is NUTS!”

Neil Hilborn has a bunch of these kinds of videos out, I encourage you to go watch them. He’s brilliant. And devastatingly sick. People with mental illness struggle every day with the things Neil talks about in this poem. It may be humorous, but it isn’t a joke. This is real life.

This is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Take some time to listen to people’s stories, like Neil’s. Tell yours, if you have one. Do some research, donate to organizations like NAMI, if you can. They are fighting for bills in Congress to help us get better health care for the mentally ill.

But most of all, instead of thinking “Wow! This guy is NUTS!” Try and think, “Wow, this guy is so brave! He has been to the edge again and again and again and he still can see colors. He still has hope.”

Help us reduce the stigma behind mental illness. Replace it with hope, and love, and the courage to keep fighting.

Thank you.


If you need help, please reach out to one of the following numbers. Or, for people like myself who have trouble calling, there is also a suicide prevention chat now.

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/gethelp/lifelinechat.aspx

 

Nicola Yoon: Everything, Everything

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

I’ve been hearing so much about Everything Everything, and I didn’t even know it was a diverse book! So when it showed up on the #DiverseAThon list, it was one of the first books I requested from the library.

It was a sweet book, but I’m not as in love with it as everyone else is. Things are just a little too perfect. I mean, that totally happens in YA romance like this, but of course the “perfect” guy for Maddy moves next door to her and stays in the exact room she can see into. Maybe I’m a little jaded. Just a little.

I seem to be the only person I know who guessed what was really going on between Maddy and her mom. I won’t give it away, just promise me you’ll do some research after you finish the book. Because it’s another one of those plot devices that really get on my nerves. I’ll put the thing you need to google at the very bottom of this post, after my credits, where you don’t have to look if you don’t want to. Come back after you’ve read it. Let me know what you think. It’s really an interesting thing on it’s own. As a plot device though? I’m tired of authors doing this.***

Everything Everything is certainly entertaining. It’s a cute YA that checks all the major boxes for popular lit. And it has POC leads! We certainly need more of those in publishing. For those reasons, I cannot/will not dissuade you from reading it. It’s just not my favorite of the year.

bookdragonbookdragon

BUY HERE:

***Ok, now for the rest of my review, because SPOILERS, and this very much ruins the ending. Maddy is not sick. She does not have SCID. Her mother has PTSD, and a form of which that lends itself very close, if not all the way to Munchausen Syndrome. 

Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a mental illness and a form of child abuse. The caretaker of a child, most often a mother, either makes up fake symptoms or causes real symptoms to make it look like the child is sick.
This is problematic for two reasons. 
1. The author is using mental illness as a twist ending, which I absolutely hate. Writers have to stop doing this. Mental illness is not a “twist.” It’s a real life thing. We do not suffer for your plot devices. 
2. This says you cannot be happy if you have a disability. Maddy can only be happy in the end because she is not truly sick. She gets to go out in the world and be with Olly, live her life the way she wants to, and all her problems disappear.
For a much better description of this, I am going to refer you to Jennifer’s review. She explains way better than I can.

#DiverseAThon on ILayReading

There’s something beautiful happening in Booklrland right now. If you tune in to Twitter, you will see the hashtag #DiverseAThon in your newsfeed. Click on it, and a barrage of tweets about POC, LGBTQA+, and mentally ill authors will hit you. Pay attention. This conversation is one of the strongest I have ever had the privilege of being a part of so far in our community. I’m participating, but mostly, I’m listening pretty damn hard.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Recently, a booktuber that I am not going to name posted a horrendous video about diversity on YouTube. I didn’t watch it, and I’m not going to give you the link. She doesn’t deserve the clicks and ad revenue. From the summaries and transcripts I have read, it was ridiculously racist and her goal was to convince people that there was no need for diversity in publishing. Only white women read books anyway, right?

She was so so wrong. The video she thought would tear people down only built up this wonderful, diverse community we have created. On Labor Day, there was a hashtag #IStandForDiversity and it immediately took off. The hashtag was changed to #ISupportDiversity after it was advised that the original was ableist–and that one took off just as fast. Since then, it has been a constant conversation. We aren’t backing down on this. Diversity has been a constant issue in publishing, and all that video did was bring it to the absolute forefront.

This week, running from September 12-19, the community is holding #DiverseAThon. There are live chats (the first was last night) about our favorite diverse books, along with other such topics. Those of us participating have committed to read books by POC, LGBTQA+, and mentally ill authors (and/or with those characters) this week.

It isn’t too late to join. Find a diverse book on your TBR shelf, pick one up from your library, or head to your local book store, and start reading! And diverse reading doesn’t have to just be this week. It shouldn’t be. Don’t make #DiverseAThon ONLY this week, and then go back to reading white CIS male authors every other week of the year. That would be so easy to do.

I am challenging myself to be better. Not everything I read is diverse. Because I’ve set a goal to read the Boxall’s list, there are a whollllle lot of non-diverse books on my TBR. But, I am culling a lot of the others, ones that have been sitting on there for no reason other than I had added them at one point and not gotten to them. I’m also starting to categorize my diverse books on my TBR so I can find them more easily. I’ve changed some of my tags and categories here on ILayReading, and I’m working thru my older posts, so click thru occasionally and more will show up there.

I am a work in progress. But conversations like #DiverseAThon are helping me to be better. I want to thank everyone participating for your camaraderie and discussion. It is through this type of community that we can bring change to our world.