Note: As stated under the Source (above), I received this book for free from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review (and trust me, honest is always what you’ll get).
Summary: Being 16 can be hard. Being 16 with a brother who committed suicide is even harder. Being 16 with bipolar disorder? Hard to even imagine. But that is Mel’s reality. She’s been taking medication for a year and it helps, but so much happened before that, and in an attempt to try to hide the past from her friends, she’s dug a hole she can’t seem to climb out of. Eventually, the truth starts unraveling, and with it, her tenuous grasp on reality.
Review: Having a history of mental health issues in my own family, in addition to grappling with them myself (anxiety and depression, I’m lookin’ at you!), I’m always attracted to fiction centered around that topic. As is often the case, it is comforting, and often enlightening, to walk in the shoes of someone who fights similar battles, even if that someone is fictional. And though more and more stories like this one are being written (as mental illness becomes a more “acceptable” and mainstream topic), they are still scarce, and more often than not, mental illness is present in a story as a cause of evil-doing – the psychopathic killer, etc. So, it’s nice to come across something contemporary, focused on the realities of mental illness, and a story that is YA. Because changing perspectives about mental health overall starts with how we approach the topic with younger generations. It is much easier to set the appropriate tone from the beginning than to try and fight misguided stereotypes in older generations. Point being, stories like this are important.
I liked Mel just fine. I understood her and related to her. But, until the end, I had a hard time accepting that she had bipolar disorder. I don’t have bipolar disorder, and I’m not an expert on bipolar disorder, but I understood so much about how she was feeling because of my own depression and anxiety, that I had a hard time accepting she had something so much more serious. Despite my own experiences of having to explain to people who don’t get it, of putting up with doubt, of essentially being accused of “making excuses”, being told that “everyone feels that way sometimes”, despite all of that, I still questioned her diagnosis. I kept having to remind myself that she was medicated, and that she was feeling all this despite the medication, that she was diagnosed by a professional and diagnoses of bipolar disorder aren’t handed out like candy. And that mental illness is a spectrum, even within a specific diagnosis. Then at the end, as she starts losing control, then it becomes obvious how much the medication was helping her. And I felt guilty for questioning, for not understanding. Because of my own situation, because of my family history, I should have understood. And if I couldn’t grasp it from the beginning, how could someone with no experience with mental health issues?
And that is why stories like this are so important. So, so important. And why everyone should take the time to read them. It isn’t the most gripping story, or the most emotional. It isn’t funny or particularly exciting. You won’t be sitting on the edge of your seat or dying for a sequel. But maybe you’ll learn something and gain a little empathy. We’d all benefit from that.