Tag Archives: Mental illness

Whitney Taylor’s Definitions of Indefinable Things – Snarky, Savage, Hopeful

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Whitney Taylor’s Definitions of Indefinable Things – Snarky, Savage, Hopeful

It’s hard to write a funny book about depression.  First, well . . . Duh – depression is depressing.  Second, humor can make depression look a lot less painful than it really is.  I felt like Whitney Taylor managed to walk the thin line between the two in Definitions of Indefinable Things.  It is hilarious, but it is also pretty honest about the realities of depression. I thoroughly enjoyed this book because of that balance, so this is a solid four star read.


Goodreads Summary

This heartbreaking, humorous novel is about three teens whose lives intersect in ways they never expected.

Reggie Mason is all too familiar with “the Three Stages of Depression.” She believes she’s unlocked the secret to keeping herself safe: Nobody can hurt you if you never let them in.

Reggie encounters an unexpected challenge to her misanthropy: a Twizzler-chomping, indie film-making narcissist named Snake. Snake’s presence, while reassuring, is not exactly stable—especially since his ex-girlfriend is seven months pregnant. As Reggie falls for Snake, she must decide whether it’s time to rewrite the rules that have defined her.

My Thoughts

I like my leading ladies savage and snarky, and I’m not sure any character is more savage and snarky than Reggie.  Watching her navigate the ridiculousness of her life is so worth your time.  The thing I liked most about her is that, while she lashes out, she really does have a heart.  She cannot overcome her innate goodness, even when spewing venom.  Now, this is an unflinching look at depression. If you have never had it, you will walk away understanding exactly how it feels.  If you have, I think you will recognize the black hole.  But what really makes this book amazing is that it is also a look at life getting better.  It isn’t a fairy tale. Things aren’t perfect or quick, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  So, don’t skip it just because you don’t want to read something depressing.  This book is so much more.  While the language and situations are frequently mature,  I think it will speak more to my high school students about the unbreakable human spirit and believing in the good things life has to offer.  I’m adding it to my classroom library wish list.  Grades 10+.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Emma Wunsch’s The Movie Version proves that no one’s life is perfect

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Emma Wunsch’s The Movie Version proves that no one’s life is perfect

So, here’s the thing – when your life crashes down around you, you don’t always do, feel, or think the right things.  That is the honesty this book has to offer.   If you are looking for a perfect protagonist, don’t bother.  If you are looking for a book that is realistic and relatable, this might be your book.  I gave The Movie Version four stars.


Goodreads Summary

A whip-smart, heart-wrenching debut YA novel about first love, first loss, and filmmaking that will delight fans of Jandy Nelson and Jennifer Niven

In the movie version of Amelia’s life, the roles have always been clear. Her older brother, Toby: definitely the Star. As popular with the stoners as he is with the cheerleaders, Toby is someone you’d pay ten bucks to watch sweep Battle of the Bands and build a “beach party” in the bathroom. As for Amelia? She’s Toby Anderson’s Younger Sister. She’s perfectly happy to watch Toby’s hijinks from the sidelines, when she’s not engrossed in one of her elaborately themed Netflix movie marathons.

But recently Toby’s been acting in a very non-movie-version way. He’s stopped hanging out with his horde of friends and started obsessively journaling and disappearing for days at a time. Amelia doesn’t know what’s happened to her awesome older brother, or who this strange actor is that’s taken his place. And there’s someone else pulling at her attention: a smart, cute new boyfriend who wants to know the real Amelia—not Toby’s Sidekick. Amelia feels adrift without her star, but to best help Toby—and herself—it might be time to cast a new role: Amelia Anderson, leading lady.

My Thoughts

Amelia, the narrator, experiences a bunch of life altering events all at the same time, and she doesn’t always come across looking good.  She is sometimes selfish, sometimes angry, sometimes willfully ignorant.  She is also loving, resilient, and open minded.  That doesn’t always make it easy to like her, but I think it does make it easy to feel like average and good human beings sometimes flub things up and they can bounce back.  That is the message of the story for me, and I think it is a message that many YA readers will respond to.  The beef some readers will have with that honesty is that it doesn’t portray the perfect and socially progressive response to mental illness.  However, that is the point – people aren’t living a movie version of life, and we certainly aren’t always camera ready.  In a perfect world, we wouldn’t flinch in the face of adversity, but real YA’s need to know they aren’t alone when they find themselves in our imperfect reality with their own imperfect responses.  This book offers that perspective, and I think it is an important one.  That being said, I found Amelia frustratingly awkward at times, and her experience with first love isn’t going to be the romance you keep coming back for.  Again, it’s honest but not always pleasant.  I did like the way the author used flashbacks to reveal Amelia’s devotion to her brother, but sometimes I thought they were just distracting.  Overall, I liked the message, but I wasn’t as engaged by the presentation.  Language and some sexual situations make this most appropriate for more mature high school readers.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Cresswell Plot – And you thought your family was horrifying!

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The Cresswell Plot – And you thought your family was horrifying!

So, there are books about cults, and then there is this – The Cresswell Plot.  Homegrown religion courtesy of a clearly unbalanced and abusive father.  It is weird and disturbing in ways you probably can’t imagine. I gave it four stars on entertainment value, but many critics thought three stars were generous.  I think it’s about expectations – if you are reading this for some meaningful thoughts about . . . Well . . . anything, you are going to be disappointed.  However, if you just want to rubberneck some strange – this is your book.

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Goodreads Summary

The woods were insane in the dark, terrifying and magical at the same time. But best of all were the stars, which trumpeted their light into the misty dark.

Castella Cresswell and her five siblings—Hannan, Caspar, Mortimer, Delvive, and Jerusalem—know what it’s like to be different. For years, their world has been confined to their ramshackle family home deep in the woods of upstate New York. They abide by the strict rule of God, whose messages come directly from their father.

Slowly, Castley and her siblings start to test the boundaries of the laws that bind them. But, at school, they’re still the freaks they’ve always been to the outside world. Marked by their plain clothing. Unexplained bruising. Utter isolation from their classmates. That is, until Castley is forced to partner with the totally irritating, totally normal George Gray, who offers her a glimpse of a life filled with freedom and choice.

Castley’s world rapidly expands beyond the woods she knows so well and the beliefs she once thought were the only truths. There is a future waiting for her if she can escape her father’s grasp, but Castley refuses to leave her siblings behind. Just as she begins to form a plan, her father makes a chilling announcement: the Cresswells will soon return to their home in heaven. With time running out on all of their lives, Castley must expose the depth of her father’s lies. The forest has buried the truth in darkness for far too long. Castley might be their last hope for salvation.

My Thoughts

I’m going to be straight – this book is full of crazy.  I couldn’t tell who was buying into the religious indoctrination and who was just playing along and biding their time.  That made it really hard to predict what was going to happen next.  I read this in horrified fascination just like I would read about any extreme, real life horror story, and I think most readers will find themselves just as entranced.   It was a bit of a guilty pleasure because the book focuses on giving readers the most sensationalized picture of religious extremism spurred by mental illness possible.  There are no answers or even real nods to the fact that the father clearly has had a break with reality, though the fear that permeates a house ruled by an unstable and unpredictable mind rings true.  What it boils down to is that the book plays on people’s fears and expectations, but does little to advance their understanding or compassion towards those who suffer from mental illness.  Personally, I think that is okay, but if you are looking for more depth or message, it just isn’t here.  It is strange and engaging and suspenseful, and most readers will be pretty fascinated by Castley’s living Hell.  I’m adding it to my high school classroom library wish list, and I will recommend it to fans of psychological horror.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 9+.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Matthew Quick’s Newest YA, Every Exquisite Thing, ponders the costs of conformity

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Matthew Quick’s Newest YA, Every Exquisite Thing, ponders the costs of conformity

Like other books by Matthew Quick, Every Exquisite Thing explores what it is to be an outsider of sorts. In this case, the narrator is contemplating the life she lives for others versus the life she wants to live for herself.  I loved the idea – we are all forced to wear masks if we want to fit in.  However, Quick’s writing can be a bit more demanding than the average YA.  This isn’t a beach read, and it will ask too much of many readers, but for those who want an intense, thought-provoking story that refuses to follow the rules, this is your book.  I gave it five stars.

Every Exquisite Thing publishes Tuesday, May 10, 2016.  CORRECTION:   the publication date was moved to May 31, 2016.  I should have double checked against NetGalley. 

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Goodreads Summary

Nanette O’Hare is an unassuming teen who has played the role of dutiful daughter, hardworking student, and star athlete for as long as she can remember. But when a beloved teacher gives her his worn copy of The Bugglegum Reaper–a mysterious, out-of-print cult classic–the rebel within Nanette awakens.

As she befriends the reclusive author, falls in love with a young troubled poet, and attempts to insert her true self into the world with wild abandon, Nanette learns the hard way that rebellion sometimes comes at a high price.

My Thoughts

I think that many high school readers will connect with this book and its narrator.  The central theme is one that many YA’s spend time considering:  Do I conform or do I fight to be an individual?  Nanette’s journey to decide that question is fraught with a realistic look at what society does to those who go their own way.  It is at times contemplative, ridiculous, confusing, insightful, heartbreaking and heartwarming.  You know, like real life inside your own head, but a little more dramatic.  Matthew Quick has a knack for taking outsiders and easing audiences into an empathetic understanding of their perspective.  I think this perspective is easier to embrace because who hasn’t played the joining game just to avoid grief? The plot was refreshingly unexpected and the characters were well drawn.  I enjoyed it, and readers who don’t mind actually thinking about what they are reading will as well.  Folks who just want a mindless YA contemporary need not apply.  Language and situations are most appropriate for grades 10+, and adults will find it compelling as well.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Calvin by Martine Leavitt is a fast but deep read, with a humorous slant that is hard to resist.

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Calvin by Martine Leavitt is a fast but deep read, with a humorous slant that is hard to resist.

If you are looking for something smart and fast, you would be hard pressed to find a better book than Calvin.  This is a gem of a book that will appeal to readers who like viewing life through a different lens.  Mental illness isn’t a joke, but this lighter look at Schizophrenia offers an approachable and insightful view that is surprisingly engaging and pretty heartfelt, too.

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Goodreads Summary

In this latest novel from National Book Award finalist Martine Leavitt, a schizophrenic teen believes that Bill Watterson can save him from his illness if he creates one more Calvin & Hobbes comic strip.

Seventeen-year-old Calvin has always known his fate is linked to the comic book character from Calvin & Hobbes. He was born on the day the last strip was published; his grandpa left a stuffed tiger named Hobbes in his crib; and he even has a best friend named Susie. As a child Calvin played with the toy Hobbes, controlling his every word and action, until Hobbes was washed to death. But now Calvin is a teenager who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, Hobbes is back—as a delusion—and Calvin can’t control him. Calvin decides that if he can convince Bill Watterson to draw one final comic strip, showing a normal teenaged Calvin, he will be cured. Calvin and Susie (and Hobbes) set out on a dangerous trek across frozen Lake Erie to track him down.

My Thoughts

This was a pretty engaging little book.  I always enjoy a good quest, and it was certainly a rather surreal quest.  A lot of the time I was left wondering what was real and what was delusion as much as Calvin was, so I certainly needed to know how this was going to turn out.  I read it in a little over an hour because it was formatted more like a play in terms of dialogue, and that was essential because it really kept all of the voices straight in both Calvin’s and my head.  I enjoyed the sweet but real feel of the romance between Calvin and Susie.  Sometimes love really is just about “getting” someone in a way no one else does.  I liked the positive spin this puts on schizophrenia.  Don’t get me wrong, it is still clearly dangerous because Susie lets Calvin determine her reality to some degree, but this book still puts a humorous slant on the situation, which allows readers to laugh and still empathize with it.  I do have to say that Calvin had some pretty deep thoughts about life, God, and humanity near the end, but if readers aren’t into pondering transcendentalism or whatever, they can skim past those and pick back up with little trouble. This book is pretty creative, and creative minds will probably enjoy it the most. I think fans of things like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or the original short story version of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” will really enjoy this, but the presence of Susie does leave a voice for the more sensible reader to connect with.  I do want to say that I have little knowledge of the Calvin and Hobbes comics, but that didn’t really impact my enjoyment or ability to understand the themes or the plot.  I thought this was a quirky and fun read, and I think it would appeal to my high school readers, particularly those who want a little depth but don’t want to invest a huge chunk of time.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 7+, but interest level is high school and beyond.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.