mental health

Book Review: A Voice in the Distance (Flynn Laukonen #2)

I read A Note of Madness a little while ago and absolutely loved it. Flynn is a great character, and the story of his struggles with mental health is just fantastic. There can never be too much awareness, especially in boys/men.

This book was even more… emotional for me. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but Flynn really reminds me of my boyfriend. The ending of this novel – while fantastic and honest – was not very comforting at all.

Jennah and Flynn started dating after the first book, and so in this book we alternate between the two narratives. Hearing Jennah’s thoughts on what’s happening with Flynn was amazing. I related to a lot of it.

In case you haven’t heard about A Note of Madness, it’s about Flynn Laukonen, a young uni student in London. He struggles with mental health problems and is misdiagnosed at first, but eventually correctly diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He suffers from extreme manic episodes, followed by severe depression. Fitting his music – especially competitions – around these episodes is quite a feat.

As I mentioned earlier, the ending is great. It was extremely bittersweet. I think it’s good to be honest about things like this, though, and not just throw together a stereotypical happy ending.

In this book, Flynn goes through a few treatment methods. Following attempted suicide (which may be hard for some people to read about, so be warned) he is sectioned and sent to a residential unit for a month. He also has some issues involving his medication and the side effects they cause.

The most noteworthy thing about Jennah’s take on Flynn’s illness is her admitting that Flynn can be horrible and can hurt her sometimes, and it’s okay to recognise that. Just because he is ill does not mean he is excused for harmful and mean behaviour. This is so important for anyone to realise when dealing with a loved one with any kind of mental health problems.

A really good book, realistic and reassuring but really quite emotional. 4 stars.

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Book Review: History Is All You Left Me

Wow. Just… wow.

Okay so the main/underlying theme in this is the death of Griffin’s closest friend and first love, Theo. We’re given alternating excerpts from different moments in the past (such as when Theo and Griffin first got together, fun memories they made, sad moments etc) and excerpts from “now” (after Theo’s death). While this alone is a huge topic that is so important to address, this book manages to discuss several other issues at the same time.

The most important part of this book (to me) was Griffin learning how to move on without feeling guilty for betraying Theo. My boyfriend lost someone a few years ago and sometime’s I get scared I’m “competing with a ghost” (which is a fantastic quote from in this book, but I won’t tell you who said it because that’s a pretty big spoiler). I can only imagine how awful it must feel to lose someone you love, and how crap you’d feel for ‘forgetting’ them. But Griffin tackles this, not quickly or easily, but through mistakes and heartache and small realisations. It’s a very realistic portrayal of the journey, I think, and offers hope at the same time.

Other themes include homozexuality – which is explored through four different characters, as opposed to just one or two – and even OCD. Griffin’s OCD isn’t by any means the “main” plot, but it impacts everything in his life – which is, of course, very true for anyone with a mental illness like that. It reveals itself in tiny ways throughout his life, and is even seen as a sort of “quirk” by Theo. I especiay liked how Griffin’s new love interest at the end of the book tackles his compulsions so differently to Theo – he encourages him to move on and fight them, rather than just accepting them and letting them rule both Griffin’s and his behaviour.

I’m not sure if this counts as a theme, but there’s also the big issue of Griffin actually meeting the boy Theo was dating when he died. (Theo moved away to go to college, and his relationship with Griffin came to a weird end-but-not-quite. Theo found a new boyfriend, Jackson.) Jackson and Griffin had spent months hating each other, and refusing to even try to get on. But after Theo’s death, Griffin realises that this is the only other person who understands exactly what he’s going through. Although he hates that they had their own history together he knows that it means Jackson is grieving in the same way as Griffin. They eventually decide to help each other through the first month following his death, but when Jackson reveals how Theo told him some very personal information from Griffin’s childhood, Griffin begins to see Jackson as a weapon. Since his death, Griffin has been talking to Theo in his head. Now he wants him to watch as he has sex with his boyfriend.

Like I said, Griffin makes a lot of mistakes. He knows that. He made mistakes while Theo was alive, too – there are references to the “taboo” issue between him and Theo and the betrayal Griffin felt he committed that we are later informed about. But Wade, their closest friend since childhood, becomes the rock that Griffin had never expected. He helps Griffin see that Theo is in the wrong by asking him to wait for them to get back together when he has clearly moved on himself. Wade later helps Griffin see that Theo would be happy to see him move on, too, and that despite being his first love, Theo doesn’t have to be his only love.

So yeah, a pretty emotional book with a hell of a lot of twists. I loved it. I have another book by Adam Silvera on my shelf to read (I bought it back before I’d found this) and I am seriously looking forward to it now. Amazing book: 5 stars.

Book Review: A Note of Madness

Tabitha Suzuma is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors.

I didn’t realise this was the first of two books, but it reads fine as a standalone novel anyway. I hadn’t intended to read on, but I just love Suzuma’s writing too much. I’ve reserved the next novel at the library.

I found this quite similar to Hurt in a couple of ways; firstly, the protagonist is a young male who is experiencing something very unpleasant but important to talk about. Instead of rape, as in Hurt, this time the topic is mental health. Flynn’s got the whole world at his feet, but suddenly he’s up all night composing or drowning himself in alcohol and aspirin. Everything feels wrong and he doesn’t know why. His flatmate, Harry, calls Flynn’s brother in to help. He’s a doctor and soon realises Flynn needs proper help. After one incorrect diagnosis and several relapses, Flynn finally feels the world go back to normal.

Although the ending is typically “hopeful” (which you can only expect, really – it’s not gonna be very helpful for kids to read stories where you never recover from your mental illness) it still manages to be realistic rather than overly positive and optimistic. For example, Flynn is offered a couple of amazing experiences in this book, the first of which he is determined to take. But he doesn’t, because his health declines so much. I can tell you how horrible it is when you have your heart set on something but your mental health holds you back… Sometimes you just can’t do it. Flynn’s health gets so bad that his brother takes him away on the eve of his big concert (he’s a music uni student).

There’s also a romance line through this, which I gather will be furthered in the next book. Flynn doesn’t pay much attention to it – doesn’t even notice it – due to his condition, until it’s too late and he’s messed it up. Jennah is an old crush of his, recently parted from her boyfriend for a mysterious “other guy”. Flynn just doesn’t put 2 and 2 together, though, and assumes she could never love him because he’s so hopeless and talentless and depressed. Things really get bad when they argue about it during one of Flynn’s relapses, and she goes missing for the night. I must admit that I immediately feared the worst after what happened in Hurt, but it was eventually resolved. I am very interested in reading how Flynn’s mental illness impacts his relationship in the future.

This is a great topic to address, especially in males. The episodes may be a little exaggerated but then I suppose that is how some people experience it. It’s different for everyone. I really appreciate the age chosen, too, because people often forget that mental illnesses don’t only develop when you’re twelve or thirteen. 5 stars; a fantastic book and a fantastic author.

Book Review: Hurt

I am going to try to avoid spoilers as much as I can in this book, but I’m afraid there will be some. I’d also like to say that this book includes a lot of graphic details and references to rape and suicide.

At first I felt that Mathéo was a bit too in love with Lola – he’s only seventeen, and his adoration for her was bordering on sickly. But then I suppose young love does feel as all-consuming and important as Mathéo made it out to be. Lola, his girlfriend, was a beautiful young lady who moved into Mathéo’s rich town. Unlike him, her house is small and cluttered and comfy – very different to his strict and orderly lifestyle.

First, Mathéo’s rich-boy lifestyle is too much for him; he’s not happy. But then his memory of the most awful night returns, and things get a whole lot worse. After a diving accident (Mathéo is expected to win an Olympic gold medal in a year’s time) and a couple of near-death experiences while on holiday, I really thought Mathéo’s life couldn’t get any worse. But it did. Oh god, it did.

I will not give away the ending, but it honestly made me cry. Maybe it just hit a little too close to home, or maybe the contrast of such a lively, bright character with such a dark event was just too much for me. Either way, the ending was so unexpected and so, so sad. But I liked how the epilogue sort of tied things up, without being too sappy or “feel-good”. I felt like this was a brutally honest story. Not to mention that the events/themes in this book are incredibly important to talk about – I really appreciated that this focused on a male rape victim.

Although I kind of felt like Suzuma had written the openening this book with a theosaurus on hand, seeing how many new words she could include, I got sucked in really quick. I really wanted to know more about what had happened, what was going to happen, and I really got emotional for Mathéo. His relationship with his little brother, and the development of their relationship, was really nice. And the epilogue… God, it’s sad, but it’s honest. Most people don’t stay in touch after school. Most people do move on and forget each other.

The ending was fantastic, so I’m going to have to give this 5 starsBookmarked Signature Logo

Book Review: Wintergirls

22310019Another book based on eating disorders, which I’d definitely not recommend for anyone recovering or struggling with these issues. It also includes a lot of self harm and suicidal references, so just be warned.

This was another amazing book. I personally suffer with both anorexia and self harm, so this was so incredibly relatable to me. One major difference is Lia’s relationship with Cassie – her best friend who suffers with bulimia. The two of them encourage each other through their weight loss journeys, giving tips and even challenging each other to become the thinnest. I could not imagine having a relationship like this. I know several other eating disordered people, one of whom is a good friend, and we would never dream of acting like this. It was quite sick, honestly – I hate all the pro-ana stuff. But I suppose some people do it.

A quick observation: they never actually use the terms “anorexia” or “bulimia” which is interesting. There’s often a sort of rivalry portrayed between the two disorders, and the diagnosis of anorexia is held as some sort of accomplishment. It was refreshing to read a book that doesn’t mention that, and even sees them ‘working together’.

At the very start of the book, Cassie dies. Lia eventually learns how exactly that happens, but refuses to let it affect her because her and Cassie had fallen out a while ago. Lia’s eating habits seem to be getting worse (again) and her family think it’s Cassie’s death that’s triggered her, but Lia denies it. But when Cassie’s ghost starts haunting her and begging her to join her, Lia realises how out of hand it’s become.

The little details of the eating disorder were fantastic. The way Lia always quotes calories whenever talking/thinking of food, her estimating every other woman’s BMI against her own, even her initial “I want/need food” that she denies. It all felt so much like my own experience.

The ending was definitely one of those “inspiring” types; who ever would’ve thought Lia would actually work with the unit she’d been admitted to so many times and actually try to recover? I liked how honest this was, though. It wasn’t just a simple, clean recovery. There were fears and bad days and also the realisation that she had been avoiding real life, afraid of it. It’s hard to confront the underlying issues of a disorder like this.

I really loved this. It was just so accurate and inspiring and actually made me cry a bit. It did trigger me at times, but that’s probably just because I’m in a bit of a wobbly place right now. The ending has definitely provided me with hope, though. (Usually these books are focused on younger girls, but Lia is my age. It makes me feel like maybe I still have time to find my motive to recover.) 5 stars.Bookmarked Signature Logo

Book Review: Highly Illogical Behaviour

Highly Illogical Behaviour

Highly Illogical Behaviour by John Corey Whaley – Paperback, 249 pages – Published May 26th 2016 by Faber and Faber (first published May 10th 2016)

This is only a short book, but there is a huge story between these pages. I personally found this book amazing because I related so much to one character, Solomon, due to my own personal experiences with mental illness. (Hah! You’ll get that reference if you read the book.) But I still think that anyone will enjoy this book, and gain a deeper understanding of the mental health issues that are discussed.

Lisa seeks out Solomon, the “crazy” kid who jumped into a fountain three years ago, in hopes of writing a scholarship-winning essay on him. Solomon hasn’t left the house in three years. Not even to go in his own back garden. Every time he tries to, or even thinks about it, he has severe panic attacks. So instead of trying anymore, he gave up and made peace with a life inside four walls.

As an aspiring psychologist, Solomon’s case is perfect. But they become close friends, and eventually, Lisa even brings her boyfriend, Clark, to meet Sol. One thing they never expected was Sol falling in love… with Clark.

I have had times where I have been unable to leave my house. I used to have my school work sent home, and would avoid seeing anyone for as long as I could. It never got as bad as Sol’s case, but I would happily stay inside my house 24/7. (My mum won’t let me, though.) So I really did relate to Solomon. The descriptions of his behaviours and thoughts were really accurate in my opinion. It was quite inspiring to watch him slowly emerge from his shell and start living again.

Of course, there’s also the topic of homosexuality in this. I love how Clark remained so friendly even when he knew Sol was gay – not doing the whole “ew he might fancy me” thing that a lot of guys tend to. They were best friends. But Lisa was fed ideas by her friend, Janis, that made her worry Clark was cheating on her with Sol. Yeah. Awkward.

Overall, I just thought this was fantastically written. There are aspects for everyone to relate to, I think. And hopefully, it will help people understand why some of us may seem so “crazy”.

I can easily give this book 4.5 stars. I really enjoyed it, and loved the characters and their relationships. Even when Lisa was using Sol, I could see how she had good intentions. It was so well written.

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Book Review: My Heart and Other Black Holes

My Heart and Other Black Holes

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga – Paperback, 309 pages – Published February 12th 2015 by Hodder & Stoughton

I’d heard a few things about this book around the internet and stuff, but didn’t actually read the blurb until the day I started the book. I guessed it was my kind of book from the title, but yeah I had no idea what it was about until I actually started it.

In case you’re wondering, it’s about a suicidal teen and her Suicide Partner, who meet through an online suicide forum. Bit messed up but yeah. Depression is like that.

Obviously, it may not be suitable if you’re going to get triggered by the frequent mentions of suicide and depression, but on the other hand I’d say this is actually aimed at people who are struggling – despite Aysel’s decision to kill herself, this book is actually about overcoming your sadness and fears and issues. It’s about living, not dying.

Aysel’s reason for wanting to die is because she’s scared she’s like her father – her father, who’s locked up for murder. And her partner feels responsible for the death of his little sister, and believes he doesn’t deserve to live when she isn’t living anymore. Obviously, these sorts of triggers are not the only reasons people kill themselves – you don’t have to have some big issue like this to want to die, believe me – but I think these particular situations are quite good. Not the ordinary kind of trigger you read about, but also pretty real.

Aysel is, for most of the book, kind of a bitch. She’s pretty sure she’s gonna be dead in a month, so she doesn’t care too much about anyone else anymore. But all of a sudden, “love” changes her – her relationship with Roman, her Suicide Partner, helps her see herself differently. Even if he’s still depressed as hell and set on killing himself.

The ending, to me, was maybe a little too cheesy. A little too perfect and happy. Yeah, I definitely didn’t want either of them to actually kill themselves, but this change of heart happened so quick and Roman, who was so against “flaking out” just changed his mind along with Aysel so easily. I feel like it should have taken more fight. It made it out to be too easy, too simple to just “change your mind”. It doesn’t really happen like that in real life, not in my experience.

But at the same time, Aysel’s “black slug” of depression is pretty accurate. Eating her happiness and sadness and just all her emotions, for the most part. Taking away everything.

So I have mixed feelings about this book. It was a really good read, overall. My only issues are with the accuracy of the topic, because it’s something quite important to me. I hate when mental health is portrayed wrong. Like I said, it wasn’t too far off, though. So about 3.5 stars, I think. A good read, just not quite how I would’ve written the ending.

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Book Review: Nothing Tastes as Good

Nothing Tastes as Good

Nothing Tastes as Good by Claire Hennessy – Papberback, 336 pages – Published July 14th 2016 by Hot Key Books

I happened to see this book by chance, in my local library. I was drawn to it because of it’s cover, it’s title – I’m anorexic, and I happen to be drawn to things relating to mental health. It doesn’t expressly say on it that it’s about anorexia, but the cover made it pretty obvious to me. A warning to anyone that wants to read it: it’s hard. If you suffer from something like this, like me, then you will probably have difficulty reading something so close to home. Especially if you’re recovering. But it gets better. (I mean the book; I’m not using that “life gets better” crap.)

So Annabel is dead. I’m studying The Lovely Bones at school so the whole beyond-death narration isn’t that special to me now. But Hennessy does it pretty differently to Sebold.

We don’t know much about Annabel, not at first. But we begin to learn about her while she helps her assigned “soul-in-need” – The Boss (definitely not God) has promised her a final communication with her family if she helps Julia. And this looks easy, at first – Julia is from Annabel’s old school, with a loving family and good grades. Everything is fine, except she’s fat. Annabel thinks this should be easy – after all, she’s an expert in weight loss. She lost weight until she died.

But Annabel soon finds out that Julia’s issues are a whole lot more complex than her weight. At first, losing weight helps. But then her old scars come back to haunt her, and Annabel realises that maybe losing weight isn’t going to fix all her problems.

Aside from the obvious issue, this book does talk about a lot of important topics. It covers friendships and relationships, like most YA novels do, but it also combats ideas on feminism, affairs with older men, and people all having their own hidden demons.

At first, I wasn’t keen on Annabel. I wanted to like her – I felt I should, because I could relate to her story so much. But she was a bitch. She wanted other people to be like her, and rather than encouraging recovery and health and happiness, she shared tipped on weight loss. It really did hurt to read. Her ideas on “perfection” and being weak for eating just really hit a nerve for me. Not because it was wrong (though I’d never encourage an eating disorder in someone else), but because it’s exactly how I’d think about myself. Her behaviours, her worries, her anger – they were so real.

But Annabel, despite being dead, grows alongside Julia. Yes, she tells Julia to starve herself and run on an empty stomach and hate herself, but eventually she starts to feel for her. She wants Julia to combat her issues, to actually be happy. And she realises, despite having been so upset with her old friends for recovering, that maybe she wasted her life. Maybe she could have been something more, rather than striving to be less.

I found this really emotional. Annabel’s love for her sister, the sister she neglected for years while she was focused on her goals, and the future she cut short. The way Julia’s life changed when her passion for writing and journalism was overtaken by her obsession with food, calories, exercise. It’s so real and so sad. And the ending isn’t “happily ever after” – Annabel’s still dead, Julia’s in counselling – but it’s real. It gives hope that things can change, that Julia can really achieve happiness.

At first, I didn’t like this that much. I know Annabel is just a character, but I just didn’t like her. She was one of those girls that makes anorexia sound like a choice, a lifestyle, and I hated that. But later she realises she is sick, and I actually felt sorry for her. I was sorry that she had been brainwashed by her illness into believing she was doing what was right.

The only reason I’m giving just 4.5 stars to this book is because Annabel was a bitch. Yes, she is a character, and yes, she grows considerably throughout the novel, but her encouragement of EDs just drove me insane. Personal pet peeve, I guess.

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Book Review: Beautiful Broken Things

pro_readerI would like to give a massive thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this novel. In return, I am writing a review with my honest opinions on the book.

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Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard – eBook, 337 pages – Published February 11th 2016 by Macmillan Children’s Books

Wow. The title was perfect to me – I personally suffer from mental health issues and have known lots of other people who do, too. There are loads of books about this issue now, but I like how this isn’t about her suffering, but instead her friend.

If you’re struggling with any mental illness, you’ll understand how “broken” is such a perfect word for describing your state. Using “beautiful” alongside this is nice, making you feel that maybe being broken isn’t always such a bad thing.

Caddy is ordinary, boring, plain – until her best friend introduces her to Suzanne. At first, she just seems like a fun, reckless kind of girl. But it soon becomes apparent that she has some serious issues beneath the surface.

Barnard creates Suzanne as a character before introducing her issues. She does hint at something going on, but she doesn’t make it her only identity. This is so important in books. We are not just our mental illnesses! I wish more people could see that.

The relationships are very realistic, too. I can’t say I know much about abuse, but I can say that the friendship issues caused by Suzanne’s depression are portrayed very realistically. And when she is admitted to treatment, she realises that maybe she has dragged her friends down without intending to do so – something that is incredibly common.

Suzanne is very relatable, but that may just be personal. The way she talks about her issues and emotions, and the way she copes with things, are very similar to my own. And again, her being a “bad influence” is something I have experienced to some extent. But even if you don’t personally fit in her shoes by any measure, I think anyone can appreciate Suzanne’s struggles and her relationship and impact on Caddy.

As for Caddy, who is the protagonist of the novel, I think she is a greatly accurate representation of many teenage girls. She wants something impressive to happen – she’s never had a boyfriend, she still has her virginity, she’s never even been in any serious situations. Everyone has that phase of wanting something that sets them apart, that makes them unique and interesting. Of course, Caddy never could have anticipated what would happen when she befriended Suzanne…

And Rosie, Caddy’s original bestie, is sort of the other kind of typical teen. She has more of a social life but is still loyal to her old friend, and although she may not be entirely “boring” she also isn’t incredibly special, either.

This may possibly be a slightly romanticised portrayal of depression and suicide, but not like many others. Honestly, the reckless and thrilling adventures Suzanne takes Caddy on aren’t all that out-there. When you’re in that dark place, you do crazy things sometimes. And although Caddy had fun and loved Suzanne, it was still part of the issue. Caddy’s parents take the events as Suzanne being a bad influence, though, which (as I said before) is something I have experienced. Caddy doesn’t see it that way, and although Suzanne isn’t intending to influence Caddy in any way, she isn’t a great help either. What’s that phrase about cutting yourself when trying to fix someone who’s broken?

I do admit that I’m maybe emotionally attached to this for personal reasons, but I can honestly say that this is a fantastic book anyway. The character development is superb, the writing is easy to follow and the plot is realistic yet interesting. I can’t say I’d change it at all. 5 stars.

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Book Review:Am I Normal Yet?

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Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne (Normal #1) – Paperback, 434 pages – Published August 1st 2015 by Usborne

Holly Bourne writes about two of my absolute favourite topics: feminism and mental health.

So Evie is a teenage girl, who desperately wants to be “normal”. She’s been diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and OCD, and is trying so, so hard to prevent them from ruling her life anymore.

Evie combats a number of issues in this book, such as the stigma around mental health, and the misuse of diagnoses (eg. “I like things neat, I’m so OCD”). She’s such a real character, who makes mistakes and upsets people and keeps secrets. She shares her bad thoughts, her rituals and her worries with us, which makes this book so fantastically relatable for people with similar thoughts.

Like everyone else suffering with mental illnesses, Evie has a ton on her plate. Recovery, boy problems, friendship problems… And her desperation to just be normal for once, which leads her into a teenage guys bedroom and triggers a horrific relapse.

This doesn’t have a typical happy ending. Yes, things do get better at the end, but Evie doesn’t magically beat her illnesses or avoid a relapse altogether – because that’s just unrealistic. Mental health doesn’t work like that. Recovering from a mental illness is a rollercoaster, with about a thousand loops.

The girls – the Spinsters as they decide to call themselves – are all fabulous too. They talk about all the things that people don’t talk about enough, including periods and the difference between mental health care for males versus females. I think these are all such important topics, and are covered fantastically in this novel from a teenage girl’s viewpoint.

Overall, I think this is just such a wonderful, important book. For those of us who are struggling with mental health issues, it helps us to feel less alone, and lets us know that our problems are not uncommon. For other people, the more “normal” people, Am I Normal Yet? provides an accurate insight into the mind of someone who’s not having such a great time mentally. I really loved this book and all the topics it includes. A new favourite of mine, with 5 stars.

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