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Book Review: How It Ends by Catherine Lo

Publisher’s description

how it endsThere are two sides to every story.
It’s friends-at-first-sight for Jessie and Annie, proving the old adage that opposites attract. Shy, anxious Jessie would give anything to have Annie’s beauty and confidence. And Annie thinks Jessie has the perfect life, with her close-knit family and killer grades. They’re BFFs . . . until suddenly they’re not. Told through alternating points of view, How It Ends is the story of a friendship from first meeting to breakup, set against a tumultuous sophomore year of bullying, boys, and backstabbing.

Catherine Lo makes her debut with an honest, nuanced tale about the intricacies of female friendship.

 

 

Amanda‘s thoughts

I always want more YA friendship stories. Friendship, especially in high school, can be so messy. You can grow close so fast, or get ditched, or have fights, or change friend groups, or be obsessed with each other. There’s a lot of ebb and flow to teen friendships. Lo captures all of those things in this look at Jessie and Annie’s sophomore year.

 

Smart, studious Jessie suffers from “terminal loneliness.” Made into an outcast by her former friend and now mean girl, Courtney, Jessie has put up with years of being called “Lezzie Longbottom” and being otherwise ignored by her classmates. Isolated Jessie has anxiety, depression, and frequent panic attacks. Her mother has done a lot to try to “fix” Jessie over the years–therapists, medication, etc–everything, that is, except really talk to her. Jessie feigns interest in video games and comics so she can linger on the periphery of a group at lunchtime, but hasn’t had a real friend in years.

 

Annie is new to town and hates her new life in suburbia. She doesn’t get along with her new stepmom and her stepsister basically ignores her. Annie spies Jessie that first day at school and thinks she’s “beautifully uncool.” That’s all it takes to draw her to Jessie. Jessie thinks Annie is the coolest person ever and can’t understand why she’d want to be friends with her. The girls instantly become best friends. But before long, Annie grows friendly with the girls who’ve bullied Jessie in the past and starts to pull away from Jessie. “We don’t have to do everything together,” she tells her.

 

During their time drifting apart, both girls experience big things. Annie begins to date Scott, who Jessie has a crush on (and a lot of STUFF goes on with that relationship). Jessie’s anxiety, depression, and panic attacks ramp up. She’s constantly sneaking pills to help calm her down. It’s her own prescription, but her mother keeps the pills locked up and doles them out sparingly, the idea being that Jessie should learn how to cope with her anxiety, not need pills to get her through the things that make her anxious (like sitting with the mean girls at lunch). Jessie’s mental health issues become a big part of the story. She desperately wants to keep her issues a secret (a feeling that no doubt stems from her mother’s less-than-helpful understanding of anxiety, being medicated, and feeling ashamed). Her mother encourages her to tell Annie what’s going on to help “explain” some of how she’s been behaving. Yes, her anxiety colors some of how she behaves and reacts, but her mother seems to think that Jessie’s mental health struggles are responsible for the fallout of this friendship. As you might guess, I don’t really love how mental health is addressed here. Her mother goes about things in the wrong way. She’s encouraging shame and stigma and the notion that needing medication is some kind of failing. Then, her mother makes a REALLY BAD CHOICE and suddenly Jessie’s secret is out. And before long, Annie’s big secret is out too (avoiding spoilers here, people). Both girls become victims of rumors and gossip (in high school? No way!) and make repeated attempts to reconcile their friendship, but it isn’t that simple anymore.

 

For the most part, I liked this book. I did want to see more of just how Annie and Jessie become so close. They’re kind of instantly and inexplicably drawn to each other (which definitely happens in real life) and we’re told they’re best friends, but I wanted to see more of how that happened. We know time passes because we’re told it does, but I felt like we missed huge chunks of the time they’re growing closer. I did appreciate how swiftly and thoroughly their friendship fell apart—that felt very real—and getting to see how each girl reacted and what each did while not friends with the other. I really felt for Annie and the things she has to go through basically alone and the way she ends up very ostracized and angry. I also empathized with Jessie, who is more or less all alone without Annie and uncertain how to get through her days without panic attacks taking over. The girls’ story isn’t simple—it’s not like they’re friends and then they’re just not. Lo presents a nuanced look at friendship and shows how their pasts and their home lives affect them. A thoughtful look at the ways friendships can start, end, and all the things in between.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544540064

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publication date: 06/07/2016

#MHYALit Book Review: 100 Days of Cake by Shari Goldhagen

Publisher’s description

100 daysGet well soon isn’t going to cut it in this quirky and poignant debut novel about a girl, her depression, an aggressive amount of baked goods, and the struggle to simply stay afloat in an unpredictable, bittersweet life.

Every other senior at Cove High School might be mapping out every facet of their future, but Molly Bryne just wants to spend the rest of the summer (maybe the rest of her life) watching Golden Girls reruns and hanging out with her cute coworker at FishTopia. Some days, they are the only things that get her out of bed. You see, for the past year, Molly’s been struggling with depression, above and beyond industry-standard teen angst. Crushing on her therapist isn’t helping, and neither is her mom, who is convinced that baking the perfect cake will cure her—as if icing alone can magically make her rejoin the swim team or care about the SATs.

Ummm, no, not going to happen.

But when Molly finds out FishTopia is turning into a lame country diner, her already crummy life starts to fall even more out of her control, and soon she has to figure out what— if anything—is worth fighting for. 100 Days of Cake is a quirky and poignant story of a girl, her depression, an aggressive amount of baked goods, and the struggle to simply stay afloat in an unpredictable, bittersweet world.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Everyone else seems to know what’s happening in the next year. They’re preparing for college—taking tests, participating in extracurricular activities, volunteering. Molly can hardly bring herself to get out of bed, much less think about what might happen after senior year. She really just wants to hang out at FishTopia and ignore the rest of the world. Her coworker, Alex, clearly has a crush on her, but Molly really would rather he didn’t. She shoots him down whenever he tries to make plans with her. Her last boyfriend ditched her when he realized that she wasn’t how he thought she would be—that she was a complicated person who has depression. She can’t see any other relationship working as long as she feels how she feels. She’s getting help, though. She has a therapist and is medicated, though she often wonders if she should be on a different medication, one that might work better. Goldhagen really captures how heavy and isolating depression can  feel. Molly feels like everyone hates her and lashes out at her friends and family. She bails on plans all the time because following through with them seems to take an impossible amount of energy that there’s no way Molly can conjure up. She has okay days and terrible days. And she can’t understand why on Earth her mother seems to think eating some new terrible cake every day will maybe help fix her current state of mind when medication and therapy can’t. 

 

I really liked Molly’s best friend, Elle, who could be a little overbearing at times, but always was a good friend to Molly and did her best to understand what was going on with her. I liked Molly’s mom, who is seriously worried about her depressed kid (for the obvious reasons and ones we don’t come to understand until much later in the book) and seems to be doing her best to help her/leave her alone when she needs to be left alone. I thought I liked her therapist, a 90s music- Say Anything-obsessed guy but, without revealing some major spoilers, suffice it to say I did not end up having a very high opinion of him. However, I did like that Molly was getting a lot out of therapy and learned to open up in her sessions. Her relationship with her sister was also really interesting. Veronica has a few meltdowns (one particularly cruel) over the attention Molly gets because of her depression. Molly’s depression is a big character in this story. It permeates literally every relationship she has and is behind all of her decisions (or lack of decisions). 

 

Though I wanted to see some kind of consequences for Dr. B (she wrote cryptically, not spoiling anything), overall this story was a satisfying read. Molly’s depression is severely getting in the way of her actually living her life and she’s working to get help, even if she feels like maybe the help she’s getting won’t be enough to “fix” her. The ending feels hopeful, even though Molly is now armed with some new and shocking information and a seriously questionable therapy experience. I value this book for its open discussion of medication and therapy and its look at how depression can affect everyone around the depressed person. Definitely worth adding to the growing list of interesting books about mental health issues. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481448567

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Publication date: 05/17/2016

Book Review: Jerkbait by Mia Siegert

Publisher’s description

jerkbaitEven though they’re identical, Tristan isn’t close to his twin Robbie at all—until Robbie tries to kill himself. Forced to share a room to prevent Robbie from hurting himself, the brothers begin to feel the weight of each other’s lives on the ice, and off. Tristan starts seeing his twin not as a hockey star whose shadow Tristan can’t escape, but a struggling gay teen terrified about coming out in the professional sports world.

Robbie’s future in the NHL is plagued by anxiety and the mounting pressure from their dad, coach, and scouts, while Tristan desperately fights to create his own future, not as a hockey player but a musical theatre performer. As their season progresses and friends turn out to be enemies, Robbie finds solace in an online stranger known only as “Jimmy2416.” Between keeping Robbie’s secret and saving him from taking his life, Tristan is given the final call: sacrifice his dream for a brother he barely knows, or pursue his own path.

How far is Robbie willing to go—and more importantly, how far is Tristan willing to go to help him?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I overuse the phrase “rage blackout.” I’m sure I’ve claimed that 2/3 of all things in existence have given me a rage blackout. I’m easily annoyed. BUT. BUT. This book gave me a rage blackout. The parents are AWFUL. The way Robbie’s teammates treat him is AWFUL. And did I mention that the parents are AWFUL? Because they are. But we’ll talk about them later.

 

Tristan has always felt like he’s lived in Robbie’s shadow. Though they both play hockey (and their former hockey player father is their manager), Robbie’s the star, the one who will be drafted and go on to a huge career. But not if it gets out that he’s depressed. That he’s tried to kill himself three times. That he’s gay. At least, according to their monster of a father. All of that is bad press for Robbie, so the obvious thing to do is cover it up, not address any of the very serious issues, and focus on that goal: getting drafted. Sure. Great parenting. Your kid will be fine. You’re doing a good job. 

 

(You can come join me in my rage blackout—it’s kind of satisfying to get so mad.)

 

I could yell for paragraphs about their cruddy parenting and extreme denial, but I won’t. You get the idea already, I’m sure, that they suck. They pull him from the hospital early after attempt number one so he doesn’t miss a hockey game. They cover up the truth with lies, don’t do anything to help Robbie, and basically blame Tristan for what’s going on with Robbie AND make him responsible for watching over him to prevent future issues. Tristan, who quits hockey after some epic homophobic bullying, just wants to focus on his burgeoning theater career. He loves theater, has a knack for singing, dancing, and acting, and wants to grab the opportunities in front of him. But that’s hard to do when you’re supposed to be keeping your depressed wreck of a brother from committing suicide. Things become even more complicated and convoluted when Tristan learns Robbie is gay. Robbie is terrified of what coming out will mean for his life and his career—but not so terrified that he doesn’t out himself in an effort to save Tristan from some bullying. His teammates react just as terribly as you can possibly imagine. And when his parents find out? It’s a nightmare.

 

There’s a lot to talk about with this book. Siegert is tackling big topics: teenage sports careers; being not just a closeted gay teen but a closeted gay teen athlete; sibling/twin relationships; depression and suicide attempts; crappy parents; crappy friendships; homophobia; stigma with mental illness, and so much more. Plus, the book takes a big twist near the end when Robbie gets the brilliant idea that the answer to all of their problems is running away to go stay with this older dude he met online. That never turns out well, does it? And in this case, it REALLY, REALLY goes badly. Though it ends on a hopeful note, this is not a light read at all. It’s pretty much the worst case scenario for all things with the exception of the way Robbie and Tristan grow closer and more supportive of each other. It’s a dark, upsetting, frustrating, painful look at the pressure on teen athletes, at what happens when mental illness is ignored and untreated, and at how horribly scary coming out can be, especially for teens whose parents are hateful and unsupportive. Bleak but powerful. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781631630668

Publisher: Jolly Fish Press

Publication date: 05/03/2016

#MHYALit: Nineteen Years of Living, a guest post by Shaun David Hutchinson

Today author Shaun David Hutchinson joins us to share his story about depression, his suicide attempt, and the 19 years that have passed since then. See all of the posts in our Mental Health in Young Adult Literature series here

 

MHYALitlogoofficfialA few years ago, I went to the emergency room with pain in my stomach and back.  In less than a day, I was undergoing surgery to have my gallbladder removed.  After I’d recovered, when co-workers asked or I was trading war stories with people, and my surgery came up, no one ever said to me, “You probably could’ve gotten better if you’d just tried harder to not be in pain,” or “That’s not a real thing; you were just looking for sympathy, weren’t you?”

 

Yet people with mental illnesses hear these sorts of things all the time.  We’re judged and ridiculed and made to feel broken.  Which is why I’m so open about my own struggles with depression and my suicide attempt at 19.  I refuse to feel ashamed about it.  I was sick, I needed help, I got treatment.  I don’t feel ashamed about having my gallbladder removed, why should I feel shame about having depression?

 

But while I often discuss my depression as a teen and my attempted suicide, I don’t often talk about what came after.  Usually the story ends with, “I attempted to kill myself and I survived and I’m lucky and happy to be alive.”  But what does that mean?  We say, “It gets better,” but how?  I know my story is only one story, but I thought telling it, describing my life after my suicide attempt, might help others who are struggling to see what “it gets better” can look like.

 

The first thing about depression is that there’s no cure.  Depression (like many mental illnesses) is something you’ll have for the rest of your life.  But it is manageable.  You can live a full, happy, and healthy life with depression.  It won’t always be easy, but it is possible. 

 

After my suicide attempt, I was in the ICU for about a week, the regular hospital for a few days after that.  Then I was committed to a psychiatric hospital for a week.  At the time, I was content that I hadn’t died, but still severely depressed. I didn’t want to be in the psychiatric hospital, and I told the doctors what they wanted to hear so they’d release me.  Because I’d attempted to OD on Tylenol, I couldn’t be medicated at the time.  I was apparently convincing enough that my doctor let me go.  But I wasn’t “better.” 

 

Over the course of the next couple of years, I stumbled about.  I enrolled in and dropped out of college multiple times.  I spent a lot of time with my best friend, and tried to start dating.  I made a lot of terrible choices, including dating some extremely questionable guys.  But I made some amazing friends too.  I started going out to a club with a group of people, and we spent every Thursday night dancing to 80s goth music at a club in Downtown West Palm.

 

During that time, I began to feel happy again.  Some of my best memories from back then were working in the Sunglass Hut with my friends and dancing badly in the clubs.  But I wasn’t “cured.”  The depression was still hanging out just beyond my vision, waiting to rear its ugly head.

 

I ended up making the poor decision to move to Georgia for a short time because of a guy I’d met and spent one night with.  When I realized my mistake, I moved home and met another guy who turned out to be a cheater and a liar, and I started messing around with drugs.  Ecstasy, acid, pot.  I never did the hard drugs, but the drugs I did take, I took a lot of.  My life was a pretty big mess.  I’d dropped out of college for the fourth time, and was working as a waiter at a TGI Fridays.  Due to my bad choices, my parents and I weren’t talking, I didn’t speak to my brother for a few years, and I’d had a falling out with my best friend because I was an idiot.  Eventually, I moved with the guy I was dating to Rhode Island.

 

For a while I settled into a semi-stable kind of life.  I worked a series of shitty jobs.  I broke up with the guy, and dated a string of new guys.  Some were nice but I broke up with them because I didn’t feel like I deserved to be loved.  Others were terrible for me but I was too dumb to see it.  I’d go to clubs in Providence, full of hope at the start of the evening, and return home a dejected wreck, convinced I was worthless.

 

There were plenty of good times too.  Again, I made some amazing friends.  I fell in love with a guy I often joke is the one who got away (though if I’m being honest, he’s much better off with the man he eventually married).  I took a solo trip to Italy.  I spent Wednesday nights singing karaoke at this cool-but-no-longer-there gay club.  I drove to Boston on the weekends, and ran through the city like I owned it.

 

But I’d never really dealt with my depression.  I’d pushed it into the corner of my mind.  I’d willfully ignored it.  And doing so eventually bit me in the ass.

 

When I was 25, I moved back to Florida.  I had, for the most part, patched things up with my family.  I’d decided to return to college and try to make something of my life.  For over a year, I did well.  I was taking six and seven classes a semester, and getting As in all of them.  I took a job working at Starbucks (mostly because they offered health insurance to part-time workers).  I reconnected with my best friend.  Things were going well, and I felt happy.  Then I met a guy.  Matt #1. 

 

Over the course of the next two years, I became very, very lost.  I fought with my parents again, I hurt my best friend…again.  I dropped out of college with only one semester left.  #1 and I engaged in a self-destructive on-again off-again relationship that refused to allow me to ignore my depression anymore.  I was, for a very short time, homeless.  I would get drunk and pass out on my bedroom floor.  I started cutting myself again (something I hadn’t done since I was hospitalized) and put out lit cigarettes on my hands.  All of which culminated with me being fired from my job at Starbucks right as I was on track to be a store manager.

 

During that time, I began to realize I needed help with my depression.  I sought out psychiatrists who put me on various medications, but I was too self-destructive back then to understand what I needed to do.  When one doctor put me on Effexor, and I started to feel a little better, I kept upping my own dosage because I figured if a little made me feel better, a lot would make me feel great.  But it doesn’t work that way.  Medication provides immense benefits to people with mental illness, so I don’t ever want to discount the good it can do, but I couldn’t see that at the time.

 

Then came a turning point.  #1 and I had broken up for what felt like the hundredth time.  I was drunk, laying on the floor of my apartment, reading a battered copy of one of the Roswell High books to keep the room from spinning.  I woke up the next morning surrounded by broken glass.  I didn’t remember breaking the glass, and though I hadn’t cut myself, I knew I could have.

 

That was the lowest I’d been since I was 19.  I decided it was time for a change.  I isolated myself from my friends—not because they were bad people, but because I needed a fresh space to confront the choices I’d been making.  I moved back home, got a job in an office, and quit smoking.  I made the decision to stop dating.  I’d thought dating shitty, shady guys was the root of my problems, but the real cause was that since the day I got out of the psychiatric hospital when I was 19, I’d been running.  From myself, my problems, and my depression. 

 

I decided to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be, and I needed to do it on my own.  During that time, I became a certified EMT (though I never got a job doing it), went to firefighter school (but decided that, while I loved it, it wasn’t for me), and I went to Europe with my mother and brother (one of the best trips of my life).  I got my own apartment and focused on my job.  I took up writing again and went on to publish my first book.  I spent a lot of time getting to know myself, and I finally understood how to separate my depression from the bad things that happened in my life.  Bad breakups hadn’t caused my depression anymore than they’d caused my hernias or my migraines.  And in learning that distinction, I began to understand how to live with depression. 

 

I started treating my depression like the disease it is.  When the pendulum swung and I felt myself slipping, I took the time I needed to get well again.  When I had a shitty day at work or when something didn’t go my way, I learned to stop treating it as a symptom of my illness.  I learned that I can feel sad or angry when not depressed and sometimes happy when I am.  Because depression isn’t a punishment, it’s a disease and nothing more. 

 

I spent five years alone.  That’s how long it took for me to really and truly understand and love myself.  When I was ready to start dating again, I did so confident in who I was and certain I was worthy.  I met Matt #2 (though always #1 in my heart).  We began dating, moved in together a year later, and this November we’ll celebrate six years as a couple.  I’ve now published five books, with more on the way.  I’ve traveled and made amazing friends and reconnected with old ones.  I just spent the last year working from home and writing full time, and now I’m back at an office job I love.  I have a lot of plans for my future.  I want to travel the world.  I want to keep writing books.  I want to grow old with this weird guy I love. I want to watch my nieces and nephews become adults. I want Marvel to call me and let me write a YA gay Iceman book, and to see Doctor Who cast a woman to play The Doctor. 

 

It’s been 19 years since I was 19 and tried to kill myself.  There were plenty of really crappy times, and equally as many wonderful ones.  Over the next 19 years, I expect more of the same.  Like I said at the beginning:  there’s no cure for depression.  That’s something I keep at the front of my mind.  I will always suffer from it.  There are days when I can feel it coming, and I call out sick from work and take care of myself.  Then there are days when it pounces so fast I don’t even realize it until I’m in the thick of it.  And while it’s been quite a while since I’ve suffered a major depressive episode, I know that it’s not only possible, but likely, I’ll go through one again. But I keep moving on. Because for every night spent crying, there’s a night spent dancing.  For every fallout with family, there’s an awkward holiday dinner to laugh about later.  For every dream that falls through, there’s a dream that becomes reality.  For every Matt #1, there’s a Matt #2. 

 

Probably my favorite line from We Are the Ants comes from Jesse’s mother when Henry asks her whether she’d press the button and save the world.  She tells him she’d press it because, “Jesse believed life wasn’t worth living, and I refuse to prove him right.”  And when depression makes me feel like life isn’t worth living, I keep going because I refuse to prove it right. 

 

So when I talk about suicide and about how I’m happy I didn’t die, this is why.  These last 19 years of failures and successes and crappy nights and beautiful days.  When we say it gets better, we don’t mean it’s better all the time, but that there are better moments worth living for.  Trust me on this one.  I’ve got 19 years of living to back me up.

 

One last thing I want to say:  Suicide isn’t something you can ever take back.  I was lucky.  Luckier than I had a right to be.  After reading The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, I had a teacher email me and ask if I felt it was irresponsible to show two different characters attempting to commit suicide and come through it unscathed.  While I disagreed that they were unscathed, her question made me think.  A lot.  And I want to make it clear that suicide isn’t a temporary solution. It’s final. And there’s nothing glamorous about it.  The lesson isn’t that I survived suicide and you can too.  It’s that suicide should never be the solution.  It’s that life is worth living, and suicide nearly robbed me of that.  So, please, if you’re even remotely considering taking your own life, seek help immediately.  Your life is worth living. 

 

Meet Shaun David Hutchinson

shaunShaun David Hutchinson is the author of numerous books for young adults, including The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, which won the Florida Book Awards’ Gold Medal in the Young Adult category and was named to the ALA’s 2015 Rainbow Book List, the anthology Violent Ends, which received a starred review from VOYA, and We Are the Ants, which received 5 starred reviews and was named a best book of January 2016 by Amazon, Kobo, Publisher’s Weekly, and iBooks.  He lives in South Florida with his partner and adorably chubby dog, and enjoys Doctor Who, comic books, and yelling at the TV.  Visit him at shaundavidhutchinson.com.

#MHYALit: You Won’t Find Girl Interrupted’s Angelina Jolie But At Least You’ll Be Safe! Why Being Hospitalized for Mental Health Issues Isn’t a Bad Thing, a guest post by Ami Allen-Vath

Today author Ami Allen-Vath shares her experiences with suicidal ideation, depression, hospitalization, and more. We continue to be so honored and proud to share these honest, vulnerable posts. Visit the #MHYALit hub to see all of the posts in this series. 

 

MHYALitlogoofficfialWhen I was in eleventh grade, I wrote a letter to my family and best friends. It was a goodbye letter, a letter to let them know why I couldn’t live anymore.

 

I basically told them I was having flashbacks from the sexual abuse I’d experienced as a middle-schooler. I told them I couldn’t handle life. I told them I had an eating disorder, that I was bulimic and couldn’t handle hating myself and my body anymore. But one thing I didn’t mention was my mom and stepdad’s alcoholism. I didn’t talk about the yelling and physical abuse I’d witnessed. The fights that seemed to happen every weekend. I didn’t say that I stopped inviting friends over and did my best to answer the phone first so friends calling wouldn’t hear their sloppy jokes and slurred words. The laughing and partying that went on a few hours before the fighting happened. I didn’t write about this because I was ashamed. I didn’t want anyone to know. I’d already been through a lot, so I felt like I should have my shit together already. Being a teen in a home with alcoholics felt messy and embarrassing. So, I omitted the alcoholic and domestic abuse stuff, even though the stress and secrecy was wearing me down.

 

So, I folded up the letter, took a bunch of pills and cried. And then I was sobbing. I realize now, I wanted to be heard. My crying woke my sister. What I remember from the rest of the night is my stepdad carrying me to an ambulance and soon after, the hazy snippets of the noise and chaos of an emergency room.

 

After being in the hospital a few days, I was admitted to the AIP. Adolescent Inpatient Psychiatry Fifth Floor Locked-Unit. Prior to my hospitalization, my association to a place like that was “crazy house.” I didn’t want to be there at first, but I really didn’t want to be at home. I met doctors, therapists, took different tests and went to groups and individual therapy. I met kids that had similar and different issues. I took a break from life. I really, really needed that. It was a time to focus on me and shut out the outside world. It was a safe haven and I couldn’t be hurt by the bad choices of my family and I couldn’t hurt myself. Most kids stayed for a week or two. I saw a lot of kids come and go but I stayed for a month.

 

When I went home, my problems were still there but I was equipped to handle things better. Life’s past and present issues didn’t want make me want to die anymore.

 

But about ten years later, it happened again. I had a two-year-old and had just left an awful relationship. I was living with my best friend and her new husband and they were wonderful and supportive. I also had an amazing therapist. The work I did with her had set me on a life-changing journey of healing from my past. I was working through a lot of issues I had because of the sexual abuse I’d been a victim of as a kid. I was trying to manage my eating disorder. It was very “one day at a time,” but I was trying.

 

But due to the issues I had with my ex, single motherhood, and trying to figure out how to get back on my own feet, I felt trapped. I felt like the “old Ami” who couldn’t get ahead. I became very delusional and found myself snapping into a different person. I’d write journal entries as the “old me” and slowly felt myself becoming “her.” I had a suicide plan. In a bad snowstorm, I drove my son to his father’s and said I couldn’t take care of him until I found a job and “got it together.”

 

But once again, even though I was telling my therapist a lot of the things I was dealing with, I wasn’t saying the important stuff. The stuff that had me teetering on the edge of the cliff. I didn’t tell her about my suicidal ideations. I didn’t say I’d sort of split into two people.

 

The “sane” side of me called the hospital. I made an appointment at a mental health facility and once there, the lady asked if I was going to hurt myself. I couldn’t talk. She asked if I needed help, if I needed to stay. At first, I didn’t know if I should tell her or not. But after a minute, I wanted to be heard. I cried. And shook my head yes.

 

Once again, I was in a new psych ward. I was with other adults who had problems that were just as heavy to them as mine were to me. The food wasn’t amazing. The rules could be annoying and patronizing, but being there was good. It was needed. I was safe.

 

I was there for a little over a week. I continued getting care and treatment after. I did my best to go to doctor’s appointments, therapist appointments and take the advice they were giving. Eventually, I stopped wanting to hurt myself.

 

And ten years later, which was last year, I got sick again. I’d recently moved with my husband and children to New Jersey from Georgia. Miles and miles away from close friends and family. My husband travels out of the state and country. He’s gone a few days every week. The town I live in is quiet and isolated, especially in the winter. I was now in a state where winters are cold and dark. I started writing more but once I was agented, I didn’t have enough time or space to do it. I didn’t have any family or friends to help out. I felt very alone. The stress was building at a rapid rate and once again, I felt trapped. I’m a pretty introverted person and love alone time but I missed adults. I missed having friends come by during the week. I missed going out to lunch with a coworker every once in a while. I missed going to my sister’s house on Friday or Saturdays, eating dinner together, and talking until late while the kids played.

 

I was seeing a therapist. It’d been great. We worked through a lot of the issues I had with my mom’s alcoholism. I told her about the anxiety and frustrations about not having enough time for myself and my work. I hinted at feeling overwhelmed, but I didn’t tell her the whole truth. That I was constantly thinking about suicide and wishing I could just do it and get it over with. I didn’t tell anyone that once again, I was becoming very comfortable with the idea of death.

 

But then, with much prodding from my best friend, I broke down. I cried. I admitted that it’d gotten so bad that I wasn’t safe. That I was going to hurt myself. I told her she could tell my husband because I didn’t want to. I was too afraid, too ashamed. I felt too much: I am a mom! A wife! I have a book deal and my dream is coming true! I’m supposed to have my crap together. For my family, for me.

 

The next day, my husband drove me to behavioral/mental health hospital. It was my birthday. But, I was safe. I couldn’t hurt myself. I took a break. From the stress and depression that made it hard for me to breathe. It gave me, doctors and therapists time to come up with solutions in a space where I didn’t have to deal with everything else. I learned some new coping skills. And after a week, I went home. But I wasn’t done. I started a wonderful day program. I was there for about two and a half months. Aside from new coping skills and a sort of “survival” plan, I learned a lot of ways to change the irrational thinking that had been a catalyst to my stress and catastrophizing.

 

And finally, I learned that I NEED TO TALK. I need to be honest about how I’m feeling. I shouldn’t wait until my toes are slightly over the cliff’s edge to finally ask for help. I also learned the true value of hospitalization.

 

Being admitted or admitting yourself to a psychiatric facility is not failure. When you’re overwhelmed and trapped, when it feels like there’s no way out of your depression, you’re in crisis mode. Your life is in danger. And when you’re in crisis or almost crisis mode, it’s okay and sometimes very, very necessary to take a break from “the outside world” until you are safe.

 

Hey, I love vacations. I prefer them to be somewhere warm and sunny. I like great food and tropical views and access to a nice pool. But when you lose yourself, when you’re incurably depressed, you’re going to need a little more than amazing guacamole and pina coladas to get you rejuvenated enough to want to go back home. So, the next time you hear about someone going to a mental hospital/psych ward/behavioral health facility, or if you or a friend is in crisis, don’t discount a “mental health vacation.”

 

I know my experiences aren’t going to be the same as everyone else’s and I won’t sugarcoat all the details about if you ask. But don’t dismiss hospitalization because of what you’ve seen on TV or movies. It’s not glamorous but it’s also not a giant cuckoo’s nest. A big reason my stays were successful was because I was able to drop the stigma attached to being hospitalized.

 

For me, this is true: All three times I stepped into a psychiatric ward, I went in ready to take my life. And all three times I left, I was safe. I was still alive.

 

I’m here today and I will be here tomorrow.

 

 

Note to reader: I’m very aware that hospitalization requires money and/or a good healthcare program. In my case, my first two hospitalizations were paid for using state’s healthcare program/healthcare assistance. In the third instance, my husband’s healthcare covered a lot of the bill. We were then able to pay the copays with a payment plan. It was a lot of money, but hello! The cost of a life…very worth it. Please don’t let finances or the stigma you may have attached to lack of finances prevent you from seeking help. Here are a few resources you can start with:

 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 24 hour toll-free crisis hotline, 1.800.273.TALK (1.800.273.8255) can put you into contact with your local crisis center that can tell you where to seek immediate help in your area.

Child-Help USA 1.800.4.A.CHILD (1.800.422.4453) crisis line assists both child and adult survivors of abuse, including sexual abuse. The hotline, staffed by mental health professionals, also provides treatment referrals.

In areas where 211 is available, this number connects you with mental health crisis services in your area.

 

Meet Ami Allen-Vath

Ami Allen-Vath author picAmi Allen-Vath is an ice cream enthusiast and a loather of cilantro. She’s the author of LIARS AND LOSERS LIKE US, about a teen dealing with anxiety, grief, and first love––all during prom season. Ami can be found on Twitter: @amilouiseallen, Facebook and amiallenvath.com.

 

 

 

 

About Liars and Losers Like Us

liarsKeep calm and make it to prom night—without a legit panic attack.

For seventeen-year-old Bree Hughes, it’s easier said than done when gossip, grief, and the opportunity to fail at love are practically high-fiving her in the hallways of Belmont High.

When Bree’s crush, Sean Mills, gives her his phone number, she can’t even leave a voicemail without sounding like a freak. Then she’s asked to be on Prom Court because Maisey Morgan, the school outcast nominated as a joke, declined. She apologizes to Maisey, but it’s too late. After years of torment and an ugly secret shared with their class’s cruel Pageant Queen, Maisey commits suicide. Bree is left with a lot of regret…and a revealing letter with a final request.

With Sean by her side, Bree navigates through her guilt, her parents’ divorce, and all the Prom Court drama. But when a cheating-love-triangle secret hits the fan after a night of sex, drinks, and video games, she’s left with new information about Sean and the class Pageant Queen. Bree must now speak up or stay silent. If she lets fear be her guide, she’ll lose her first love, and head to prom to avenge the death of the school outcast—as a party of one. (Sky Pony Press, March 22, 2016. SEE AMANDA’S REVIEW HERE.)

#MHYALit: A Place Where I Know: Writing About Grief, a guest post by Hannah Barnaby

Today I’m honored to share with you a moving post by my former coworker and fellow Simmons College alum, Hannah Barnaby. I recently reviewed Hannah’s newest book, Some of the Parts, here on TLT. In my review, I wrote, “Barnaby’s novel is a devastating and powerful look at grief, guilt, and how to survive the aftermath of something that changes who you are. A must-read.” Hannah’s post today on grief is a fantastic contribution to our ongoing series on Mental Health in YA Lit. Visit the #MHYALit hub page to see all of the posts. 

 

I have experienced—fought, wrestled with, submitted to, overcome—both grief and clinical depression. But I have only written about one.

 

The protagonist of my young adult novel, Some of the Parts, is in the throes of grieving for her older brother. Tallie lost Nate a few months before the book opens, in a car accident for which she feels entirely responsible, and she wears her guilt like a lead necklace. She can’t let go. She doesn’t think she deserves to. And then she finds out that she might not have to—Nate was an organ donor, and one of his recipients reaches out to Tallie’s parents. Suddenly Tallie sees a way to alleviate her sadness: if she can track down the other organ recipients, she can prove to herself that Nate isn’t truly gone.

 

Is this rational? No. But neither is grief. And neither is depression.

 

My first bout with depression was during my senior year in high school. My parents were getting divorced and I was overwhelmed with plans for college and homework and extra-curricular stuff. About halfway through the year, I felt myself shutting down. I came home from school every day and got in bed. I slept until dinner, did my homework in a zombie state, and went back to sleep. This went on for weeks. Finally, my parents found me a therapist. Seeing her twice a week until the end of the school year was . . . well, frankly, it was a pain in the butt. I was tired of talking about myself and I was sure that my fatigue and sadness would pass on their own. I told myself—and my therapist—that I was just sad about my parents splitting up. “That’s not what this is,” she told me. And she was right.

 

Clinically speaking, depression and grief look a lot alike. Both involve many of the same symptoms: sadness, fatigue, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, poor concentration, guilt, hopelessness, unbidden memories. Martha Clark Scala, a psychotherapist in San Francisco, says, “Among the bereaved, these symptoms are usually mild or temporary. But these same symptoms may be more chronic or severe among those who are clinically depressed.” Scala also identifies some additional symptoms that may be signs of clinical depression rather than—or on top of—grief: worthlessness, exaggerated guilt, suicidal thoughts or plans, powerlessness, low self-esteem, agitation, and loss of interest in pleasurable activities.

 

I can attest to the fact that it can be difficult to tell grief and depression apart. I did eventually emerge from my high school depression, but it found me again in college. And again after graduation. It kept coming back, like a slow tide, and I learned to recognize it and how to ask for help when I needed it. But then something terrible happened.

 

In 1999, I was a graduate student at Simmons College in Boston. I had just started my second semester and I was given a part-time work study job to help with expenses. I was at that job—stuffing social work school applications into envelopes—when the phone rang at the desk where I was sitting. It wasn’t my desk. It wasn’t my phone. But the call was for me. It was my father, calling to tell me that my younger brother Jesse had died the night before, in a fire at his fraternity house.

 

What followed, as you can imagine, was a whirling blur of confusion and sadness and difficult things. And as my grief soaked into me, I thought, “Oh, I know what this is. I recognize this.” It felt just like my senior year in high school, my sophomore year in college, my post-college year. I was almost relieved, because I knew what to expect. There had always been an ebb and flow to my depression and so I waited for it to move. But it didn’t. Because this wasn’t depression at all, and it wasn’t until I named it something else that I understood: I would have to find a whole new way to cope with this. It was grief, and it had its own landscape altogether.

 

Eventually, I was able to go back to school and to work, and I felt the weight of my grief lessening as I moved forward. Depression had never been like that. Depression had followed its own calendar and it had never dissipated until it was good and ready, no matter what I was doing from day to day, and I think that was because it had no source the way grief did. My depression was like a cloud of gnats that appeared and disappeared with little warning; my grief, though, was born of one very specific loss. And in a strange way, I found that comforting.

 

In writing Tallie’s story, I came full circle in my own grief. I revisited every part of the emotional journey I took after my brother died and I dragged Tallie through it, too. Part of me felt terrible, doing that to someone else. (Even a fictional someone.) But the rest of me felt sure and strong, because I could tell her with certainty, “There is an end to this. There is a door ahead of us. We’ll walk through it together, and you’ll see—there is hope on the other side.”

 

Meet Hannah Barnaby

hannahHannah Barnaby is a former children’s book editor and bookseller, and was the inaugural children’s writer-in-residence at the Boston Public Library. Her debut novel, Wonder Show, was a Morris Award finalist in 2013. She lives in Charlottesville, VA with her family. You can find her online at www.hannahbarnaby.com and follow her on Twitter @hannahrbarnaby.

 

 

About Some of the Parts

some of the partsFor months, Tallie McGovern has been coping with the death of her older brother the only way she knows how: by smiling bravely and pretending that she’s okay. She’s managed to fool her friends, her parents, and her teachers, yet she can’t even say his name out loud: “N—” is as far as she can go. Then Tallie comes across a letter in the mail, and it only takes two words to crack the careful façade she’s built up:

ORGAN DONOR.
Two words that had apparently been checked off on her brother’s driver’s license; two words that her parents knew about—and never revealed to her. All at once, everything Tallie thought she understood about her brother’s death feels like a lie. And although a part of her knows he’s gone forever, another part of her wonders if finding the letter might be a sign. That if she can just track down the people on the other end of those two words, it might somehow bring him back.

Hannah Barnaby’s deeply moving novel asks questions there are no easy answers to as it follows a family struggling to pick up the pieces, and a girl determined to find the brother she wasn’t ready to let go of.

 

#MHYALit: Pushed Too Hard: Academic Pressure and Mental Health Concerns, a guest post by Cindy L. Rodriguez

Today we are glad to have Cindy L. Rodriguez, author of WHEN REASON BREAKS, joining us to talk about depression, pressure, and expectation. Visit our hub to see all of the posts in the #MHYALit series. 

 

MHYALitlogoofficfialI have always been a rabid overachiever.

 

I started kindergarten early and skipped the sixth grade, so I was only twelve when I started ninth grade and sixteen when I started my freshman year at the University of Connecticut. There, I was a good student (3.0 GPA), even while juggling a full course load every semester and more than full-time hours at The Daily Campus, the student-run newspaper, where I was a reporter, then news editor, then managing editor. In the summers, I interned at newspapers, which helped to land a job at the Hartford Courant after graduation. Three years later, I got a job as a researcher at The Boston Globe. I was working for one of the biggest newspapers in the country, for the Spotlight team, no less, at the age of twenty-three.

 

And then I completely unraveled.

 

The job wasn’t working out, and the editors wouldn’t move me into a new position. I stuck it out for as long as I could because I was grateful to be at The Boston Globe and figured I could fix this. But I couldn’t. I started to experience every symptom of depression, but I pushed on without seeking medical attention for almost two years because I thought I could fix it. I couldn’t. Depression, I would learn, runs in my family, and my experience in Boston was the trigger. But, it was just a job, right? Nope. It was my entire identity. I was a journalist. My best friends were journalists. I saw everything in the world as a possible newspaper article. Every step I took personally, professionally, academically led me to Boston, and then I hit a wall.

 

I was a failure with no Plan B.

 

I have openly discussed my depression before and my concerns about how the disease is underdiagnosed and undertreated in minority communities and young adult fiction.

 

Today, I want to talk about expectations, mental health, and young people. In my case, no one pushed me. My parents were always supportive and proud but never once suggested I try harder or do more. I own this. It’s who I am. I set goals and want to achieve them, and when I was young, learning something new or achieving something felt great and left me asking, “What’s next?”

 

I’m still like this. I set goals and want to achieve them. I always ask, “What’s next?” because I am a life-long learner and want to explore and grow until the end. But, now that I am older, wiser, and have reaped the benefits of medication and therapy, I know when I’m doing too much. I’m better at recognizing when I need to say “no” or when I need to alter my plan because it is jeopardizing my mental health.

 

But, as a parent and educator, I worry that we are creating and endorsing high-stakes external triggers that could harm the young people we care so much about—our children, our students.

 

Today, many schools choose academics over recess. We have competitive preschool programs in some communities and none in others, ensuring unequal access to educational opportunities and the continuation of the achievement gap. We expect students to read by the end of kindergarten and do hours of homework in elementary school. We separate students into honors classes by middle school. The division becomes more severe in high school, with students pushed into honors and AP classes. Many high school students graduate early and already have college credits. The collective message is that average is not good enough. Overachievement is the norm, and college is required for success. The pressure to perform is immense for all students, and many have significant, added obstacles connected to poverty. About 25 percent of high school freshman fail to graduate on time. And those who “make it?” About 45 percent of first-time undergraduates who matriculated in the fall of 2008 did not earn a degree after six years.

 

We are pushing young people harder than ever, and to what end?

 

In this New York Times article, college counseling centers reported that more than half of their clients have severe psychological problems, and that anxiety and depression are now the most common health diagnoses among college students.

 

I see the faces behind the statistics in my classroom, in the hallways, at book signings, and in my home. My daughter cried over math homework when she was in the first grade. At a meeting, a seventh-grade boy’s parents harped on the one B on his report card for band. A sixth-grade girl held her head in her hands during last year’s state testing. When I asked if she was okay, she stared at the screen, tears in her eyes, and said, “I don’t know how to do this.” When a young woman asked me to sign my book for her, I spotted a semicolon tattoo on her wrist. When one of my college students talked about his personal narrative essay, I spotted scars all over both of his arms.

 

I see myself in them. And I worry about them. And I wonder what I can do as a mother, teacher, and writer.

 

I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve decided on a few things. I will always stress effort, stamina, and process over achievement in my home and classroom. I will always openly talk about not being perfect, how I am average at some things, and downright horrible at others. I will always tell them about my brother, who is an auto mechanic, and my sister, who is an artist, and how there are multiple ways to be intelligent. I may even write a YA novel set in a technical school because where are those? More than anything, I will always openly talk about and write about having and managing depression so that young people realize it’s common and treatable—that they, too, can survive it, manage it, and continue to accomplish things in life without losing themselves in the process.

 

About When Reason Breaks

when reasonA Goth girl with an attitude problem, Elizabeth Davis must learn to control her anger before it destroys her.

Emily Delgado appears to be a smart, sweet girl with a normal life, but as depression clutches at her, she struggles to feel normal.

Both girls are in Ms. Diaz’s English class, where they connect to the words of Emily Dickinson. Both are hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice. One of them will attempt suicide. And with Dickinson’s poetry as their guide, both girls must conquer their personal demons to ever be happy.

In an emotionally taut novel that is equal parts literary and commercial, with a richly diverse cast of characters, readers will relish in the poetry of Emily Dickinson and be completely swept up in the turmoil of two girls fighting for their lives.

 

Meet Cindy L. Rodriguez

cindyrodriguez2Cindy L. Rodriguez is a former journalist turned public school teacher and fiction writer. She has degrees from UConn and CCSU and has worked as a reporter at The Hartford Courant and researcher at The Boston Globe. She and her daughter live in Connecticut, where she teaches middle school reading and college-level composition. Her debut contemporary YA novel, When Reason Breaks, released with Bloomsbury Children’s Books on 2/10/2015. She is a founder of Latin@s in Kid Lit and a member of the We Need Diverse Books team. She can also be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

#MHYALit Reading Lists: Depression, a guest post by Natalie Korsavidis

MHYALitlogoofficfialAs part of our 2016 Mental Health in Young Adult Literature project, we will be posting reading lists on various mental health-related subjects. Guest blogger Natalie Korsavidis pulled together this one on depression (and previously this one on schizophrenia). We will mainly be focusing on books published after 2000. We encourage you to add any other titles you can think of in the comments. Interested in generating a list for us? Let us know! I’m @CiteSomething on Twitter. 

 

Depression in YA

Annotations for the novels were found on the Farmingdale Library catalog or NoveList

 

jason porterAdoff, Jamie. The Death of Jayson Porter. Hyperion Books for Children, 2008.

In the Florida projects, sixteen-year-old Jayson struggles with the harsh realities of his life which include an abusive mother, a drug-addicted father, and not fitting in at his predominately white school, and bring him to the brink of suicide.

 

crash into meBorris, Albert. Crash into Me. Simon Pulse, 2010.

Four suicidal teenagers go on a “celebrity suicide road trip,” visiting the graves of famous people who have killed themselves, with the intention of ending their lives in Death Valley, California.

 

 

amazine gracieCannon, A.E.   Amazing Gracie.  Delacorte Press, 1991.

A high school girl has a lot to deal with in her sophomore year when her beloved mother who is a victim of depression remarries, a new brother is acquired, and the family moves to Salt Lake City.

 

 

not so simpleCarlson, Melody. A Not-So-Simple Life. Multnomah Books, 2008.

Maya keeps a journal the year following her aunt’s death, in which she records her thoughts about her alcoholic and drug-addicted mother and her own feelings of depression, until she decides to give her heart to God.

 

 

walkawayCarter, Alden R. Walkaway. Holiday House, 2008.

Fifteen-year-old Andy, fed up with his alcoholic father and annoying older brother, leaves their northern Wisconsin cabin on his version of a walkabout, leaving his medications to combat depression, anxiety, and delusions behind.

 

really awesomeCook, Trish and Halpin, Brendan. A Really Awesome Mess. Egmont, 2013.

An angry girl and a depressed boy, both sixteen, are sent to a therapeutic boarding school

 

 

 

aspenCrane, Rebekah. Aspen. In This Together Media, 2014.

A teenage girl’s mistake on a Boulder, Colorado road left a popular teen soccer player dead. Now the deceased is following the driver around and only her boyfriend and her therapist understand her and can keep her from heading further into a deep depression.

 

nugrlDellasega, Cheryl. (NuGrl90) Sadie. Marshall Cavendish, 2007.

Fifteen-year-old Sadie writes on her blog about having to move to a new high school at the beginning of sophomore year due to her parents’ divorce, finding and losing a true love and a best friend, and being in therapy and taking antidepressants.

 

glow stoneDreyer, Ellen. Glow Stone. Peachtree, 2006.

Sixteen-year-old Phoebe cannot help but wonder if she will suffer chronic depression like her mother and her recently-deceased uncle, who shared her passion for rock-collecting, until the terrifying experience of being lost in a cave provides the answer.

 

everything isEllis, Ann Dee. Everything is Fine. Little, Brown, 2009.

When her father leaves for a job out of town, Mazzy is left at home to try to cope with her mother, who has been severely depressed since the death of Mazzy’s baby sister.

 

 

americaFrank, E.R. America. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2002.

Born to a drug-addicted mother, 15-year-old America had been lost in the child-welfare system for years before he finally wound up in a residential treatment center. There, over a period of several more years, a capable therapist coaxes him out of his anger and suicidal depression.

 

 

eclipseFranklin, Kristine. Eclipse. Candlewick Press, 1995.

When Trina’s father falls into a severe depression after losing his job and her mother becomes pregnant at forty-eight, Trina faces a difficult summer even with the help of her good friend Miranda.

 

 

waitingFritz, April Young. Waiting to Disappear. Hyperion Books, 2002.

After the death of her brother two years ago, Buddy’s mother hasn’t been the same, and when her depression leads to a mental breakdown, Buddy’s hopes of a relatively peaceful summer are dashed.

 

 

fat kidGoing, K.L. Fat Kid Rules the World. Speak, 2003.

Seventeen-year-old Troy, depressed, suicidal, and weighing nearly 300 pounds, gets a new perspective on life when a homeless teenager who is a genius on guitar wants Troy to be the drummer in his rock band.

 

 

get well soonHalpern, Julie. Get Well Soon. Feiwel and Friends, 2007.

When her parents confine her to a mental hospital, an overweight teenage girl, who suffers from panic attacks, describes her experiences in a series of letters to a friend.

 

 

 

whole storyHiranandani, Veera. The Whole Story of Half a Girl. Delacorte Press, 2012.

When Sonia’s father loses his job and she must move from her small, supportive private school to a public middle school, the half-Jewish half-Indian sixth-grader experiences culture shock as she tries to navigate the school’s unfamiliar social scene, and after her father is diagnosed with clinical depression, she finds herself becoming even more confused about herself and her family.

 

mercy's birdsHoleman, Linda. Mercy’s Birds. Tundra Books, 1998.

As her mother sinks into depression and her aunt turns to alcohol, fifteen-year-old Mercy tries to keep up with school and her job, until help comes for them from an unexpected source.

 

 

lettersHolmes, Sarah. Letters from Rapunzel. Harper Collins, 2006.

Through a series of letters written to a post office box, twelve-year-old Cadence describes her father’s hospitalization for depression, her subsequent problems at school, and her hope that the mysterious recipient will help her find a happy ending.

 

try not toHubbard, Jennifer R.  Try Not to Breathe. Viking, 2012.

The summer Ryan is released from a mental hospital following his suicide attempt, he meets Nicki, who gets him to share his darkest secrets while hiding secrets of her own.

 

 

disappear homeHurwitz, Laura. Disappear Home. Albert Whitman and Company, 2015.

In 1970, fourteen-year-old Shoshanna, six-year-old Mara, and their mother escape from Sweet Earth Farm, a declining commune run by their tyrranical and abusive father, but after finding peace and stability at Avery Elliot’s farm, their mother’s crippling depression returns.

 

damageJenkins, Amanda. Damage. HarperCollins, 2001.

Seventeen-year-old football hero Austin, trying to understand the inexplicable depression that has drained his interest in life, thinks that he has found relief in a girl who seems very special.

 

 

hold stillLaCour, Nina. Hold Still. Dutton, 2009.

Ingrid didn’t leave a note. Three months after her best friend’s suicide, Caitlin finds what she left instead: a journal, hidden under Caitlin’s bed.

 

 

 

backlashLittman, Sarah. Backlash. Scholastic, 2015.

For sophomore Lara Kelly, things are finally looking up—she’s feeling more confident after losing weight and she made the varsity cheerleading team, which she never would have imagined two years earlier when she was overweight and severely depressed. Best of all, Lara has caught the attention of a cute guy on Facebook, and he has been hinting at asking her to the homecoming dance. But when she sees horrible comments from her crush on social media, she spirals into a dangerous mental state and suicide seems like the only escape.

 

beyond crazyLoughead, Deb. Beyond Crazy. James Lorimer and Company, 2014.

For Stelle, being drummer in a band is what helps her cope with her mother’s depression and the problems her bandmates face with their families, until some conversations with her grandmother provide clues to the source of her mother’s condition.

 

 

savingMarchetta, Melina. Saving Francesca. Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.

Sixteen-year-old Francesca could use her outspoken mother’s help with the problems of being one of a handful of girls at a parochial school that has just turned co-ed, but her mother has suddenly become severely depressed.

 

flightNewbery, Linda. Flightsend. Random House Children’s Books, 2010.

When Charlie’s depressed mother decides to start over, they move to a ramshackle cottage in the country, where Charlie struggles to make friends and develop her artistic skills while her mother tries to launch a business.

 

 

all the brightNiven, Jennifer. All the Bright Places. Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.

Told in alternating voices, when Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school–both teetering on the edge–it’s the beginning of an unlikely relationship, a journey to discover the “natural wonders” of the state of Indiana, and two teens’ desperate desire to heal and save one another.

 

solitaireOseman, Alice. Solitaire. HarperTeen, 2015.

Tori Spring is a disaffected teenager: She can almost never finish a film in one sitting, she’s smart but can’t care about school anymore, and she dislikes her friends but is unwilling to forgo their company. About the only thing she cares about is her brother Charlie, who’s recovering from an eating disorder. When a mysterious blog called Solitaire  starts triggering pranks at her school, Tori isn’t too interested, even if strange new boy Michael Holden tries to make her be.

 

definePeters, Julie Ann. Define Normal. Little, Brown, 2000.

When Antonia is assigned to Jazz as a peer counselor, she figures there is no way she can help her. They are complete opposites. Antonia is a straight-A student whose parents are divorced and she is struggling to keep what’s left of her family together as her mother battles depression. Jazz’s family is wealthy and seemingly perfect. As they continue through the 15 hours of peer counseling, it becomes clear that both girls have issues they need to work through

 

sortaQuick, Matthew. Sorta Like a Rock Star. Little, Brown, 2010.

Although seventeen-year-old Amber Appleton is homeless, she is a relentless optimist who visits the elderly at a nursing home, teaches English to Korean Catholic women with the use of rhythm and blues music, and befriends a solitary Vietnam veteran and his dog, but eventually she experiences one burden more than she can bear and slips into a deep depression.

 

when reasonRodriguez, Cindy L. When Reason Breaks. Bloomsbury, 2015.

A Goth girl with an attitude problem, Elizabeth Davis must learn to control her anger before it destroys her. Emily Delgado appears to be a smart, sweet girl, with a normal life, but as depression clutches at her, she struggles to feel normal. Both girls are in Ms. Diaz’s English class, where they connect to the words of Emily Dickinson

 

dr birdRoskos, Evan. Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets. Houghton Mifflin, 2013.

A sixteen-year-old boy wrestling with depression and anxiety tries to cope by writing poems, reciting Walt Whitman, hugging trees, and figuring out why his sister has been kicked out of the house.

 

 

view fromSappenfield, Heather. The View From Who I Was. Flux, 2015.

As part of herself observes, eighteen-year-old Oona Antunes attempts suicide, tries to pull her family and her life back together, and begins to understand her own problems and those of her parents before finally becoming one with herself again.

 

permanentStella, Leslie. Permanent Record. Amazon Children’s, 2013.

Having left public school under mysterious circumstances, sixteen-year-old junior Badi Hessamizadeh enters Magnificat Academy, where he struggles with his Iranian-American identity, his clinical depression, and bullies.

 

 

memory of lightStork, Francisco X. The Memory of Light. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2016.

Waking up in the mental disorders ward after a suicide attempt, Vicky makes friends with other at-risk kids, who under the guidance of a compassionate doctor help her through the first steps towards self-acceptance and confronting the challenges that prompted her depression.

 

 

it's kind ofVizzini, Ned. It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Miramax Books, 2006.

A humorous account of a New York City teenager’s battle with depression and his time spent in a psychiatric hospital.

 

 

shopaholicWaite, Judy. Shopaholic. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2003.

Tired of household responsibilities and her mother’s depression, Taylor allows a new friend to persuade her to buy things she can’t afford, but soon discovers that Kat has even more secrets than she has.

 

 

emptyWalton, K.M. Empty. Simon Pulse, 2013.

Deeply depressed after her father cheated on and divorced her mother, seventeen-year-old Adele has gained over seventy pounds and is being bullied and abused at school–to the point of being raped and accused of being the aggressor.

 

my heart and otherWarga, Jasmine. My Heart and Other Black Holes. Balzar + Bray, 2015.

Seventeen-year-old Aysel’s hobby–planning her own death–take a new path when she meets a boy who has similar plan of his own.

 

 

 

how i madeWhite,Tracy. How I Made it to Eighteen: A Mostly True Story. Roaring Brook Press, 2010.

How do you know if you’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown? For seventeen-year-old Stacy Black, it all begins with the smashing of a window. After putting her fist through the glass, she checks into a mental hospital. Stacy hates it there but despite herself slowly realizes she has to face the reasons for her depression to stop from self-destructing.

 

blindWittlinger, Ellen. Blind Faith. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2006.

While coping with her grandmother’s sudden death and her mother’s resulting depression and fascination with a spiritualist church, whose ministers claim to communicate with the dead, fifteen-year-old Liz finds herself falling for a new neighbor whose mother is dying of cancer.

 

 

oppositeYoung, Janet. The Opposite of Music. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2007.

With his family, fifteen-year-old Billy struggles to help his father deal with a debilitating depression.

 

 

my beautifulYoung, Janet. My Beautiful Failure. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2012.

Billy’s family is still recovering from last winter, when the teen’s father sank into a deep depression that he’s only now just coming out of. Billy, 16, channels his frustrations and worry about his father’s mental health into his sophomore-year project, volunteering as a friendly, welcoming ear for the depressed, lonely, and/or bored callers to the Listeners hotline.

 

 

programYoung, Suzanne. The Program. Simon Pulse, 2013.

When suicide becomes a worldwide epidemic, the only known cure is The Program, a treatment in which painful memories are erased, a fate worse than death to seventeen-year-old Sloane who knows that The Program will steal memories of her dead brother and boyfriend.

 

Meet Natalie Korsavidis

natalieNatalie Korsavidis is the Head of Young Adult at the Farmingdale Public Library. She received her MLS at CW Post University. She is currently President of the Young Adult Services Division of the Nassau County Library Association. She has spoken at New York Comic Con and the Long Island Pop Culture Convention.

 

SEE ALL OF THE #MHYALIT POSTS HERE

Book Review: The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

Publisher’s description

memory of lightWhen Vicky Cruz wakes up in the Lakeview Hospital Mental Disorders ward, she knows one thing: After her suicide attempt, she shouldn’t be alive. But then she meets Mona, the live wire; Gabriel, the saint; E.M., always angry; and Dr. Desai, a quiet force. With stories and honesty, kindness and hard work, they push her to reconsider her life before Lakeview, and offer her an acceptance she’s never had.

But Vicky’s newfound peace is as fragile as the roses that grow around the hospital. And when a crisis forces the group to split up, sending Vick back to the life that drove her to suicide, she must try to find her own courage  and strength. She may not have them. She doesn’t know.

Inspired in part by the author’s own experience with depression, The Memory of Light is the rare young adult novel that focuses not on the events leading up to a suicide attempt, but the recovery from one — about living when life doesn’t seem worth it, and how we go on anyway.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I have had a lucky streak at the beginning of this year with not just reading books that are great in general, but that are specifically great in the way they deal with mental health issues. Because I read in order of publication date (the only way I can mange my towering pile of books), I didn’t even arrange for it to work out this way, to read all of these books at the start of our #MHYALit project. I have enjoyed Stork’s other two books—Marcelo in the Real World and The Last Summer of the Death Warriors—so I was expecting to like this one, too. “Like” is an understatement. This blew me away.

 

Vicky wakes up in the hospital after attempting suicide. Dr. Desai informs her she’s had her stomach pumped and that Juanita, her nanny, found her. Vicky doesn’t know how to explain what she did. She isn’t sure how to reconcile loving someone, as she does with her nanny, and still wanting to be dead. She just knows she hurts inside and she’s tired of pretending. Dr. Desai recommends Vicky stay for a few weeks for group therapy, individual therapy, to help out around the hospital, and to give them time to start to think about what medications may be useful. Vicky feels like none of that matters because she will inevitably go back to wanting to kill herself. Her chatty and affable roommate (with wrists full of scars), Mona, acts as a guide for Vicky, helping her get to know the other kids in the group. She learns that E.M. is there for anger and violence issues and Gabriel is there for, well, she’s not sure. He is slow to explain what’s going on in his life. Vicky is surprised by the “gentle but blunt sincerity” of the conversations about life in the hospital, mental illness, and more. She’s not used to people talking about these things.

 

Vicky’s dad and stepmom are high-achieving success stories, and so is Vicky’s sister. Her dad is more concerned with the school she’s missing and the fact that she’s in a public hospital (unacceptable to him) than he is with her actual state of mental health. With the support of her doctor and the group, Vicky is able to stand up for herself and stay for the treatment so she desperately needs. Though she’s promised Dr. Desai that she won’t try to kill herself while at the hospital, the thought is never far from her. She’s miserable. Vicky hates herself; she’s disgusted with herself. She is deeply, deeply sad and no one at home has recognized that. Though Vicky starts to make some inroads into feeling a little less depressed, she’s worried that going home will immediately bring everything back to feeling as desperate as it did before.

 

While the writing is outstanding and the characters well-drawn, it’s the real talk about mental illness that makes this novel stand out to me. Vicky often talks about the debilitating fog of depression, of the lies that depression makes a person believe. We learn that Mona is bipolar and see how that affects her, especially once she decides to give herself a little break from her medicine. Gabriel is possibly schizophrenic—he hears the voice of God telling him to give away his possessions and that he must die. The teens all talk about these very real illnesses and support each other when they each fall prey to believing in the lies, to feeling like they are to blame for their illnesses. At one point, Vicky says:

“It’s hard to accept that depression is an illness, that moping around from day to day with no will for so many years is not my fault. It feels like it’s my fault. Isn’t it your fault when you have all you want and need and much more than ninety-nine percent of the world has, and you still feel miserable?” (pg 102)

 

They struggle to accept their illnesses but are constantly reminded, by each other and their doctor, that what they have IS an illness and is real. The teens all come from different backgrounds and have varying levels of support or familial involvement in their treatment. They begin to really bond with each other, as the story goes on, and Vicky feels like in the hospital it’s five against one–her group and doctor against her depression. Each time we see her parents, we see so clearly how they just DO NOT get what is going on. Whether it’s ignorance—willful or otherwise–or denial, they don’t understand Vicky’s illness and make ridiculous demands on her once she leaves the hospital—get right back to school, get your grades back up, focus on getting into an Ivy League school (she’s a high school sophomore), get a job, BE FINE. Be better. Vicky, who is of course still struggling greatly with her depression, works hard to not be ashamed of what has happened and to be open with people about her needs right now. It is only after some very scary events go on with the friends in her treatment group that she can begin to make her family understand what mental illness really means and what they can do to support her. 

 

This important book is an honest and candid look at mental illness, treatment, and recovery. The focus on therapy, medication, and support shows readers the many different ways to get help. The mental illnesses are handled sensitively, and the teens’ conversations go a long way toward encouraging open dialogues about mental health, acceptance, and the removal of stigma. Expect this profoundly moving book to fly off shelves. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780545474320

Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.

Publication date:01/26/2016

Book Review: We Are The Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

Publisher’s description:

we are the antsFrom the “author to watch” (Kirkus Reviews) of The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley comes a brand-new novel about a teenage boy who must decide whether or not the world is worth saving.

Henry Denton has spent years being periodically abducted by aliens. Then the aliens give him an ultimatum: The world will end in 144 days, and all Henry has to do to stop it is push a big red button.

Only he isn’t sure he wants to.

After all, life hasn’t been great for Henry. His mom is a struggling waitress held together by a thin layer of cigarette smoke. His brother is a jobless dropout who just knocked someone up. His grandmother is slowly losing herself to Alzheimer’s. And Henry is still dealing with the grief of his boyfriend’s suicide last year.

Wiping the slate clean sounds like a pretty good choice to him.

But Henry is a scientist first, and facing the question thoroughly and logically, he begins to look for pros and cons: in the bully who is his perpetual one-night stand, in the best friend who betrayed him, in the brilliant and mysterious boy who walked into the wrong class. Weighing the pain and the joy that surrounds him, Henry is left with the ultimate choice: push the button and save the planet and everyone on it…or let the world—and his pain—be destroyed forever.

 

Amanda’s thoughts:

We first meet Henry when we read his words, the opening words of the novel: “Chemistry: Extra Credit Project. Life is bullshit.” Henry has spent the last year, if not the many years prior to it, too, honing his nihilism. Life is absurd and meaningless. We are insignificant and don’t matter. We’re just ants. So when he gets the chance to stop the world from ending, he really has to think it over. Why let the world go on? With all of the pain and misery and unfairness, why not let it all end? He’s looking at the big picture of things, sure, but this is also just about him. Is not wanting the world to go on the same thing as wanting to die? Is not believing the world–filled with so many mistakes and so much pain–deserves to go on the same thing as not believing that he deserves to go on? Is letting the world end just an extremely epic way to commit suicide? As we get to know Henry–grieving, lonely, guilt-ridden Henry–we see why he’s so conflicted over a question that might seem like it has an easy answer.

 

Henry has 144 days to get through before either saving the world or letting it end. A lot of those days are terrible. Thanks to his brother spreading the word that Henry had been abducted by aliens, he’s known around school as Space Boy. Since the suicide of his boyfriend Jesse, he doesn’t have any friends. He hooks up with Marcus, the school’s golden boy and a supreme bully, in secret, trying to fill the Jesse-shaped hole in his life. Marcus torments him, physically and verbally, but Henry keeps going back for more. He feels guilty for Jesse’s suicide and, maybe as a result, doesn’t seem to care very much about what happens to him or what the consequences might be. After all, if the world is about to end, why make things worse than they are? Why call out bullies, or think you deserve better, or think anything will change? Why want or hope? Nothing matters–right?

 

As you might expect, some things happen to Henry that make him have to think harder about both what he might ultimately do about the whole world ending thing and about actually living his life instead of just standing by while things happen to him. He meets Diego, a mysterious and complicated new guy with a troubled past. He starts hanging out again with Audrey, Jesse’s (and his) BFF. He starts to see the potential for change and for better lives with his mother and his brother. But none of these things means suddenly life becomes bearable. He’s still routinely assaulted and taunted. He’s still scared to get close to anyone. He can’t see how he can possibly be with Diego (who Henry thought was straight and who says the excellent line, “I like people, not the parts they have.”) when Diego wants to ignore the past and Henry doesn’t believe in a future. He’s still wracked with grief, guilt-ridden, hopeless, and just desperately sad. Everything–the entire fate of the world–ultimately comes down to whether or not Henry wants to go on living. 

 

Hutchinson’s latest book is a powerful look at depression, grief, guilt, families, bullying, hope, and the power to change. He shows us an extremely broken character, one who’s not convinced it’s worth it to even try to put the pieces back together, and really makes us wonder not only what will ultimately happen to the universe, but what will happen to Henry as he falls deeper and deeper into despair. Another fantastic book from Hutchinson, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. Smart, funny, weird, and heartbreaking, this title will have wide appeal thanks to compelling characters, an offbeat plot, and fantastic writing. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481449632

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Publication date: 01/19/2016