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#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

#MHYALit: Accepting Anxiety, a guest post by Jessica Spotswood

Today we’re honored to have Jessica Spotswood sharing her lifelong experiences with anxiety with us. See all of the posts in the #MHYALit series here. 


I was twenty-seven when I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder and prescribed Lexapro to help manage it. It gave name to something that I’ve struggled with since I was a little girl. 



After my grandmother had a stroke while babysitting me, and subsequently died of a brain tumor when I was seven, I had a visceral reaction to hospitals and an unrelenting fear of doctors. I once overheard my parents talking about a girl at church whose appendix had almost ruptured, and for years afterward I had rampant stomaches and panic attacks that I too had appendicitis. I was at odds with my own body – not the usual awkwardness of being a teenager, but constantly monitoring signs and potential symptoms that I might be secretly dying, that my body might betray me at any moment. I remember lying awake at night worrying that something would happen to my parents and anxiously watching the clock if they were even a few minutes late picking us up. I remember being so anxious I couldn’t eat whenever there was any substantial deviation from my routine (school trips, vacations, etc). Despite all this, I remember being a a sunny, bouncy, endlessly positive girl – everyone’s best friend and confidante. I didn’t talk about my worries. When I tried to, my parents told me to find something to do (the devil makes work for idle hands, I guess?), or suggested that I was worrying about nothing. 


So I tried to keep busy. During the school year, I was mostly successful – AP and advanced classes, marching band, concert band, jazz band, fall play, spring musical, editing the school newspaper, copyediting the yearbook. During the summers, I was miserable and anxious. This continued during college and grad school. I was so busy that I was perpetually stressed, but that seemed normal, until it came to a crisis point my last semester of grad school. I was working full-time, doing comp essays, planning my wedding, and looking for a new apartment, while also dealing with my father’s acrimonious divorce from my stepmom and an estrangement from my half-brother. I started getting so furious with myself over small silly things that I’d hit myself or knock my head into a wall. And I knew that wasn’t healthy. But it wasn’t until a friend was diagnosed with lymphoma and I became obsessively worried about a bump on my neck that I went to see my doctor. It turned out the bump was perfectly normal, but when I couldn’t accept that, my primary care physician realized that my anxiety over it wasn’t normal. She prescribed me Lexapro.


And the medication helped. I fought against the idea of needing it, felt shamed that I couldn’t just work it out on my own. I’d grown up in a very practical central Pennsylvania Protestant family with a fantastic work ethic. When, as an adult, I tried to explain my anxiety to them, they still suggested that I had too much time to think, that I wasn’t busy enough if I had this much time to worry. What did I have to worry about anyway, they asked? When I first told my mom about the medication, she was quiet and then relayed that medication like that had made my cousin gain weight. As much as I love my family, it became something I couldn’t talk about with them for my own wellbeing. It showed me that even the most loving people can minimize and dismiss and judge mental health issues.


I was embarrassed about having anxiety, but I thought, Okay, I’ll take this medication for a while. Surely not forever. I’ll get better. I made a point of blogging about it, of talking openly about therapy and anxiety and meds with my friends. But in my heart of hearts, I was not reconciled to anxiety being part of me, just like my curly hair and blue eyes and love of words. I’d feel better for weeks or months and think hopefully that it had gone away, that I was cured! Then I’d feel crushingly disappointed in myself when it popped up again.


ATOP cover smallThe more I chatted with my therapist, the more I realized how much of my identity was wrapped up in anxiety: my need to please, my fierce avoidance of conflict, my fear of the unknown. For a long time, I believed without question that I had to be sunny and perfect and likable to be loved, and that I had to worry obsessively about all the bad things that might happen in order to prevent them. It was a sort of black magical thinking that still lingers with me, though at least I recognize it now. (As I write this, four days away from the release of my newest book, A TYRANNY OF PETTICOATS, I am both delighted by all the positive reviews and buzz, and waiting for the universe to turn on me in some fashion.)


The medication helps quiet the worries that circle my brain like vultures. I’m still prey to them sometimes but they fly at enough of a distance that I can use the tools from therapy to ask myself: what is this feeling telling me? Is that true? Do I want to do something about it? If not, can I let it go? I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a few months after I started taking medication, I also began writing fiction again for the first time in years. Without that incessant anxious chatter, there was so much space in my mind – space for stories to grow.


And, for a while, things were okay. I still had anxious days. I panicked unnecessarily about regular doctors’ appointments. I sold my first trilogy in a major deal and my dream and my hobby became my job. It was a mixed blessing. For a girl who loves knowing what to expect, publishing is in some ways not the ideal job. (I never know what to expect.) There is so much beyond my control – sales, reviews, the publisher’s publicity, the ever-elusive market. And this business breeds perfectionism. It’s easy to feel never-enough, to compare my behind-the-scenes journey to everyone else’s highlight reels on social media. It’s easy to stay busy-busy-busy, jumping from deadline to deadline, from book release to book release. It’s easy for it to become your everything, your whole identity, in a way that is maybe not healthy. That’s where I was two winters ago, when my husband and I started thinking about trying to have a baby (a discussion that’s since been tabled) and I went off my anti-anxiety medication. I thought I could. I thought I should, even though I was in a strange place job-wise, writing full-time but with no new book under contract.


It was fine until it wasn’t. I woke up one sunny morning in March in a total panic. I was home in my own bed, safe, but my brain and body started sending signals that something was really wrong. My thoughts started to loop uncontrollably. What if, what if, what if? What if I never sold another book? What if my husband couldn’t find another teaching job after his adjunct contract was up? What if I had secret cancer? My brain was determined to find a reason for how terrified I felt. The feeling of it had come first, then the thoughts. But anxiety isn’t rational.


I started seeing my therapist again, and that helped. But I was miserable. I cried every day. I was hardly eating. I wasn’t writing. Sometimes I didn’t get out of bed until dark. I was determined to figure it out without medication, though. I don’t know why. It felt like if I just worked hard enough, I could do it. I hadn’t been able to make my books a success – at least not by my publisher’s outsize expectations – but surely I could do this. I was desperate to control my own brain. To control something


It didn’t work, no matter how hard I tried. After two months, I got to the point where I was feeling – while not actively suicidal – like I didn’t want to live anymore. And that scared me enough that I – who still have a fairly major phobia about doctors – made an appointment. I asked my doctor to put me back on Lexapro.


Like before, it’s not magic. I still feel anxious sometimes, I still get irrationally angry with myself for not being perfect, for not doing enough. But those feelings are muted enough that I can use the tools I’ve learned from therapy. And I decided that writing full-time, letting it be my everything, wasn’t healthy for me. I got a part-time job working as a children’s library associate and I edited my anthology and eventually I sold another book and I got into a new routine. And that includes taking anti-anxiety medication every day. 


Only now I’m not embarrassed at all. 


Now I’m proud. I saved myself. I wasn’t too ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help when I needed it. I work really hard to take care of myself – to not fall into the traps of perfectionism and busybusybusy and self-blame. When your brain is an asshole sometimes, it is really easy to feel ugly and broken​ and not enough​. That’s when I take a step back and remember that a lot of my thoughts about myself are not objectively true. They are not rational. Would I talk that way about a friend? Would I judge them as harshly as I judge myself? (The answer is almost always a resounding no.) I am finally in a place where I – almost always – believe that anxiety is not my fault. That it’s a combination of learned habits that I can change and brain chemistry that I cannot. It’s not about being stronger or better or, Good Lord, busier. When my brain tells me that, it’s being a bully, because that is not true.


And if your brain tells you that? Don’t believe it. And don’t be afraid to ask for help, in whatever form that takes. You aren’t broken, eithe​r. You are exactly enough. ​I promise. 


Meet Jessica Spotswood

C. Stanley Photography

C. Stanley Photography

Jessica Spotswood is the editor of the historical anthology A TYRANNY OF PETTICOATS and the author of The Cahill Witch Chronicles and the upcoming WILD SWANS. She grew up in a tiny, one-stoplight town in Pennsylvania, where she could be found swimming, playing clarinet, memorizing lines for the school play, or – most often – with her nose in a book. Now she lives in Washington, DC where she can be found working as a children’s library associate for DC Public Library, seeing theatre with her playwright husband, or – most often – with her nose in a book. Some things never change. Website / Twitter / Facebook / Instagram



About A Tyranny of Petticoats

ATOP cover smallFrom an impressive sisterhood of YA writers comes an edge-of-your-seat anthology of historical fiction and fantasy featuring a diverse array of daring heroines.

Criss-cross America—on dogsleds and ships, stagecoaches and trains—from pirate ships off the coast of the Carolinas to the peace, love, and protests of 1960s Chicago. Join fifteen of today’s most talented writers of young adult literature on a thrill ride through history with American girls charting their own course. They are monsters and mediums, bodyguards and barkeeps, screenwriters and schoolteachers, heiresses and hobos. They’re making their own way in often-hostile lands, using every weapon in their arsenals, facing down murderers and marriage proposals. And they all have a story to tell.

With stories by:
J. Anderson Coats
Andrea Cremer
Y. S. Lee
Katherine Longshore
Marie Lu
Kekla Magoon
Marissa Meyer
Saundra Mitchell
Beth Revis
Caroline Richmond
Lindsay Smith
Jessica Spotswood
Robin Talley
Leslye Walton
Elizabeth Wein

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Publication date: 03/08/2016


About Wild Swans

wild swansThe summer before Ivy’s senior year is going to be golden-all bonfires, barbeques, and spending time with her best friends. For once, she will just get to be. No summer classes, none of Granddad’s intense expectations to live up to the family name. For generations, the Milbourn women have lead extraordinary lives-and died young and tragically. Granddad calls it a legacy, but Ivy considers it a curse. Why else would her mother have run off and abandoned her as a child?

But when her mother unexpectedly returns home with two young daughters in tow, all of the stories Ivy wove to protect her heart start to unravel. The very people she once trusted now speak in lies. And all of Ivy’s ambition and determination cannot defend her against the secrets of the Milbourn past…


Publisher: Sourcebooks

Publication date: 05/03/2016

Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

nessPublisher’s description:

A new YA novel from novelist Patrick Ness, author of the Carnegie Medal- and Kate Greenaway Medal-winning A Monster Calls and the critically acclaimed Chaos Walking trilogy, The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a bold and irreverent novel that powerfully reminds us that there are many different types of remarkable.

What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.


Amanda’s thoughts:

2015 has really delivered some fantastic books. Add this one to my favorites list. I’m pretty much in love with this book, but I’ll try to not just gush on and on. TRY.


Here’s how this book is structured: Each chapter begins with a little summary, so we get:

Chapter the first, in which the Messenger of the Immortals arrives in a surprising shape, looking for a permanent Vessel; and after being chased by her through the woods, indie kid Finn meets his final fate.


But then the chapter goes on to talk about other stuff entirely–the things that are going on with the people who just live in the town, not the the kids referenced in the chapter setup. Tiny little bits from that storyline that carries through in the chapter descriptions show up in the main story, but from the view of Mikey and friends, who are mostly just witnessing whatever this Immortals business is from afar. It’s a brilliant setup.


It’s a month prior to graduation and Mel, Mikey, Henna, and Jared are spending their last few weeks all together before their post-high school lives split them up. Outside of the constant background threat of possible undead masses coming to destroy the town, the kids lead pretty normal lives. Mike is full of anxiety about his friends, his future, and his family. He suffers from OCD and can’t stop getting stuck in repetitive loops. Mel, who’s one year older than her brother Mike, is making up for the year of school she lost while battling anorexia. Henna, the object of Mike’s affection, is not super excited to be heading to a war-torn African country for the summer. And Jared? Well, he’s a little less normal. He’s three-quarters Jewish and one-quarter God. His mother was a half-Goddess. So what exactly is Jared a god of? Cats. Mikey starts to stress out more when Nathan moves to town five weeks before graduation. Henna seems interested in him, much to Mikey’s dismay, and he can’t help but think it’s super suspicious that Nathan’s arrival happens to coincide with a resurgence of supernatural activity.


There is a lot to love about this book. The structure is intriguing, the writing is smart and funny, and the characters are incredibly interesting and well-developed. I love how they interact with each other and care for each other. At one point, Mike’s OCD has made him wash his face until it’s raw. Jared dabs some moisturizer on it for him. In Mike’s narration, he says, “Yeah, I know most people would think it weird that two guy friends touch as much as we do, but when you choose your family, you get to choose how it is between you, too. This is how we work. I hope you get to choose your family and I hope it means as much to you as mine does to me.” These friends care deeply for one another (and explore just what exactly might be found in the depth of those feelings, with Mike noting very matter-of-factly that he and Jared have hooked up in the past–“And fine, he and I have messed around a few times growing up together, even though I like girls, even though I like Henna, because a horny teenage boy would do it with a tree trunk if it offered at the right moment….”). Their stories dovetail at times with the story of the indie kids waging war against a potential apocalypse (those poor indie kids, always battling the undead, ghosts, and vampires. At one point, Mike notes there are two more indie kids dead. Henna says, “This is worse than when they were all dying beautifully of cancer.” GOD I LOVE THIS BOOK), but they prove that daily teenage life is just as fraught and dramatic as the lives of The Chosen Ones.


Here’s what I want to talk about for the rest of the review: Mental health, therapy, and medication. Friends, I was cheering out loud while reading this. The characters have many frank discussions about these topics and I FINALLY felt like someone really did a great job showing the good that therapy and medication can do. An ongoing conversation many of us have been having is about the worrisome messages some books send regarding mental health and the stigma of diagnosis, treatment, and medication. (You can go back to my piece Mental Health Medications are Not Your Enemy for some more context.) As much as I want to quote every line related to these topics, I’ll just share a few. For background, Mikey has seen a therapist for his OCD and anxiety and been medicated in the past. He’s not currently seeing someone or being treated. Jared finds him endlessly washing his face. He says:

“There’s no shame in therapy, Mike… Or medicine. You shouldn’t have to go through this.”


When Mikey finally tells his mother (who is a self-absorbed politician) that he thinks he needs to see a psychiatrist again, that he needs to be medicated, she just says okay and helps him do that. For all of her other failings, she understands he needs help and makes sure he gets it.


Mike talks to his therapist about how awful the OCD is, how debilitating the anxiety feels, how he worries that if he can’t break himself out of a loop, the only way to end it will be to kill himself. He says, “I feel like I’m at the bottom of a well. I feel like I’m way down this deep, deep hole and I’m looking up and all there is is this little dot of light and I have to shout at the top of my lungs for anyone to hear me and even when I do, I say the wrong thing or they don’t really listen or they’re just humoring me.” His struggles are very much on the page and he wrestles with what to do to overcome them. His therapist says he’d like to start him back on medication. Mike makes a face.

“… Why are you making that face?”

“Medication is a … failure?”

“The biggest one. Like I’m so broken, I need medical help.”

“Cancer patients don’t call chemotherapy a failure. Diabetics don’t call insulin a failure.”

His therapist goes on to ask why he feels he’s responsible for his anxiety. During their fantastic discussion, he says to Mike, “Medication will address the anxiety, not get rid of it, but reduce it to a manageable level, maybe even the same level as other people so that—and here’s the key thing—we can talk about it. Make it something you can live with. You still have work to do, but the medication lets you stay alive long enough to do that work.”

As a person with anxiety disorder, as a parent raising a kid in therapy and on medication for anxiety disorder, as someone deeply invested in wanting teenagers to understand that there is help for their depression, or anxiety, or whatever, I applaud these scenes. They never felt preachy or forced. Mikey is honest, Jared is compassionate, the therapist is effective and optimistic.


It’s impossible to capture the brilliance of this book in a review, but I’m hoping you’ll go out and pick it up and experience it for yourself. This is the kind of book you finish reading and want to reread again just to savor it. I can’t wait to start recommending this to teens at the library. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062403162

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 10/06/2015