An insightful, hard-hitting, and tender tale of converging mental health journeys.

INSANELY SANE

A YA novel offers an exploration of trauma in teenagers.

Shouse’s book features a trigger warning that gives almost a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of its content. The tale’s themes range from suicide and self-harm to misdiagnosis, sexual assault, and arson. Each chapter is narrated by one teen from a group of youths ages 14 to 18. The band is at Pleasant Valley Treatment Center, a mental health and rehabilitation facility for young people. The story opens with Tobias, a reluctant patient recently admitted after a suicide attempt, in the Maple unit. His perspective alternates with his eventual friends: Matthew, his roommate; the cool and friendly Derek, aka Six; pretty, bubbly Darla and her calmer friend Kate; quiet, intelligent Renee and her fiery, older sister figure, Liz; James, who seems sworn to silence; and the scar-faced Bullfrog. The alternating viewpoints trace the plot through scenes of group therapy. Readers, along with the patients, discover the backstory that landed each character in Pleasant Valley. Friendships among the teens develop as they help one another come to terms with their experiences and start the healing process. In the novel, Shouse makes the case that although the path to healing is neither linear nor easy, unconditional acceptance and love from those around the patients can make the odyssey worthwhile. The author’s first foray into YA fiction strikes the right balance between naïve hope and realistic skepticism in the handling of incredibly heavy themes. The characters are diverse in terms of age, race, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, and personality. The author skillfully commits to representation without linking this to such stereotypical themes as Black suffering. The book is well paced and smartly structured, with the alternating points of view serving to develop both the characters and the plot. Different approaches to mental health practices, from cognitive behavioral therapy to medication and mindfulness, are also cleverly examined through different players, further emphasizing that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to mental health. While some dialogue on healing reads as slightly stiff and dogmatic, the core themes of listening and showing compassion in the face of others’ suffering are expressed in simple, poignant terms. At one point, James tells Matthew: “You guys get it, even when you don’t.”

An insightful, hard-hitting, and tender tale of converging mental health journeys.

Pub Date: May 24, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-945060-50-2

Page Count: 316

Publisher: Motina Books

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2022

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Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises.

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THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END

What would you do with one day left to live?

In an alternate present, a company named Death-Cast calls Deckers—people who will die within the coming day—to inform them of their impending deaths, though not how they will happen. The End Day call comes for two teenagers living in New York City: Puerto Rican Mateo and bisexual Cuban-American foster kid Rufus. Rufus needs company after a violent act puts cops on his tail and lands his friends in jail; Mateo wants someone to push him past his comfort zone after a lifetime of playing it safe. The two meet through Last Friend, an app that connects lonely Deckers (one of many ways in which Death-Cast influences social media). Mateo and Rufus set out to seize the day together in their final hours, during which their deepening friendship blossoms into something more. Present-tense chapters, short and time-stamped, primarily feature the protagonists’ distinctive first-person narrations. Fleeting third-person chapters give windows into the lives of other characters they encounter, underscoring how even a tiny action can change the course of someone else’s life. It’s another standout from Silvera (History Is All You Left Me, 2017, etc.), who here grapples gracefully with heavy questions about death and the meaning of a life well-lived.

Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises. (Speculative fiction. 13-adult).

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-245779-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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This grittily provocative debut explores the horrors of self-harm and the healing power of artistic expression.

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GIRL IN PIECES

After surviving a suicide attempt, a fragile teen isn't sure she can endure without cutting herself.

Seventeen-year-old Charlie Davis, a white girl living on the margins, thinks she has little reason to live: her father drowned himself; her bereft and abusive mother kicked her out; her best friend, Ellis, is nearly brain dead after cutting too deeply; and she's gone through unspeakable experiences living on the street. After spending time in treatment with other young women like her—who cut, burn, poke, and otherwise hurt themselves—Charlie is released and takes a bus from the Twin Cities to Tucson to be closer to Mikey, a boy she "like-likes" but who had pined for Ellis instead. But things don't go as planned in the Arizona desert, because sweet Mikey just wants to be friends. Feeling rejected, Charlie, an artist, is drawn into a destructive new relationship with her sexy older co-worker, a "semifamous" local musician who's obviously a junkie alcoholic. Through intense, diarylike chapters chronicling Charlie's journey, the author captures the brutal and heartbreaking way "girls who write their pain on their bodies" scar and mar themselves, either succumbing or surviving. Like most issue books, this is not an easy read, but it's poignant and transcendent as Charlie breaks more and more before piecing herself back together.

This grittily provocative debut explores the horrors of self-harm and the healing power of artistic expression. (author’s note) (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-93471-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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