The book follows the life of a soon-to-be eighteen year old woman named Kristen who is in a short-term psychiatric facility after attempting suicide. As you progress through the book you will learn that Kristen’s younger brother, Nicholas, was sexually abused by his father (Kristen’s step-father), Jack. Throughout the story Kristen shares feelings of grief and guilt over her inability to stop the abuse after discovering that it was happening. As a means of coping, Kristen uses self-injury in the form of cutting in order to punish herself for not protecting Nick. Her self-harm is later identified as a symptom of a larger issue when Dr. pelchat, her psychiatrist at Bent Creek, diagnoses her with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Essentially, the book follows Kristen’s life as she navigates the trials and tribulations of recovery and makes strides towards reclaiming her life and her happiness.
Overall, I found this book to be deeply moving, extraordinarily raw, and ground-breakingly honest about the realities of mental illness. Johnson tackles so many taboo topics from incest to self-mutilation to suicide and so much more. Kristen experiences so much pain in her short life and I found myself empathizing with so many of her experiences. As someone who has many things in common with Kristen, I felt an immense amount of compassion for her character. Alternatively, looking at Kristen’s story from the perspective of someone who has experienced none of these challenges I believe that this book could serve as a learning tool to help people understand what it is like to live through traumatic experiences and deal with the consequences of others’ destructive actions.
I believe that this book is something that everyone should read. If society was more educated about the experiences of individuals who are victims of abuse (or otherwise exposed to abuse) then I believe there would be less stigma attached to mental illnesses that are a direct result of such abuse. As someone who has experienced childhood sexual abuse, I can attest to the fact that society teaches everyone to turn a blind eye to the suffering of victims. I personally survived years of abuse and developed multiple mental health conditions as a result, one of which was self-harm. However, due to the stigma attached to my illnesses, I suffered in silence until my mental and physical health had deteriorated to a potentially life-threatening state. This never should have happened and I honestly believe that books such as HER could prevent other’s from suffering in a similar manner by raising awareness about such issues and diminishing stigma.
If I’m being completely honest, I was initially a bit hesitant to read this book for fear that it would trigger my own self-harm urges. However, I think that Johnson does an excellent job of exposing the reader to the reality of self-harm without resorting to triggering language or imagery. She describes Kristen’s emotional suffering and her addiction to self-harm in a way that I believe readers might be able to empathize with. I personally empathized with Kristen in this respect as a result of my own experiences, but I believe that even people who have never resorted to self-injury might be able to imagine what Kristen was feeling in those moments. In fact, I think that the way Johnson describes Kristen’s self-harm urges would be useful to parents, friends, and care-providers who are supporting an individual struggling with self-harm. Readers could really learn to empathize and truly understand the struggle of self-harm addiction by reading this book.
I truly believe that this book could change the way that people understand mental illness. Books such as HER are bringing us one step closer to abolishing the stigmatization of mental illness and I must commend Felicia Johnson on her absolutely wonderful novel. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone. Seriously, go read it!
As always, thank you for reading!