Bookworm Bloggin’: A Tragic Kind of Wonderful

Synopsis

28575699For sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to keep everyone at arm’s length. And when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to come out and upend her shaky equilibrium.

As the walls of Mel’s compartmentalized world crumble, she fears the worst–that her friends will abandon her if they learn the truth about what she’s been hiding. Can Mel bring herself to risk everything to find out?

In A Tragic Kind of Wonderful, Eric Lindstrom, author of the critically acclaimed Not If I See You First, examines the fear that keeps us from exposing our true selves, and the courage it takes to be loved for who we really are.

Review

For those of you who are long-time readers, you’ll know that my passion in life is mental health. So when I was given the opportunity to read and review a book that deals with a serious mental health condition, I jumped on it!

I want to start off by saying that I have never personally struggled with bipolar disorder so I cannot speak to the accuracy of the book’s portrayal of the disorder. With that being said, a quick scroll through the growing number of reviews on Goodreads reveals that many individuals who have read the book and who struggle with bipolar disorder found it to be accurate and realistic in the depictions of the illness. While this may not be such an important detail for people who are just in it for a good story (which you will definitely get, but more on that later!) it is extremely important to me because accurate media content helps to end stigma and raise awareness about mental health. For this accomplishment alone I think the book deserves 5 starts.

Moving on to the the storyline itself, I found this book to be engaging and heartbreaking at the same time. The main character, Mel, deals with so much isolation and fears of abandonment and the sadness involved in this experience is so authentic. On top of this, Mel goes through a tremendous amount of family turmoil and loss which makes her story that much more heartbreaking (but in the interest of remaining spoiler-free, you’ll have to read the book to learn more about that particular detail).

Another element of the story which really stands out is Mel’s inability to trust. She distances herself from her friends at school and as the reader it felt so easy to empathize with this distrust and understand why she would feel that way. Recently being diagnosed with bipolar disorder would be hard enough to deal with on it’s own without adding in all of the additional life changes that Mel is facing. Throughout the entirety of the book I found myself feeling a rollercoaster of emotions from extreme sadness to compassion to anger at the unfairness of Mel having to go through so much on her own. Mel felt so REAL to me. I didn’t feel as though I was reading a work of fiction; I felt as though I was looking through a window into the life of a real girl going through real pain, and for me this felt like a very helpless experience. I wanted to reach out and help her!

With all of that being said, I think it’s safe to say that I loved this book. It is a fast-paced story full of ups and downs; yet, somehow Mel manages to make it through. I found this book to be inspiring and educational at the same time which is not an easy feat to accomplish. If you’re looking for a good book to learn about bipolar disorder, or if you’re looking for a place to feel understood as someone going through the disorder I would highly recommend reading A Tragic Kind of Wonderful. Eric Lindstrom does a magnificent job of dealing with tough issues in a realistic and powerful way that left me feeling such strong emotions!

My overall rating: 5 stars.

Thanks for reading!

Ayla

Note: I received an advanced reader copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest reader review. The opinions expressed herein are entirely my own.

Detached by Christina Kilbourne Review

Deatched-BlogTourHeader-v1
Synopsis

Anna has always been so level-headed, so easy-going, so talented and funny. How could anyone have guessed she wanted to die?

Anna is not like other people. For one thing, she’s been an accomplished artist since she was a preschooler. For another, she’s always felt like she didn’t belong: not with other kids, not with her family, not in her body. It isn’t until her grandparents are killed in a tragic accident, however, that Anna starts to feel untethered. She begins to wonder what it would be like if she didn’t exist and the thought of escaping the aimless drifting is the only thing that brings her comfort.

When Anna overdoses on prescription pain killers the doctors realize she has been suffering from depression and start looking for a way to help her out of the desperate black hole she never thought she would escape. It’s then that rock bottom comes into sight and the journey back to normal begins.

Review

I want to begin this review by first recognizing the author’s dedication to writing a book of hope rather than writing for the purpose of glamorizing mental illness. While I believe that there can be tremendous value and inspiration found in the pages of books about mental illness, I also believe that if authors are not careful, their work can do more harm than good. Christina Kilbourne not only recognizes this fact, but she does a wonderful job of harnessing the power of written words in a way that inspires the reader to seek help or empathize with the character rather than triggering copycat behavior.

While I was in the initial stages of researching this book, I came across a quote from the author which states, “I wanted a story that would be sensitive, but not suggestive. I wanted a story that would appeal to teens, yet not scare off parents, teachers or librarians. I wanted a story that would show the despair suicide brings to family and friends without being preachy […] I wanted to write a book about suicide that would bring hope, understanding and perhaps a measure of comfort to anyone who might be reading and want to end their life. At the same time, I wanted those who had lost a loved one to suicide to realize it wasn’t their fault”.

My reader’s note to the author (if she ever happens to read this…) is that Detached absolutely 100% without a doubt achieves each and every one of these goals. I did not find the book to be the least bit suggestive or preachy and as a mid-twenties reader I could definitely see myself referring Detached to teenagers and older adults alike. The story is written with such finesse and the reader truly gets to experience an inside look at depression, suicide, and the debilitating reality of mental health conditions. If you are someone who has personally experienced depression, suicidal ideation, or suicidal behaviors, you might just find yourself feeling incredibly understood  and inspired by the pages of Detached. Alternatively, if you are someone who has not personally struggled but has a loved one who does, you might begin to better understand what your loved one is feeling by reading Kilbourne’s novel.

Detached is both deeply saddening and yet somehow powerfully inspiring. I felt such a strong connection to the main character, Anna, due to my own experiences with mental illness and I can honestly say that Kilbourne did an excellent job of depicting Anna’s struggles realistically rather than glamorizing it for a more dramatic storyline. But don’t let that statement convince you that the story is not dramatic; on the contrary, I found Detached to be an entirely gripping novel to read. I could NOT put this book down! In fact, when my alarm woke me up at 9am the morning after I finished Detached I mentally scolded myself for staying up until 3am reading, but it was definitely well worth staying up to finish!

One unique element to this book which I have not previously found in any young adult fiction about mental illness is the inclusion of an adult point of view. The story is told from the rotating perspectives of Anna, her best friend, and her mother. This aspect of the book is both intriguing and functional because it allows the reader to approach the story from their own perspective whether they are the person who is struggling or the person who is looking in trying to help. In my opinion, this element of the novel makes it more appealing to a wider audience because adults might actually find it easier to relate to the story from the adult perspective. Of course, this is just a theory as I am not a parent nor an “adult” (I refuse to embrace that title until I’m at least 25) but I might test this theory by referring the book to a few of the more “adultier” adults in my life to see what they think!

On another note, I also wanted to take a moment to appreciate the applicability of the title of Detached. When I think of my own experiences with depression, the first thing that comes to mind is the overwhelming feeling of being detached and isolated from the world around me. While no two people will experience mental illness in the same way, I know many people who have expressed a similar feeling of detachment from both themselves and those around them. I can think of absolutely no better word to describe Anna’s story in this novel and if I’m being completely honest, it was the title which initially drew me to this book and inspired my decision to contact the publisher for an advanced reader copy. So in this respect, I suppose you might say that I began empathizing with this book before I even turned the first page.

Overall, Detached is an incredibly remarkable story about grief, suicide, substance abuse, and learning to rebuild a shattered life. Upon further reflection I realized that this book is reminiscent of one of my favorite quotes by J. K. Rowling which states, “rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life”.  This quote has been something of a mantra that I have adopted into my own life when I am struggling and I found myself relating to Detached in the same way that I relate to the quote. The story allowed me to feel as though my struggles are valid while still recognizing the fact that it is possible to overcome even the darkest of depressive episodes.

I honestly believe that this story has the potential to save lives. If you or someone you know is struggling, perhaps you might consider reading this novel. It might just help you shine a light on all the darkness in your life.

Lastly, I would also like to point out that the Detached blog tour is perfectly timed to align with the approaching World Suicide Prevention Day which occurs on September 10, 2016. I can think of no other book which would be better suited to raising awareness about suicide so it seems especially fitting that Dundern Press has arranged for this book tour to take place in alignment with such an important day. I am so thankful for the opportunity to be part of this book tour and I would like to encourage all of my readers to not only read Detached which was recently released, but also to raise awareness and start conversations on World Suicide Prevention Day. Every voice counts in the fight to end mental health stigma!

xo
Ayla

Note: I received a complementary copy of this book from Dundurn press in exchange for an honest reader review and participation in the Detached Book Tour. The opinions expressed herein are entirely my own. 

Bookworm Bloggin’: Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

cloudwish-us-fiona-woodSynopsis

For Vân Uoc Phan, fantasies fall into two categories: nourishing, or pointless. Daydreaming about Billy Gardiner, for example? Pointless. It always left her feeling sick, as though she’d eaten too much sugar.

Vân Uoc doesn’t believe in fairies, zombies, vampires, Father Christmas – or magic wishes. She believes in keeping a low profile: real life will start when school finishes.

But when she attracts the attention of Billy Gardiner, she finds herself in an unwelcome spotlight.

Not even Jane Eyre can help her now.

Wishes were not a thing.

They were not.

Correction.

Wishes were a thing.

Wishes that came true were sometimes a thing.

Wishes that came true because of magic were not a thing!

Were they?

Review

Cloudwish by Fiona Wood can best be described as a light young adult contemporary that almost anyone could relate to on some level. Admittedly, I was drawn in more by the cover of the book than the synopsis when I first came across this title. I know, I know: never judge a book by it’s cover! But in this case, I’m happy to report that it really paid off! I loved this book!

Amid the slew of young adult thriller and suspense novels that I’ve recently been reading, Cloudwish was a welcome change of pace. While I previously described the book as light YA fiction, this does not mean that Fiona Wood neglects depth in the story. On the contrary, Wood does an excellent job of drawing attention to important issues such as the struggles and oppression faced by refugees.  As the reader, I got to explore not only Vân Uoc’s struggles, but also learned about the heartbreaking past of her parents. While I have never personally experienced being a refugee, I know quite a few people who have and I felt as though the author did a wonderful job of staying true to the realities faced by refugee populations.

On a lighter (yet still relevant) note, Wood also delves into the idea of social hierarchies. As a scholarship student at a prestigious private school, Vân Uoc is the typical top-of-the-class student with good grades and a vision for her future. She knows her place in the social hierarchy of her school; yet, she can’t help but be attracted to Billy, the “alpha male” of the school. What happens next is both cliched and nonconformist: Billy starts to fall for Vân Uoc.

Personally, I had expected Cloudwish to be a predictable story about first-love and high school crushes. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the author has so much more to offer the reader. You will get your atypical love story fix with a nice side order of overcoming adversity and self-exploration.

While I would not describe Cloudwish as a page-turner (at least not in comparison to the YA thriller that I just read…) I still found it to be a captivating story. Cloudwish is the perfect leisurely book with a gentle pace that I found quite comforting during a stressful week. If you’re looking for a nice relaxing book that still deals with important topics, look no further than Cloudwish.

Ayla

Note: I received an advanced reader copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest reader review. The opinions expressed herein are entirely my own. 

February Favorite Reads (so far…)

Lately I’ve been seriously considering joining a book club in my local area to get myself out of the house more often and engage with other people who share similar interests. I love reading and I was involved in book clubs when I was younger so it might be a great way to meet people now that I’ve graduated from university and don’t see people much outside of work.

In the spirit of possibly joining a book club, I’ve decided to write another post about two books I recently read by Megan McCafferty.

The books are entitled “Bumped” and “Thumped” and essentially revolve around the lives of two teenage girls who happen to be twins separated at birth.

bumped-by-megan-mccafferty

Without going into too much detail, the book portrays a futuristic dystopian society in which human beings are unable to reproduce after the age of eighteen (known as “obsolescence” in the book) due to a virus which has infected the majority of the human race. As a result, teenage girls are essentially prostituted out by their parents in order to “bump” (have sex) with a “RePro” (reproductive professional) of the opposite sex to create a “Pregg” (pregnancy) which will then be carried to term and immediately delivered to the buyers after the girl has given birth.

In the book, teenage girls and boys are ranked in a Darwinian system which scores individuals based on the desirability of their traits (ie. height, intelligence, etc.). Depending on how well these individuals score in the ranking system, they can either become Reproductive Professionals and contract themselves out for preggs, or amateur preggers who sell their offspring for a much lower profit than those who score high enough to be contracted professionals.

Sound a little messed up? That’s because it is. As with any good dystopian literature, the book carries themes which seem outlandish enough to seem unlikely, yet similar enough to the practices of our own society that it is believably foreboding.

While reading the two books I felt the same urge to compare the books to current societal practices that I felt while reading George Orwell’s 1984. This is not because the books cross paths in terms of content, but rather, the books both seem to be predicting how certain aspects of our society could become dangerous. Orwell was certainly not far off in his surveillance predictions if you consider how much of our online activities are monitored, tracked, and sold. Is it possible that McCafferty is depicting a society which will not be far off from our own in a few decades down the road?

Obviously, it’s impossible to know what the future holds, but I certainly appreciate a book that can make me think about things like this. Bumped and Thumped have definitely done this for me. I’ve been thinking about the novels ever since I finished them, which is probably why I decided to write about them here! If you’re a book worm like me and you enjoy young adult fiction, dystopian fiction, and/or books that will change the way you think about society and societal issues you should definitely consider giving these books a read!

xo

Ayla