Writing Words With the Tips of My Toes
Because I am a writer who naturally creates psychologically tortured characters, I decided I’d do a book review over a novel that came out in 2011 that I think does a good job of portraying a struggling teen with bipolar disorder.
Taylor is placed in a group home for teens struggling with mental illnesses, hers being bipolar disorder. There she meets a few other teens coping with their own illnesses who, Taylor soon discovers, do not take the program at Saint Jude too seriously, as they involve themselves in quirky antics that only serve to anger “Big Daddy,” the therapist and director. Soon “Big Daddy” leaves his position when something tragic happens, and Dalton replaces him. Dalton uses unconventional techniques to force the teens to face their own issues–and the tragic losses that occurred at Saint Jude.
This book attracted my attention because I was searching for a young adult book with a protagonist who suffered from bipolar disorder. I was tired of reading YA books that merely alluded to bipolar disorder because, of course, books like that never touch upon the intricacies this illness contains. Needless to say, Saint Jude did a marvelous job of expressing bipolar disorder, including a small manic episode Taylor has that ends in short-term hospitalization.
Taylor herself is an interesting character, not because of her illness, but because she does not fall into the woe-is-me trap that can happen when writing about a character with mental illness. Instead she accepts she struggles with bipolar and simply wants to move on with her life–if only she can get out of Saint Jude. The other teen characters are solid as well. Princess (her nickname) supposedly struggles with an anxiety disorder, but the other characters view her as spoiled because her anxiety occurs when she does not get her way. Reno struggles with depression and becomes Taylor’s main support. Blaine is schizophrenic and is not ashamed to admit that he has this illness. Isaac loses touch with reality every so often and has undergone several ECT treatments, a last resort method when meds fail. “Big Daddy” is the coddling sort of therapist that doesn’t make the teens own up to their own actions. Dalton is just the opposite: a no-nonsense therapist who does expect the teens to accept full responsibility for their actions.
However, while the characters are strong, the plot falls apart at the end and leaves me as a reader feeling both hopeless and disappointed because not everything seems tied off. The ending also felt rushed, as if the author tired of her own story. I felt hopeless at the end because as someone struggling with mental illness herself, it was rather discouraging (SPOILER) to find that none of the teens discover true happiness as an adult. I understand there are people struggling with mental illness who never get better, but the fact that none of the teens seem to get better leaves me with the feeling that the author is trying to point out that happiness is not possible for someone dealing with a mental illness. And while I enjoyed Dalton’s no-nonsense approach, his doom-and-gloom view of the world left an acrid taste in my mouth that made me wonder why anyone in the book is fighting at all when Dalton’s worldview makes fighting seem hopeless–even worse considering that he consistently shares this view with sensitive teens who do not need this.
Overall, I’d give this book 3.5 stars out of five. If you’re looking for a book with strong characters, this book is perfect. But if you’re someone struggling with mental illness and looking for a little bit of hope, this book is not for you.