Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson (9781534431515)
Hutchinson, author of several amazing novels for teens, shares a memoir of his teen years as he grapples with being gay and having depression. Hutchinson is open from the beginning of the book that it involves a suicide attempt. He states it with great empathy for both the reader and for his younger self. That tone of self-understanding plays through the novel, never allowing himself to become overly self-deprecating. Hutchinson speaks as a person engulfed in a society telling him that because he was gay, he was broken, focused only on sex, and would live a short life probably because of AIDS. Though he had a wonderful best friend, he could not see a future for himself. Along the way, he started to self harm, started smoking to gain a boy’s attention, and sunk deeper and deeper into depression and self loathing. The spiral is filled with pain and darkness, but the book is ultimately filled with hope and a way forward into life.
It is no surprise to his fans that Hutchinson has written a moving and deep memoir. However, it is amazing how far he is willing to explore his life as a teen, how open he is about all of the things he was feeling and experiencing, and how much he shares in these pages. He bares his entire soul here, in the hopes that it will help someone else find their way out of darkness too. I guarantee, it will.
Hutchinson shares how small decisions, individual conversations, new crushes, and tiny moments shape our lives. He is honest about how he damaged several relationships in his life, how he continued to be absent and self-absorbed, and how that too changed as he dealt with his depression. While it is a book of hope, it is also one about the hard work it takes to come back from the brink, how friends and family can help, and how some questions are simply too hard to ask.
Brave, fierce and incandescent. Appropriate for ages 15-19.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker (9780451479532)
This superb middle-grade novel introduces readers to a young artist who finds herself at the center of a mystery. Ollie’s parents are both artists. Her father and his partner Apollo restore art work and her mother creates sculptures. But then one night, her father leaves for France with his new French girlfriend and her mother won’t get out of bed. Ollie fends for herself, eating apples and peanuts, meeting Apollo for meals out, and protecting the secret of her mother’s depression. She spends time with her two best friends, Richard and Alex, throughout their Soho neighborhood. Ollie discovers that there is more to her father’s disappearance than she thought and is determined to find out what is truly going on.
Filled with compelling characters and a mystery worth sleuthing, this novel is a delight of a read. Tucker uses the setting of New York City as a vivid backdrop to the tale. Soho itself serves as almost another character in the book with its lofts for artists, empty buildings, and occasional illegal poster hanging. When Ollie and Alex head to an island getaway, that setting too is beautifully depicted as a foil to the city and is equally celebrated too. Her writing is deft and nicely keeps the pace brisk and the questions about Ollie’s parents fresh.
All of the young characters in the book are fully realized and each have a distinct personality that makes sense and carries through the title. Apollo, a giant of a man who serves as a rock for Ollie in this tumultuous time, is also a well depicted character. Ollie’s mother is an important character whose depression keeps the reader from knowing her better. The subject of parental mental illness is handled with frankness and the book concludes with a sense of hope.
A fresh mix of mystery, art and secrets, this book is full of vibrant colors and not just Greys. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Viking.
The Fall of Innocence by Jenny Torres Sanchez (9781524737757)
When Emilia was eight years old, she was attacked in the woods near her elementary school. After the attack, Emilia identified Jeremy Lance as her attacker, a boy with special needs, who lived at the boy’s home near the school. He was a boy she had seen break a school bus window with his fists as he stared out at her. Emilia’s recovery was slow and painful. At first, she would not speak at all partly because of biting through her own tongue during the attack. She saw crows all around her, watching over her and caring for her. At times, she thought that she was a crow too. Now at age 16, Emilia is a survivor. But all of that will be tested as a man comes forward as her real attacker and Emilia’s fragile world begins to crumble.
This book is not a mystery and readers looking for that sort of survival story will not find it here. Rather this is a delicate and complex look at a girl’s survival of an attack and the way that though she has survived, she has not recovered. It is a look at a family fractured by an attack, a family that has never again found its footing. It’s a look at a brother who has been ignored, his needs set aside for Emilia to be the focus. It’s a look at a father unable to stay, needing to flee his family. It’s a look at a mother who sacrificed herself for her daughter and still things are broken and unable to be repaired.
The book has Emilia at its heart, a girl who has avoided mental health care effectively. Readers will hope that she will find the help that she needs before the darkness becomes too much to bear. Emilia creates her own fantasy world, her own space to live in that gives her room to breathe. She faces her own demons without allowing anyone to help her, isolated though there are so many who would help her.
Delicate yet strong writing allows this book to move with Emilia’s mental state, exploring darkness and mental health. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Philomel Books.
Life Inside My Mind: 31 Authors Share Their Personal Struggles edited by Jessica Burkhart (9781481494649)
This nonfiction book for teens is a brutally honest look at mental illness and how over thirty well-known authors of young adult books have faced their own struggles. It is a book of short personal tales of how mental illness entered their lives, took them over, turned them upside down. It is a book always though about hope, about tools that work sometimes but not always, drugs that help but may not work for everyone, thought processes that offer glimpses of freedom beyond the illness.
This book is profoundly important for teens. It is a book that took such bravery to write. Almost every story has some taut hesitation in it, to reveal something this private. Each one is a testament to the author’s strength, whether they see it themselves or not. Taken together though is when this book really sings. It is a chorus of voices that say strongly that you can survive. You can thrive. We can do this.
Reading this book is an exercise in opening your heart. It belongs in every public library serving teens. It will save lives. Period. Appropriate for ages 13-18.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller (9781524715663)
With Mr. Neely as her very enthusiastic science teacher, Natalie can’t get out of asking a scientific question and exploring it using the scientific method. But Natalie would much rather get answers about her family, about why her mother won’t leave her bedroom anymore and how her father can stop being in therapist mode all the time. So when Mr. Neely encourages Natalie to compete in an egg drop competition, she knows that if they can win, things will change. Natalie’s best friend Twig is on their team, offering creative solutions for the egg drop and they also become friends with the new kid, Dari. As the three become closer, Natalie continues to try to figure out how to help her mother, putting together a plan for the prize money that they hope to win that will inspire her mother and get her back to normal. But life doesn’t always go to plan and neither do science experiments as Natalie soon discovers.
Keller writes with a lovely mix of humor and science throughout this novel. She looks directly at the subject of a parent’s chronic depression and shows the impact of that on a child and a family. Natalie steadily learns to find her voice in the novel and express her own pain about the situation. Science is used throughout the novel as a bridge between people, a way forward and a solution to problems.
Natalie as a character is beautifully conflicted. While she yearns to have her mother back she is also very angry about the situation, something that she has trouble expressing. Even with the friends she has, she worries about Dari joining her and Twig at various times particularly as Twig and Dari seem to have a special connection with one another. None of this is overly dramatized, but feels natural and emerges as convincing times of emotional stress.
Smartly written and filled with glowing characters living complicated lives, this middle grade novel unbreakable. Appropriate for ages 9-13.
(Reviewed from copy provided by Random House Children’s Books.)
The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange (9781338157475)
This British debut is a riveting look at mental illness after the First World War. Henry and her family have moved to Hope House, but Henry’s mother isn’t herself and soon is prescribed absolute bed rest, medicated to keep her asleep most of the time and her door is locked so Henry can’t see her. Henry is left in the rented house with her new baby sister and their nanny who also cares for Henry’s mother. Her father has left to work out of the country. Meanwhile, Henry is drawn to the woods on the property and there she meets a woman who lives on her own in a rundown caravan. She also starts to see and speak to the ghost of her dead brother. As Henry works to figure out what is happening to her mother and how she can reach her, doctors begin to threaten to take her mother to an asylum and hint at the kinds of treatments they might do. Henry soon becomes the only one able to rescue them all.
Strange writes with an eye for detail and a flair for metaphors that create a deep and lush mood throughout this novel. Her writing invites us all to explore darkness, the drama of woods at night and to make friends with those haunting us. The historical setting in Britain is particularly well drawn. The invasive treatments for depression are hinted at, just enough for young readers to understand the threat but not enough for them to be truly frightened.
Henry is a grand heroine. She finds herself far out of her depth in this novel and yet navigates dealing with adults with grace and a certain style. She understands more than the adults in the novel give her credit for and in the end she figures out how best to fix the problems herself, with some help from her grownup friends.
This British import will be enjoyed by fans of classics who will enjoy the historical setting and call for one girl to be the hero. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.
Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand (InfoSoup)
Finley’s parents are having trouble, so they decide that it is best that she spend the summer with her grandparents even though Finley has never met them before. Something happened that made her father leave the family and not speak to his mother again. Finley struggles with “blue days” where she can barely get out of bed and doesn’t have any energy at all. Other days, she spends writing about Everwood, an imaginary land that has parallels to the real world. When she arrives at her grandparents’ home, she realizes that Everwood is a real place and it is right behind their house, complete with a half-destroyed house, villainous pirates, and a trustworthy knight to share her adventures. As Finley and her cousins go deeper into the fantasy world, the truth begins to surface about what happened years ago to their parents and grandparents.
Legrand has created an intensely gorgeous book here that is complex and multi-layered. Finley’s writing about Everwood is interspersed throughout the book so readers can see the detailed and wondrous world she has created. Readers will also clearly see the ties between Finley’s life and what is happening in Everwood. The whole book is a testament to writing that balances strength of vision with a delicacy of execution that allows those ideas to grow and come alive. The relationships of the adults in the book also supports this with various personalities stepping out at different times. There is a humanity to the adults here, a fragility that lets young readers glimpse the truth in pieces before it is revealed.
Finley’s depression and anxiety in particular are captured with sensitivity and grace. It is shown as a part of her personality, not the only characteristic and not one that overwhelms her constantly. Rather it is a factor in her life, one that doesn’t stop her from bonding with her cousins or being creative and imaginative. This is a book that shows that mental illness may impact your life but not destroy it and that there is power in honesty and getting help.
A deep book filled with the magic of imagination, new-found family and one large woods. Appropriate for ages 11-13.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork
Released January 26, 2016.
From the outside, Vicky’s life looks perfect. Her father is wealthy, her step mother loves to take her shopping, and her sister is a high achiever. But Vicky can’t get over the loss of her beloved mother, whom she cared for during her last months. So Vicky turns to the only solution she can see and tries to commit suicide. When she wakes up in a mental disorders ward, she starts the process of putting her life back together. She meets three other teens who have lived very different lives from her and yet they all are part of each others recovery. Slowly Vicky starts to see that she suffers from depression and what it will mean to return to her life after her time in the hospital.
Stork has once again created a book for teens that will speak directly to them. He takes on mental illness here in a forthright way, showing the way that depression can creep up on a person and change the way they perceive things. He also shows how a person’s life can be glamorous and yet stifling and not fulfilling. It is a book that speaks to the importance of support from a therapist, of medication and of creating a group of people who understand you in your life. It’s a brilliant novel that is complex and deep with plenty to explore and feel.
Vicky could have been a very different character in a lesser writer’s hands. With Stork’s skill, he hints at a superficial look at Vicky’s wealthy life and then goes much more deeply into why she is experiencing life in the way she is. She is a poetic soul caught in a capitalistic family, driven by high achievement but in ways that she cannot relate to. With the loss of her mother, her father changed, her sister distanced herself, and Vicky had no one to turn to for support any more.
Organic and real, this novel has a diverse heroine and cast of characters that will appeal to a wide range of readers and deals with a serious subject in an uplifting way. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Finch and Violet go to the same high school but don’t move in the same social circles. So when they both find themselves at the top of the school’s bell tower one day, it’s a chance for that to change. Finch is a boy who flirts constantly with death, thinking about different ways to kill himself and researching suicide statistics. He’s known as “Theodore Freak” by his classmates and has a couple of close friends but that’s it. Violet moves among the popular kids at school, but lost her older sister in a car accident the year before, something she’s having problems coping with. The two of them start working on a school project together since Finch tricks Violet into agreeing. For the project, they travel the state of Indiana finding unique places to visit and leaving small things behind. As they travel, the two become closer and more honest with one another about what they are going through. Violet begins to come out of her grief and live more, but something different is happening to Finch.
Niven creates a movie-like novel here with scenes that comes to life complete with cinematography in your mind. There are iconic moments throughout the book, thanks to the plot of them moving from one unique spot to another. Moments that stand out as important and vital even as they are happening, moments that disguise but also highlight what is happening to the two main characters. There is a moment in the middle of the book where things switch and change starts to happen for both characters, but in opposite directions. There is a sense of loss at that moment, of being unable to save someone that echoes suicide right then and there. It is beautifully done.
The two main characters are brilliantly written as well. The sorrowful Violet who can’t see her way towards trying at school or connecting with others at all and who finds her light in Finch that moves her forward. The clever and sarcastic Finch who steeps himself in dark thoughts but flares alive, sleepless and awake, desperate never to fall into the trap of sleeping for days or months again. He is a deep character, fighting being bipolar on his own.
Niven writes with a simple beauty that will appeal to teens, especially as they explore these complicated subjects. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from ARC received from Knopf.