Anna discovers some surprising things about herself and her loved ones as she struggles to come to terms with her mother’s suicide attempt in this painfully honest depiction of life with a bipolar parent.
Recommended grade level: 6-9
Pages: 272 (for ISBN 9780374302306)
Tone/Style: sullen, frustrated
Pace: moderate to fast
Themes: coping with mentally ill family, opening up to new friends, finding confidence, self-discovery, accepting change, ability to talk about feelings and problems, blame, family, forgiveness, seeing people in new ways
Summary: The first month of school, thirteen-year-old Anna Collette finds herself . . . dumped by her best friend Dani, who suddenly wants to spend eighth grade “hanging out with different people.” Deserted by her mom, who’s in the hospital recovering from a suicide attempt. Trapped in a house with her dad, a new baby sister, and a stepmother young enough to wear her Delta Delta Delta sweatshirt with pride. Stuck at a lunch table with Shawna the Eyebrow Plucker and Sarabeth the Irish Stepper because she has no one else to sit with.
But what if all isn’t lost? What if Anna’s mom didn’t exactly mean to leave her? What if Anna’s stepmother is cooler than she thought? What if the misfit lunch table isn’t such a bad fit after all? With help from some unlikely sources, including a crazy girl-band talent show act, Anna just may find herself on the road to okay. (Source)
Who will like this book?: This should have wide appeal for girls who enjoy reading about realistic emotional conflict. Readers with divorced parents (especially if there is a remarriage involved) and with family members with mental illness will likely find that this book is spot-on in expressing the challenges associated with those experiences. Those struggling with mental illness themselves will also likely relate to Anna’s feelings of hopelessness and her difficulty expressing her emotional turmoil.
Who won’t like this book?: Some readers may be frustrated by Anna’s sullenness and failure to seize opportunities to make things better when they present themselves. Many boys will be turned off by some of the “girlish” activities Anna participates in. Readers who don’t like depressing books should steer clear (though the book is ultimately hopeful).
Other comments: This book illuminates a tough topic with sympathetic honesty. It acknowledges the sometimes selfish and nasty thoughts and feelings that can come with tough family situations, particularly where mental illness is involved. Yet at the same time it treats both Anna’s mother (the bipolar sufferer) and Anna with respect and sympathy. There’s a little humor too, and LOTS of cultural references, which keep the story from becoming maudlin.
Is it just me, or does this book cover look really young for this book? How many eighth graders have a basket and ribbons on their bikes? I hope that doesn’t prevent the right audience from finding this title!
Readalikes: Friend has several other middle school novels about dealing with mental illness and family issues: Perfect (2004), Lush (2006), and Bounce (2009). Readers may also enjoy Stop Pretending by Sonya Sones and Fifteen Days Without a Head by Dave Cousins, both of which involve family members with mental illness.