When her sixteen-year-old sister is hospitalized for depression and her parents want to keep it a secret, fourteen-year-old Elena tries to cope with her own anxiety and feelings of guilt that she is determined to conceal from outsiders.
Chilling is the first word that comes to mind when I try to describe this story. A normal, everyday family is blindsided by mental illness and the reader is presented with the effects of it: the stress, the isolation, the shame. This sad story is made all the more poignant by it’s narrator, Elena, who is the steady one of the family. The girl who never cries. The girl that everyone, including her parents, depends on to keep their family on an even keel.
I was fascinated by how Elena coped with her elder sister’s illness. With equal parts typical teenager avoidance and transcendent familial love, Elena brings the reader into this heartbreaking experience with her very real and oftentimes humorous voice. And the friendship that she develops with Jimmy, the strange boy down the street, is amusing and ultimately poignant.
This is a great read, often very funny, but ultimately, and unavoidably, quite sad. Still, it is touching and moving and Elena is a great character with whom you will fall in love.
It’s worth noting that this book shines a light on a topic that most people avoid: mental illness. At the very center of the story is the idea that the shame that surrounds mental illness can be crippling and so very unnecessary.
If you or anyone you know is in need of help, please don’t wait, thinking it will get better on it’s own. It almost never does. Seek help. If you’re unsure where to start, there is a wealth of information available on the web:
is a great place to start for research
and resources in your area.
To Write Love On Her Arms
is an inspiring advocacy site that brings real world voices
to the issues of depression and suicide.
Now go and get lost…in a book!