Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

I have just finished this fantastic book and I strongly recommend it not only as a great work of fiction but also for people who are looking for books about mental illness. This book impressed me on many levels. The language is witty, intelligent, and emotionally-charged. The charming, and adorable main characters are brought to life on every page. The plot was surprising with every chapter. And I absolutely couldn’t put it down.

Plot Summary from Amazon:

No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine.

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . .

The only way to survive is to open your heart.

What I love about this story:

Eleanor struggles with mental illness (PTSD and alcoholism) and her symptoms are portrayed accurately and without judgment. The traumatic experience which caused her PTSD is portrayed appropriately and without traumatizing the reader. Eleanor’s friends are supportive and kind.

Eleanor’s darkest moments are portrayed only to show there is hope and kindness of strangers. Is that overly optimistic? Perhaps. But this is better than the alternative or fiction being too dark and traumatizing someone with a mental illness.

The mental health professional in this novel is accurately described. Her office doesn’t have a stereotypical couch, candles, and strange decor I always caution authors against. The truth is–psychologists keep their offices boring. Therapy sessions are described accurately, the book has clearly had an expert advisor. Therapy is helpful, not hurtful, and I commend the author for portraying therapy in such a manner.

 

Book Spotlight: All the Best People by Sonja Yoerg.

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This is a fantastic author and I am lucky to be able to spotlight her book for you. It was an Editor’s Pick by the Historical Novel Society and it was named THE BEST BOOK EVER SET IN VERMONT by Travel & Leisure magazine. The author tackles the very difficult subject of Schizophrenia, and in 1972. It is an intricately crafted story of mental illness, magic and misfortune across three generations.

“I’m asked often why so many writers live in a state as small as Vermont, and why so many books are set here. The answer is partly the landscape, but mostly it’s the people. And in All the Best People, Sonja Yoerg has captured the magic and the madness that makes the Green Mountains a microcosm for so much of rural America. Her people are real people, authentic and quirky and troubled. I cared for them all.” — Chris Bohjalian, NYT bestselling author of The Flight Attendant

Vermont, 1972. Carole LaPorte has a satisfying, ordinary life. She cares for her children, balances the books for the family’s auto shop and laughs when her husband slow dances her across the kitchen floor. Her tragic childhood might have happened to someone else.
But now her mind is playing tricks on her. The accounts won’t reconcile and the murmuring she hears isn’t the television. She ought to seek help, but she’s terrified of being locked away in a mental hospital like her mother, Solange. So Carole hides her symptoms, withdraws from her family and unwittingly sets her eleven-year-old daughter Alison on a desperate search for meaning and power: in Tarot cards, in omens from a nearby river and in a mysterious blue glass box belonging to her grandmother.

An exploration of the power of courage and love to overcome a damning legacy,  “All the Best People” celebrates the search for identity and grace in the most ordinary lives.

Buy this book here

Book Spotlight: Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee

Mira T. Lee’s debut novel, EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL, is a complex and engrossing cross-cultural family drama that tackles big issues: in addition to themes of immigration, identity, and parenthood, it takes a 360-degree look at mental illness. The story follows the life of Lucia, a vibrant young Chinese-American woman with schizophrenia, as well as the lives of Lucia’s protective older sister, her Swiss doctor husband, a charismatic Israeli shopkeeper, and the young, undocumented Ecuadorian immigrant who fathers Lucia’s child. 
The author was gracious to participate in a Q&A with me.
Q: Your novel deals with what it’s like to have a mental illness, as well as what it’s like to love someone with a mental illness. Why this approach?
A: An illness like schizophrenia affects everyone in its wake. In recent years, we’ve seen more and more narratives about these illnesses, but they are usually memoirs told from one person’s point of view, and most often in the context of white, middle-class families. I wanted to portray mental illness from several different perspectives, and to place the illness squarely in the context of people’s lives. Lives are chaotic and messy, and I wanted to explore the conflicts these illnesses can amplify in families – in this case, a cobbled-together, unconventional family of immigrants from diverse ethnic/cultural backgrounds, but a family that is trying its hardest to love each other nonetheless.
 
Q: Have you had personal experience with mental illness?
A: Yes, I’ve seen members of my own family struggle with this illness. I’ve seen psychotic episodes up close, those breaks from reality where people may become convinced the TV is sending them secret messages, or the FBI has planted a bug in their head. It sounds silly, almost, but when it’s someone you love, and they can’t be swayed, and you’re watching them transform before your eyes into someone you don’t understand anymore — it feels both terrifying and incomprehensible. It can also be extremely difficult to know what to do – if your loved one lacks insight (the clinical term is “anosognosia”) and doesn’t acknowledge that they’re ill, it’s almost impossible to find help for them. 
 I’ve also dealt with the mental health care system, and am familiar with how frustrating it can be to finally get your loved one to a hospital, only to have them turned away because they’re not “an imminent danger.” So often, in dealing with these illnesses, family members end up feeling powerless and paralyzed.
 
Q: Lucia, the protagonist, is a fascinating character. She’s radiant, impulsive, quirky, yearning. What was writing her character like?
A: Lucia was tricky to write – yes, she has an illness, which surfaces from time to time, but she’s also still so much herself, brilliant and perceptive and full of dreams and passions. I wanted readers to relate to her as a modern woman – someone yearning for love, family, career, a sense of belonging – and to also learn something about her illness, and be able to sympathize. But at the same time her illness could not entirely let her off the hook for her actions and choices. She had to be a nuanced, fully three-dimensional character, with both strengths and flaws. And the reader would have to decide for themselves what they might’ve done in her position, or in the position of one of her family members. That was my goal for her, and the book – to have readers disagree over what each character should’ve done. 
 
Q: What do you hope readers will take away from the book?  
A: I hope they’ll gain a sense of the issues surrounding schizophrenia, which is perhaps still the most severe and stigmatized of all the mental illnesses, but one deserving of just as much compassion. We shouldn’t need celebrities to tell us it’s okay to struggle before we accept that as the truth. I also hope people see that these illnesses are only one component of a person’s life, and can relate to the humanity at the core of each of my many characters – as sisters, mothers, husbands, lovers, as modern women, as flawed human beings who yearn for love and belonging. Finding empathy for people in situations unlike our own – I think that’s a hugely important reason to read fiction.
You can buy this incredible book at a bookstore near you or on Amazon

Book Spotlight: The Promise Between Us by Barbara Claypole White

Book Summary:

Metal artist Katie Mack is living a lie. Nine years ago she ran away from her family in Raleigh, North Carolina, consumed by the irrational fear that she would harm Maisie, her newborn daughter. Over time she’s come to grips with the mental illness that nearly destroyed her, and now funnels her pain into her art. Despite longing for Maisie, Katie honors an agreement with the husband she left behind—to change her name and never return.

But when she and Maisie accidentally reunite, Katie can’t ignore the familiarity of her child’s compulsive behavior. Worse, Maisie worries obsessively about bad things happening to her pregnant stepmom. Katie has the power to help, but can she reconnect with the family she abandoned?

To protect Maisie, Katie must face the fears that drove her from home, accept the possibility of love, and risk exposing her heart-wrenching secret.

From the Author, Barbara Claypole White:

I write hopeful family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness. My aim is to create characters who challenge stereotypes of invisible disabilities and navigate everyday life with extraordinary courage. All of them are inspired by my poet-musician son, who has battled OCD for nearly twenty years. OCD is a chronic, much misunderstood, illness. It terrorizes you with unwanted thoughts, relentless what-ifs, and crippling irrational fear. Like diabetes, OCD demands constant management. The difference is that no one cracks jokes about insulin shots.

 

Popular culture is quick to focus on either the quirkiness of OCD or compulsive behaviors such as hand washing. For many, however, the struggle is purely mental and easily hidden. This is often the case with postpartum OCD, which tends to manifest as intrusive, obsessive, horrific images of harming your baby. The heroine of my fifth novel, THE PROMISE BETWEEN US, is trapped in a private hell with such thoughts. Unable to escape the misbelief that she’s Norman Bates in dirty yoga pants, Katelyn abandons her baby to protect her, to keep her safe.

 

Many new parents and grandparents suffer with postpartum OCD in silence, too ashamed to seek help. I wish we could obliterate that shame; I wish we could celebrate the strength it takes to live with mental illness and the scars it leaves. In Japan cracked objects are mended with gold—to enhance the notion that damage brings history and beauty. Or, as Leonard Cohen suggested, cracks let in the light. Amen—to finding light and gold.

 

Book Spotlight: THIS I KNOW by Eldonna Edwards

Eldonna Edwards is ​the author of best-selling memoir LOST IN TRANSPLANTATION, which follows her mission to give away a kidney to a stranger. She now brings us a story of a mother struggling with depression. Her book will release in April of 2018. It is set in a small Midwest town in the late 1960s. 

Eleven-year-old Grace Carter has a talent for hiding things. She’s had plenty of practice, burying thoughts and feelings that might anger her strict Evangelical pastor father, and concealing the deep intuition she carries inside. The Knowing, as Grace calls it, offers glimpses of people’s pasts and futures. It enables her to see into the depth of her mother’s sadness, and even allows Grace to talk to Isaac, her twin brother who died at birth. To her wise, loving Aunt Pearl, the Knowing is a family gift; to her daddy, it’s close to witchcraft.

Grace can’t see into someone’s thoughts without their permission. But it doesn’t take her special talent to know that her small community is harboring its share of secrets. A young girl has gone missing. Within Grace’s own family too, the cracks are widening, as her sisters Hope, Joy, and Chastity enjoy the normal life that eludes Grace. It’s Grace’s kinship with other outsiders that keeps her afloat–Lyle, a gentle, homeless man, and Lola, a free-spirited new girl at school. But when her mother lapses into deep depression after bringing home a new baby, Grace will face a life-changing choice–ignore her gift and become the obedient daughter her father demands, or find the courage to make herself heard, even if it means standing apart .

Read this lovely blog post about coping with depression and coming up with the story from the author herself.

When Things Fall Apart

by Eldonna Edwards

Reblogged with permission from: eldonnaedwards.blogspot.com/2017/11/when-things-fall-apart.html

We’ve all done it; pasted on a happy face to cover our fear, our sadness, our fragility. Nobody wants to be a Debbie Downer and drag others down with them, right? So we stuff our vulnerable selves deep into our core and pull out a mask bearing an appropriately put-together shell. One that appears happy and confident. But on the inside, things are still falling apart.“I am terrified by this dark thing that sleeps inside me.” –Sylvia Plath

Growing up in the Midwest I learned from an early age that you need to “buck up” or ” “grin and bear it” when times get tough. We were taught to smile through our pain or discomfort because appearances mattered more than feelings. I was a sensitive child and cried easily so I heard it a lot. Of course, I carried this idea of stuffing your feelings well into my adulthood, until that point when I realized that a river of repressed emotions will eventually breach the damn. This flood of truth might manifest as anger or addiction or even suicide if not treated.

Such is the case for Isabelle Carter, wife of the Rev. Henry Carter, who suffers from a combination of postpartum depression and unfulfilled desires. She wanted to be a famous gospel singer. What she got instead was life as a rural minister’s wife and mother to five daughters, one of whom reminds her of long-forgotten self.

Daddy brought Mama back home two days ago. She doesn’t seem very rested if you ask me. She still naps a lot and when she is up and around she bumps into the walls. Joy won’t let Mama hold the baby unless she’s sitting down. Mama reminds me of a Dilly Bar from the Dairy Queen, like there’s only a thin shell covering what’s melting inside.

In this scene from THIS I KNOW, Mama has just come from a place where she was sent to “rest” but returns home looking anything but recovered. I wanted to underscore the disconnect that people (mostly women) from that era suffered. Faces disguised with pleasant, Stepford-like eeriness. These women were often over-prescribed “nerve pills” to calm them or “diet pills” to give them energy. Many self-medicated with alcohol and other forms of escapism. Or as in Mrs. Carter’s case, told to pray away the malaise when what she most needed was simply to be allowed to feel what she was feeling. In retrospect, it’s no wonder we’re currently struggling with an opioid addiction epidemic crisis. People want to feel good and will do anything to make the pain go away.
I enjoy what most friends and acquaintances would describe as a happy disposition. But where there is light, there is shadow. For several years I endured depression that might have been postpartum or might have been circumstantial due to life events. Or maybe it was just good old-fashioned clinical depression. What I remember most was feeling terribly ashamed, that old tape of “get over yourself” looping endlessly in my head. Eventually I sought help, got counseling, and was able to talk openly about my feelings as I surfed the waves of melancholy and despair.

During that time I learned that what depressed people most need is acceptance and support. Things young Grace strives to give her mama as the reverend’s wife struggles to find her way back to happiness  and contentmentIn THIS I KNOW, Grace’s way of helping happens to involve using her uncanny abilities to break through the membrane of consciousness to reach her sullen mother. Because sometimes a little magic is the best medicine.

Buy this book on Amazon