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Black Box Kindle Edition

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Length: 178 pages
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Grade Level: 7 and up

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 7 Up—Stable and stoic Elena is a high school freshman when her beloved older sister, Dora, is hospitalized for depression. Elena takes it upon herself to look after her sibling when she comes home, while Dora and, ultimately, the entire family fall to pieces. In the end, Elena, with the help of her friend Jimmy Zenk, comes to realize that she alone can't make her better and that Dora has to help herself. With few words, characters are expertly fleshed out. For example, telling details reveal Elena's personality: "Matching socks was generally acknowledged to be my specialty." Schumacher eloquently describes the devastating effect that depression can have on a family. The writing is spare, direct, and honest. Written in the first person, this is a readable, ultimately uplifting book about a difficult subject.—Ragan O'Malley, Saint Ann's School, Brooklyn, NY
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Elena and her older sister Dora are opposites—Elena is quiet and stoic; Dora is funny and unpredictable—but they are still best friends. After Dora is hospitalized for depression, Elena can’t understand why she didn’t confide in her. While her parents spend their nights arguing, Elena does her best to deal, finally striking up a quirky relationship with the school bad boy, Jimmy, who says his older brother went through the same thing. Dora returns from the hospital a different person, one who skips class, hoards her pills, and lies to her parents. Elena can’t reconcile this new sister with the one she’s always known, especially when glimpses of the old Dora surface, but she’s determined to save her, even if that means taking responsibility for Dora upon herself. Schumacher beautifully conveys Elena’s loneliness and guilt as she tries to protect her sister without betraying her, as well as the emotional release she experiences upon finding someone to trust with her own feelings. The spare prose is loaded with small, revealing details of the relationships that surround Elena and how they change through Dora’s illness. This novel is a quick read, but it will leave a lasting and ultimately hopeful impression. Grades 9-12. --Krista Hutley

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Tina on November 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I will start off this review with one word "WOW".

The story of Dora and Elena two sisters who are as close as can be - when the older Dora starts changing - she is sleeping too much, no longer eating and is becoming less and less like herself every day. Eventually, she is diagnosed with a mental illness.

This is the story of how mental illness (depression) affects absolutely everyone it touches.

Elena finds herself having to deal with the fact that her beloved sister is no longer the person she use to be. Elena is heartbroken and scared. Her parents are arguing all the time and somehow most of their friends are now staying away - far away.

It is almost impossible for Elena to deal with it all - as she finds herself going to extremes in order to make everyone "be okay again".

This novel (its very, very short at a little under 180 pages) is extremely touching and sad, which is to say that the author takes a very honest and real view at an illness that for some reason still appears to be taboo.

I love the title of this book - indeed mental depression certainly makes everyone feel as though they are living in a box -

I highly recommend this book to anyone who believes it will never happen to them.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Neil and Tracy on September 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Black Box by Julie Schumaucher should be assigned reading for anyone that has a close relative who suffers from depression. Schumacher manages to capture, in a quiet and anguished way, Elena's feelings of guilt and helplessness as she watches her older sister, Dora, go through a mental illness. Elena and Dora are so close they have always shared everything. The year that Elena begins her Freshman year and Dora is a Junior, Dora starts sleeping too much, losing weight, and then one day tries to kill herself with pills. Their parents, desperate to help her, admit her into the psych ward at the hospital. Eventually, Dora is released but uses her bond with Elena to get her to keep secrets that may endanger her recovery. Elena, feeling desperate, begins to take it upon herself to be her sisters "black box", by trying to watch her every move. Unfortunately, it may take a tragedy for Elena to figure out what to do.

Black Box is a short novella at only 176 pages, but the emotional impact from reading it will last a lot longer. Julie Schumacher truly captured the other side of depression and the way she did it through Elena's eyes is heartbreaking. There are some wonderful lessons here for young people to learn from reading Black Box and adults will be able to use Black Box for some great discussions with teens about depression.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Brandi Breathes Books on July 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a powerful read, and a true peek into the world of depression and how it effects other people.
Elena is strong, and it is hard to experience her sister's depression and the fallout, but it is such an important topic. She makes some mistakes, and it shows good things to do and not to... As relating to her sister, her family, and keeping her life outside of Dora going. It is such a hard balance.
Jimmy is a great addition, and even though I began to suspect his big secret, I really loved how he stepped up and was there for Elena.
This is a quick and poignant read that I def recommend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By TeensReadToo on December 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
BLACK BOX by Julie Schumacher is a heartfelt and moving portrait of teen depression. The author captures the pain of trying to rescue someone you love when you do not know how to save them.

Elena's otherwise typical teenage life is suddenly a lot more difficult when her older sister, Dora, is hospitalized for depression. There is nothing Elena wants more in the world than to see her sister happy again, back to her old self, when they used to play silly games and enjoy the little things in life.

The bond between the sisters is so powerful that Elena knows she is the only one Dora trusts. It is rare for a younger sibling to be put in the position of watching over an older one, but Elena rises to the occasion with an intense love and determination to protect Dora from herself. Soon, Dora's depression becomes all Elena can think about, smothering all other interests and feelings.

Family dynamics make the situation even more stressful, especially when Elena's parents try to keep Dora's depression as secret as possible. When Elena is not included in her mother and father's discussions about her sister, Elena loses her trust for her parents. However, she vows to do her part in helping her sister recover, with or without her parents' help.

Turning to a new friend at school, Jimmy, Elena tries to understand what Dora is going through and what she can do to help. Jimmy and Elena form the closest kind of friendship - the kind where it is comforting just to sit on the phone without talking, knowing that the other person is there for you.

Short, direct chapters emphasize Elena's anxiety and sense of ever-increasing urgency for her sister's condition.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Brittany Moore VINE VOICE on January 11, 2011
Format: Paperback
Elena and her sister Dora have always been close. Lately however, it seems like Dora isn't as open to her sister as she once was. When Dora sinks into a depression, Elena has no one to turn to. All of the people she knows at school are Dora's friends and they aren't really close. Then one day Jimmy Zenk, who failed a grade, starts talking to Elena about her sisters depression. He really seems to want to be there for her, but Elena is not sure how she feels about his presence. Elena wants her sister to get better, but maybe she can't save Dora, especially if Dora can't open up to her.

This was an interesting novel from the perspective of the sister of someone suffering a mental depression. It was nice to read from the perspective of someone outside the illness trying to help that person. It was also sad that Elena was not able to really do that much, because there wasn't much that she could do. Dora needed help and Elena couldn't provide the help that Dora needed. This was a touching read that spoke of the people we connect with even if at first they seem like the least likely candidate. Jimmy wasn't Elena's ideal person, but he ended up being able to help her through the emotions that her parents and her therapists were unable to touch upon. I recommend this book to anyone who is struggling through a similar situation to Elena, it might give some hope to a sad circumstance.

First Line:
"We can hear someone screaming as soon as we get off the elevator."

Favorite Line
"'A drowning person doesn't rescue herself,' I said, because whenever I thought about the dame Dora and I had played when we were little, I pictured Dora struggling and drowning."
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