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Halfway House: A Novel Paperback – February 28, 2007


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My Struggle: Book Four
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Halfway House, Katharine Noel's triumphant debut, does far more than expose the highs and lows of battling mental illness; rather, it leaves readers with a sense of longing that transcends the subject matter. Told from the perspective of five family members, Noel expertly captures each character's essence with unapologetic honesty, creating sympathies that would falter under a less gifted writer. The result is a profound look at how a crisis can both destroy and reinvent a seemingly typical family.

Set in rural New Hampshire, Halfway House tells the story of the Voorster family, whose lives are upended when 17-year-old Angie suffers a breakdown and is eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder. As Angie shuffles between hospitals, dorm rooms, halfway houses, and her childhood home, the side effects of her disease and treatment impact each member of her family. Her father Pieter, a Dutch-born cellist, retreats into himself, while her mother Jordana begins an affair. Angie's brother Luke finds comfort in his girlfriends, especially Wendy, whom he meets while at college in Wisconsin. Eventually, familial relationships must be broken in order to be reinvented. In the process, family dynamics must shift, and each character must confront their own demons in order to emerge on the other side.

From One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest to Girl, Interrupted, the subject of mental illness is hardly uncharted in modern literature. What Noel does is go beyond the disease to explore the consequences of crisis, both punishing and redemptive, without compromise or excuses. That is what makes Halfway House a wonder, and a pleasure to behold. --Gisele Toueg --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A New Hampshire family comes apart at the seams when Angie Voorster, an ostensibly perfect high school senior and swim team star falls off the edge of mental stability. Among those affected are Pieter, Angie's emotionally inarticulate father; her mother, Jordana, 15 years Pieter's junior and seeking solace in the arms of a younger man; and Angie's younger brother, Luke, who becomes his sister's keeper. Debut novelist Noel brings these characters to life, exposing every blemish and desire, and revealing them in all their messy humanness. Over the next several years, bipolar Angie struggles to adjust to life derailed by mental illness, ever-changing prescriptions and their side effects: "She couldn't even lay claim to her own thoughts. Was she the thoughts she had on meds, when her brain was as it should be? Or was she the thoughts she had off meds, her brain as it really was?" Noel unflinchingly constructs scenes with a cinematographer's eye and injects humor into a world of chronic insomnia and suicide attempts. She resists sensationalizing or romanticizing mental illness, and with sympathetic knowledge of the subject (she worked at a mental health home), her keen insights are spot-on. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 365 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press (February 8, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802142915
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802142917
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,642,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Malena Ann Watrous on March 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I stayed up late into the night reading Halfway House until my eyes stung, then started early the next morning, in my eagerness to return to this story, these people. The gift of Halfway House is the strength of its characters. They are true to themselves in their smallest actions and biggest moments of drama. They make mistakes, they love hard, they are real and unforgettable. On one level, this is a book about mental illness and its repercussions. But it's not the story you may have read before, in which a person is depicted as a victim of mental illness, that diagnosis (whatever it may be) taking the place of character. Rather, the writer shows how Angie's manic depression is one facet of who she is, and while its repercussions shake the whole household, the lives of her parents and brother are equally multi-faceted and well developed. Another thing I admire in its fresh treatment of mental illness is the way that the book shows the cyclical nature of Angie's disease as she goes on and off medication. This is the rare novel that manages to be both sprawling and focused. The chapters remind me of short stories in the sense that many of them hinge on quiet moments with large consequences. Yet tension builds from chapter to chapter, which is why I found the book so hard to put down. I simply loved it.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Susan K. Schoonover VINE VOICE on August 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
It is not surprising to read that the author of HALFWAY HOUSE Katharine Noel, has spent time working with the mentally ill as this book is very believable as well as beautifully written. Noel describes the repeated roller coaster rides that define the life of manic/depressives realistically and without undue sentiment. Though we sympathize with Angie we never forget what a difficult, needy and often unattractive person her mental illness has made her. Yet through her experiences she retains insight into life and at times a sense of humor. The book tells much of the story from the viewpoint of Angie's mother, father, brother, and brother's girlfriend/wife. These characters are all well drawn - warts and all.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By bookaddict44 on February 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read an online review of this book in my Amazon recommends.I took a chance,and I just finished this incredibly gripping read in less than 2 days.I actually have a hand cramp from holding the book for so long without rest.

I felt like it was my family,or so many families out there who have to deal with mental illness and family stress.I didn't want this book to end.I can't wait to read what Ms.Noel comes out with next.I highl recommend this book!You won't be dissapointed.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By E.M. Bristol VINE VOICE on February 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Reminiscent of "Ordinary People," this novel tells the story of an academically gifted teen, who is also a champion swimmer, who develops mental illness, in this case bipolar disorder. Angie's journey is also told from the perspective of her cellist father, activist mother and younger brother, Luke, who has up until Angie's illness, felt overlooked in the family. We also hear from Luke's college girlfriend Wendy, a levelheaded young woman who can't help but feel that she sometimes takes second place in his life to Angie.

The family naturally feels the strain, as Angie struggles to recover some semblance of her old life, even with debilitating medication side effects and repeated hospitalizations. Her condition is described so well, it's hard to believe the author doesn't have firsthand knowledge of mental illness (though I'm not saying she does or doesn't). But the characters all come across as real people, not stereotypes. The story arc is similiar to "Ordinary People," only with the omission of the sympathetic, miracle working therapist. In fact, the only major flaw is the lack of attention to just how Angie manages to recover. We never see her discussing her condition with a therapist. Usually, insight into one's condition is necessary for recovery, as well as medication and supportive family/friends. All of a sudden, she's markedly better, and though we root for her, not a lot of clues are provided as to why. But the ripple effect of major mental illness is brilliantly done here.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on May 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Angie Voorster is the epitome of the all-American girl: successful, attractive and well-liked. A good student and champion swimmer, she is bound for college. That she is a bit manic is chalked up to normal teenage anxiety and pressure. She is high-spirited after all! But when during a swim meet Angie dives into the pool and stays at the bottom, the Voorster family finally realizes that all is not well with Angie.

Katharine Noel's first novel, HALFWAY HOUSE, follows the Voorster family in the years after Angie's breakdown and subsequent bipolar disorder diagnoses.

With the incident in the pool, Angie and her family --- her younger brother Luke and parents Pieter and Jordana --- set out on the long road of trying to understand Angie's disorder, stabilize it and cope with it. Of course, it is toughest for Angie. She misses a year of school and graduates late. She is heavily medicated and still swings between mania and suicidal depressions. She lives in a series of hospitals and facilities apart from her family.

But each family member is challenged by her illness. Angie's condition begins to pull apart her parents' relationship. Pieter, a professional cellist, becomes withdrawn and introspective. Jordana, who had been having an affair, feels exposed, guilty and needy. They struggle to keep their marriage intact.

Luke, less ambitious and successful than his sister in their adolescence, flies under his parents' radar, practically living with his high school girlfriend before eventually going away to college and falling in love with a mild-mannered student who is the opposite of his sister in many ways. This college girlfriend, Wendy, feels that Luke is more committed to his sister than to her --- and in many ways she is right.
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