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Crazy Paperback – October 6, 2014
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From School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—"To my mother, whose fault it never was, and to my sister, my soul mate in survival," reads the dedication to Phillip's compelling debut novel that is loosely based on the author's experiences growing up around bipolar disorder. It's 1963 and 15-year-old Laura has always been told that her mother suffers from nervous breakdowns. So while other mothers are baking cookies for the PTA fundraiser and helping their daughters sew dresses for home economics class, Laura's mother spends the day sitting in a rocking chair with a vacant stare. No one in Laura's family, particularly her father, will discuss her mother's frightening behavior. There's a palpable tension in Laura's house as everyone tiptoes around her mother, waiting for her to snap. The teen never feels at ease and so she naturally comes to hate her mother, even hate her life. Laura pushes away her passion for art and her best friend, for fear she will end up just like her mom. It isn't until the protagonist finally seeks support that she sees light in the darkness of her mother's mental illness. Told in first-person free verse, Crazy is a beautifully written and emotionally impactful novel about growing up around bipolar disorder in a time period when even doctors didn't truly understand the ramifications of such a disease. Laura's shame about her family and her guilt for hating her mother for something she cannot control are heartrending. Phillips's poetry coupled with her personal experiences truly make this a poignant read. It should be in the hands of anyone—teen and adult—who has ever felt powerless at the hands of mental illness.—Kimberly Garnick Giarratano, Rockaway Township Public Library, NJ
"Will resonate widely with contemporary readers as they seek avenues of support through their own struggles to remain sensitive to mothers who sometimes disappear, and almost always to some degree disappoint."
— Author of Sure Signs of Crazy and Courage for Beginners
"Crazy is an absorbing, tender and often heartbreaking look at the toll mental illness takes on one family in the 1960s. The best books will leave you better and more compassionate for reading them and this is one of them. I loved it!"
— Author of By the Grace of Todd
"[T]he gorgeous and powerful language and verse structure moved me. Such a rich reading experience!"
— Former VP and Editor at Large of Philomel Books
"Combining poetic form with a compelling narrative, CRAZY is a story of truth and authenticity and, often, beauty."
School Library Journal
"Beautifully written and emotionally impactful."
"This is worth a read for the text's vivid link between emotions and fine art."
"Phillips' accessibly written chronicle will resonate with teens who understand the desire to protect themselves from their families' inner truths."
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"Phillips' free-verse poetry has a meaty narrative solidity that, while keeping readers focused on Laura's emotional state, nevertheless captures the period with material detail like clothing and historical referents such as the assassination of JFK. . . . Laura's story is one that will resonate widely with contemporary readers as they seek avenues of support through their own struggles."
"Eloquent and compelling, this powerful novel-in-verse will have readers rooting for Laura to find her courage and face her worst fears."
Congregational Libraries Today
"The author's sensitivity to language is evident in the artful poetry that will engulf readers in Laura's emotions and struggles. The role of faith is brought into play, and questions regarding belief in God will inspire discussion. Crazy is highly recommended for teenagers and young adults."
Catholic Library World
"Phillips's unique format for telling this coming-of-age story adds to the digestible nature intended for young readers. Her poetic novel in verse lends itself to a swift read, but by no means does the simplistic style reflect simplistic writing. . . . Phillips does a wonderful job depicting the influence mental disorders can have on a family and manages to broach a sensitive subject in an approachable way for young adults. Crazy couples the reality of an unpredictable disease with the story of a young girl finding herself, finding an outlet and a new passion, coming to terms with the truth about her mother's illness and the restoration of her faith."
The Midwest Book Review
"Crazy could only get its rich authenticity from an author who's been there, and Phillips acknowledges that bipolar disorder runs in her real-life family. Well-placed pop-culture and historical references also authentically place the story in the early 1960s. Yet, modern teens will easily relate to Laura's timeless personal journey. Crazy opens the floodgate one more notch on a topic that, while better understood than in the 1960s, remains hindered by misconception, judgement, and stereotypes. It is raw and beautiful, unapologetically real, and forever relevant."
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Now I have the opportunity to share with you some of my favorite poems and parts of this book. I've read some of these phrases several times and they still catch my breath for their simple beauty and sensory imagery; others surprise me as if I've just discovered a new treasure. Without further ado, here are some gems from CRAZY.
In the opening poem, the protagonist, Laura, is humiliated in home ec when the class decides that her best color is brown. This poem not only foreshadows much of Laura's conflicts, but also provides the subtext for the cover of the book:
So the class decided on brown
for my basic color,
as in mud
and dirty anything.
I ran out the side door after school,
thank heavens home ec was last period,
thinking my cheeks were so hot they must be leaving a trail of smoke.
I stopped by the canal,
swarming with hungry pelicans
and screeching gulls,
and I wondered,
just wondered and wondered
for I don't know how long,
what it would fee like
not to sit and dangle my feet through the slats
and daydream and watch
like I usually do
but instead to climb up on the railing,
and let myself just slip off and down
I decided against it because,
I'm not the crazy one
in our family. (pp.14-15)
Laura's artistic talents are admired throughout her school. She sees the same talent--now unexpressed--in her mother. Laura wonders how her mother "had drifted from/creating brilliant oil paintings/to slapping paint on molded figurines." (p. 23) She asks,
"Why don't you take up painting again?"
I ask her one day,
admiring the pleasing arrangement she created when she was fourteen.
"Oh, I could never get back to that,"
she says, slamming a window
against the rising storm. (p.24)
Her mother's behavior becomes more erratic, irrational, and bizarre. One day Laura comes home from school and finds:
First thing inside the door
I smell turpentine.
I nearly trip over a wet canvas
propped against the door frame.
I follow a trail of smudgy rags
and scattered paint tubes
into the living room
where I find Mama,
her back to me,
before a dripping canvas.
She's been painting again!
"Hail Mary, Other of God…."
A sickening sense of panic begins
crawling up my spine.
"What's going on, Mama?" I ask
She passes grubby hands absently
through her disheveled hair,
leaving multicolored streaks
and smudges on her face,
and she begins crawling on the floor,
looking for the missing paint
or who knows what.
Then it hits me.
This is my fault.
I caused this.
I pushed her over the edge,
oh my God,
I did this.
It was my suggestion,
"Take up painting again," I'd said--
oh my God…..
I clean up the mess as best I can,
finally getting Mama to sit down in her rocker.
back and forth
staring past me
I watch her rock
almost in rhythm
with the ticking wall clock
and I take deep breaths
trying to match the rhythm,
trying to beat down
my body. (pp.65-68)
Here is Linda reading one of the next poems, "Nervous Breakdown."
As the book progresses, Laura wrestles with her own demon: her fear of being as crazy as her mother. With the encouragement of two new friends--a local gift shop owner who "stands out like an art piece herself/in a shift dress full of helter-skelter bright colors,/dangly earrings,/and the most beautiful long gray hair/I have ever seen" (p. 148); and her crush, Dennis, who pushes Laura to "dig for answers/don't run, dig"(p.272); Laura discovers the work she must do to discover the truth about herself and her family.
There are two things this review of CRAZY cannot do. First, I can't communicate how proud I am of Linda's accomplishment and how wonderful it is to see this book in print. In a previous blog I compared myself to a mid-wife but that's not quite accurate. Linda is like a sister to me. Since CRAZY is her baby, I guess that makes me a proud aunt.
Second, I can't begin to tell you how Linda's poetry touched a place deep inside of me. When I finished reading her final poem in which Laura asks her mother for forgiveness, I was in tears:
In her typical way,
she brushes it off,
says I don't have need for forgiveness
but of course she forgives me,
and she understands my confusion and frustration
and she doesn't hold anything against me,
and she loves me very much.
I'm not sure if she gets it at all,
what I am trying to say,
but the important thing is
I get it
and I did what
I needed to do
and it feels as good
as anything I have ever done.
I wouldn't want to say it,
but I think there has been some healing
in our family
after all. (p.314)
I'm looking forward to reading her next novel.
CRAZY does not shy away from the difficult issues revolving around mental illness, but embraces them in a moving and informative story. Due to the severe stigma regarding mental illness at the time, Laura's mother's illness is kept a secret from others and is unacknowledged by the family. Not only that, but Laura’s mother does not receive the treatment she needs until after she has a particularly bad manic episode, scaring her husband into action. CRAZY also brings to light the flaws of the medical practices for mental illness during the time, such as the memory loss from shock treatments and the foggy haze of over medicating.
Even though today is nowhere near as bad as it was during the 1960's, mental health care and societal attitudes are still not what they should be. Insurance refuses to pay for a good deal of treatment, and there are still those who look down at people for something they can't help any more than someone can help having cancer. CRAZY not only shows its readers the flaws of history, but illuminates what we still need to improve upon today. As someone with OCD and depression, this is a message that I not only relate to, but thoroughly appreciate.
Another important theme in CRAZY is how mental health not only affects the ill person, but all of their loved ones as well. Laura is often lost and in pain because of her mother's illness and feels she has no one to turn to. As the story progress, Laura loses her passion for painting and finds herself contemplating suicide. While reading the novel, I felt deep sympathy for Laura. And as I turned each page, I hoped that she would find happiness within herself despite her difficult home life.
By the end of CRAZY, Laura finally comes to terms with her mother's illness and even forces her family to acknowledge it. She learns that she cannot control her own mind any more than her mother can, and let’s go of the fear that she will become crazy like her mother with the help of her mother’s kind doctor. “You’ve been through a lot for your years. Make it work for you going forward. Keep asking questions, demanding answers, and calling the beast by the name.” (Pg. 306) In the final scene of the novel, Laura shares a heart-felt moment with her mother in which she forgives her for the effect her illness has had on her life.
CRAZY was almost a perfect novel containing the themes of mental illness, tolerance, and family love. Since I am not a big fan of poetry, I didn’t like that it was written in verse. At times I found the lines of verse jolting me out of a moving section of the story. However, if you are a fan of poetry, this probably won't be a negative aspect for you. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed CRAZY and know that I will be thinking about Laura and her family for a long while.
~I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review!~