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on March 16, 2015
Every now and again a book comes along that truly impacts on one and once read will never be forgotten.
The autobiographical novel by Sylvia Plath, describing her painful ordeal when she becomes mentally ill is such a book.
This could have been a thoroughly depressing and self centred story in the hands of another and many may assume this when reading the blurb.
However do not be put off, because The Bell Jar is anything BUT depressing.
Plath writes with great humour and I laughed out loud more than once.
She also writes with the intelligence and skill of someone twice her age.
Her battle with mental illness (Bipolar Disorder) and her eventual recovery is written so honestly, so brilliantly I was more than impressed.
Of course there is sadness in the aftermath of the book because we know she actually took her own life at aged thirty, the same year The Bell Jar was published.
The world is a little worse off with the loss of this wonderful talent.
Anyone who has any inkling of how The Black Dog can grab you by the scruff of the neck from out of the blue will appreciate this book and anyone who simply enjoys outstanding literature will be equally impressed.
A great talent.
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on May 20, 2017
I'd been wanting to read The Bell Jar for some time, and finally got a chance this year. Upon reading through the first few chapters, I found the narrative style and attitude of Esther Greenwood to be highly reminiscent of Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye. If you loved that book, you'll probably love this one, too. However, as an adult who's grown past her Holden Caulfield days, I found it to be disappointing. The primary source of hope that kept me reading was that Esther has bright moments of insightful and intriguing thought, wit, as well as feminist thought and beliefs, each of which were really refreshing. On more than one occasion her musings led to deep conversations between myself and those around me. Though we may not all be slipping into depression and mania, there are undeniably pieces of truth and experience in what she says that many can relate to or recognize in themselves.
The novel gets far more interesting beginning around chapter 10 when Esther's mental illness begins to show itself much more drastically, and continues to spiral from there. The novel is largely autobiographical, and Plath's detailed descriptions of her experiences with mental illness are intriguing to say the least. Those interested in psychology could nearly use this novel as a case study. Much of the contents here overlap with known and recorded details of Plath's life, and if the reader is aware of these details, they will most certainly feel for Esther all the more strongly.
Plath's writing is solid poetic prose as one might expect, and the reading is quick. Most appreciated of all, however, was the honesty this book seems to convey; the willingness to bear all for the world to see, in all it's ugliness, insecurity, and even hope.
From a teacher perspective, I was worried this book would be difficult for my students because it is slow to begin and often dark. If you are teaching this novel, I highly recommend a focus on resilience, on seeking help, and on teaching about mental illness. I also highly recommend reading some of the more graphic chapters with students so they can be discussed. There are multiple detailed descriptions of suicide attempts. My students, however, are actually enjoying this book most of each of the books we've read this year. They like the honesty of it, and the graphic aspects and details (though we have not yet reached the notably darker mid-portions yet). They like Esther's sense of humor and her descriptions of things (especially the more adult content). Though my initial impressions of the novel were not wholly positive, I have been swayed both by the second half and my student's reactions to it. I do recommend teaching it, as there is much that can be talked about, but stick to an older age group (Juniors or Seniors. MAYBE mature Sophomores) and provide sufficient open discussion and support.
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on October 6, 2016
I think it's such a shame that this book does not have a resources section, given its appeal to people with mental health problems. I read this as a suicidal teen--interesting story, did not change my life in the slightest in terms of understanding my own mental health and seeking help. Great books have the power to transform readers--not just to entertain them for a few hours. Plath, understandably, did not know how to do this, given her ongoing mental illness.

Are you concerned about the mental health of yourself or a loved one? Please seek help if you are showing these symptoms, or other types of mental distress. NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE 1 800 273 8255

ANXIETY DISORDER
insomnia
irritability
poor concentration, difficulty making decisions
habitually avoids distressing situations
highly self conscious
perfectionistic or obsessive/compulsive behavior
excessive concern about displeasing others
expresses fears and worries that are out of proportion with the situation
lack of pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed
exhibits physical symptoms when nervous (e.g. rapid breathing, shaking, headaches)
anxiety interferes with academic performance and social interactions

DEPRESSION
eating or sleeping too much or too little
feeling hopeless, guilty, ashamed
neglecting hygiene
low self esteem, self critical, pessimistic
lack of interest in activities that used to be enjoyed
low energy, difficulty focusing and making decisions/plans
irritability, aggression (teens more likely to exhibit this, rather than sadness)
gives up easily
“flat” facial expression, tone of voice
school performance worsens
physical complaints (e.g. frequent stomachaches)

SUICIDIAL IDEATION
depression
death themes in drawings and writings
does not make future plans, does not think life will get better
speech or behavior that may indicate person is saying “goodbye” (e.g. gives away belongings)
indications that the person feels like a burden to others (e.g. guilt, shame)
getting items that could be used for self harm (e.g. over the counter, prescription, illegal drugs)

individuals at higher risk for suicide:
- those who have known someone who committed suicide, including acquaintances
- individual and/or their family members have mental health/substance abuse disorders
- experienced death of a loved one
- experienced bullying, social exclusion & social isolation
- victims of physical, sexual, emotional abuse & neglect and other traumas

DRUG AND ALCOHOL USE (rate of drug use in teens, 29%, alcohol 80%)
lack of interest in activities that used to be enjoyed
withdraws from family/friends
misses curfew, skips school, lies about whereabouts
school/work performance worsens
mood swings
changes in diet and sleep
difficulty focusing, making plans/decisions
weight loss
stealing, selling personal belongings
constricted, enlarged pupils; watery, bloodshot eyes
skin discoloration
frequent sneezing, coughing, runny nose
slurred/rapid/incoherent speech
frequently leaves bedroom window open, uses incense etc.
neglects hygiene

SEXUAL ASSAULT (25% of girls are victims, 15% of boys)
depression, anxiety
insomnia, nightmares
suddenly starts wearing baggy clothes
drug and alcohol use
urinary tract infections, etc.
withdraws or “clings” to loved ones
premature sexual activity
self injury
in children- excessive masturbation; regresses, e.g. thumb sucking, bed wetting

BOOKS
Series, Adolescent Mental Health Initiative, great for kids, grade 6 and up, and anyone who wants a quick, but inspiring, read
The Shame of Me: One Man’s Journey to Depression and Back, Ryan Lefebvre
9 Simple Depression Self Help Steps To Overcome Depression For Life, Otto Viteri
The Mindfulness Toolbox: 50 Practical Tips, Tools & Handouts for Anxiety, Depression, Stress & Pain, Donald Altman
The User’s Guide to the Human Mind, Shawn Smith
Play It Away: A Workaholic’s Cure for Anxiety, Charlie Hoehn
Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks, Barry McDonagh
The Crazy and The Damned: An OCD Memoir: A Story of Hope & Victory, Robert Lanni
The Man Who Couldn’t Stop: OCD and the True Story of a Life Lost in Thought, David Adam
This is How it Feels: Attempting Suicide and Finding Life, Craig Miller
Cracked, Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt, Kevin Hines
Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws, Kate Bornstein
Out Of The Darkness Into The Light, Kerri Gardner
Healing Your Hungry Heart: Recovering from Your Eating Disorder, Joanna Poppink
Goodbye Ed, Hello Me: Recover from Your Eating Disorder and Fall in Love with Life, Jenni Schaefer
The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide: What You and Your Family Need to Know, David Miklowitz
Runaway Mind: My Race with Bipolar, Maggie Reese
It’s Not Your Journey, Rebecca Lombardo
Mind Estranged: My Journey from Schizophrenia and Homelessness to Recovery, Bethany Yeiser
Recovered, Not Cured: A Journey Through Schizophrenia, Richard McLean
Schizo: A Novel, Nic Sheff
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on September 10, 2015
I think I put Plath on too much of a pedestal my whole life, and when I finally read the book, I realized that Esther, and by extension she, is nothing like I had hoped. Esther is just as frivolous, selfish, and superficial as you imagine a privileged teenager to be in the fifties and sixties, and although she does understand the tragedy of sexism, she seems more unhappy with her ability to see through it than thankful for an open pair of eyes. She's catty, and at times unbearable, but man can she describe a period of mania/depression with poetry. I made the mistake of personifying every person who struggles with mental issues as martyrs and amazing people who are to be admired, .... but reality came to a screeching halt for me here, when Esther (Plath) made me realize that one doesn't have to be a good person to be sick. Being sick doesn't mean they aren't a jerk, doesn't mean they aren't their own person, seeing the world in their own eyes. I took away Plath's person when I placed an expectation on her, and she wrote Greenwood with an unapologetic existence. Esther doesn't owe me anything. I'm thankful for that aspect opening my eyes, but disappointed with other things.
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on March 10, 2017
The Bell Jar is Sylvia Plath's only novel and chronicles one woman's descent into a deep and dark depression. Esther Greenwood is an incredibly intelligent and wonderfully peculiar student with an ambition to become a great writer. She is in college and also doing an internship at a magazine which she hopes will lead to her being discovered. It is while doing this internship that she begins to feel more and more disillusioned with the world and increasingly detached from her own existence.

Plath handles Esther's emotional problems with tenderness and understanding. Esther is not treated as overly emotional or hysterical and neither is she babied - Plath treats her with the respect that all depressed people deserve. I also thought that Plath handled the coming-of-age theme masterfully. It is often in our youth, particularly in our early twenties, that we begin to feel overwhelmed with the amount of choices we must make. Choices we know could have irrevocable consequences for the rest of our lives. It's not easy figuring it all out and I think most readers will be able to relate to the hunt for something solid to hold onto as well as the quest to make a meaningful contribution to the world.

Esther is that rare unforgettable protagonist that crawls deep into the reader's mind and heart and begins to feel like an old friend.
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on May 7, 2017
The Bell Jar Book Review AG
The Bell Jar is a novel written by the famous American writer and poet Sylvia Plath. Sylvia Plath was a young writer who died at a young age and her only novel published was this shocking and emotional story. The Bell Jar is a story that focuses on the life of a young adult named Esther. Esther is a nineteen year old girl who has earned an opportunity to work as an intern at a magazine company in New York City. She seems to have it all on the outside, but on the inside there are many issues within her that cause her to change and become insane. The book takes the reader through Esther’s experiences and how she goes from being able to have the opportunity to be a young intern and falling in love with a boy named Buddy to not knowing which asylum she would be transferred to the next week.
For this book club, my group decided on this particular book when we heard how great the reviews were from other people that have read the book. We also took the time to research a little more on the writer Sylvia Plath and found her life quite intriguing, which led us to wondering how we would think of her famous book. As I began to read the novel, I immediately became confused. It seemed as though the story embarked right away on a journey that the reader had no background knowledge of. It was fully up to that reader to figure out what was happening. It begins with Esther talking about the internship and her stay at an all girls college, which sounds self explanatory but was very hard to put the pieces together. Remembering all of the characters that were named in just the first chapter was extremely difficult. I had to further look up and familiarize myself with Esther as a character and what her life was like before moving onto the next chapter in the book. I found myself repeatedly having to do this.
The Bell Jar became a complicated story for me that was not well organized. I felt as though the book had spontaneous events occurring that had nothing to do with the overall plot. I could not understand if Esther was talking about an event that occurred in the past or if she was talking about the present. However, I do have to say that the book drew me into Esther’s life and made me feel as though I was right in the situation with her. Sylvia Plath seemed to want the readers to look deep into the thoughts of Esther and feel that insanity. In chapter 2, Esther states, “ The silence depressed me. It wasn't the silence of silence. It was my own silence. (2.37)” This quote really brings the feeling of depression and loneliness into the reader’s heart. Esther is a writer and hates silence, so once she is stuck in that silence and has nothing to say, she can’t help but feel alone.
I do not recommend this book for young teenagers. If I was older and had a larger horizon of understanding to certain aspects, I feel as though I could understand and enjoy the book more. It had a terrific premise and idea but was not portrayed well overall to the readers.
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on May 16, 2014
This is my 3rd time rereading this book and I've got to say, each time I turn to it, it offers something new to me. I do not think this is the simple story of Sylvia Plath and her descent into madness and depression. Although there are some biographical elements, there is more to it than that. This third time, I'm getting a societal critique (maybe gendered?) coming through the novel, but have yet to flesh it out. So I definitely suggest that you read it more than once, especially if (like me) all you got the first time was a confirmation of your own feelings. Reading this at 15 when I was in high school, I felt so affirmed and reliable in my feelings - I had depression and I was stubborn in that belief, cause LOOK so did Plath. The second round, at 18, I felt a much more sympathetic pull towards her but was also turned off by some of her actions. This third turn, in the height of college, I can't help but reflect my own feelings unto the character and see myself in Esther, but coming from an academic pov, I also can't help but see some of the more complex elements hidden deep within this book. Plath was an avid critique of the societal conventions of her time and spoke from a distinct "feminine" voice which is at play here and should not be overlooked.
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on November 19, 2016
Oh man, this book is one of those books you read for the first time and don't go back to for awhile. It was wonderful, if that is the write word to describe it. It hits you with raw and uncertainty. It has wit and melancholy. It has truth and transparency. I have wanted to read a book about depression and this was the top books that was recommended. Struggling with depression myself, I could definitely identify with the character in a lot of ways. I am the type of reader that enthralls oneself in a book at full force (All or Nothing). It takes me awhile to finish books like these because I empathize with characters so strongly it can leave me happy or melancholy. This book was definitely the latter. It took me awhile to recover but it is a must-read. Not only as a person with depression but also a student of social work, it serves as a good resource. I enjoyed Sylvia Plath's writing. There were still moments of the unexpected, laughter, and mystery. The ending was definitely not where I thought it was going to go but happy overall of the journey.
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on November 17, 2016
There is often criticism about how depressing Sylvia Plath's writing can be, and I found myself curious. After reading it, I found that I loved the novel. Perhaps it is because I studied Psychology in school! I would suggest it to others, but not if you are easily moved by what you read.
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on July 6, 2014
I really liked this. I have suffered from depression for much of my life, and, echoing what others have written here, I feel that Plath has conveyed extremely well the confusing and often debilitating world that those who have the illness must navigate on a daily basis.

I did, however, get a little confused with the constant switching up of the storyline. She'll veer into some memory only to pop back into the present suddenly, or wax nostalgic on some event in the middle of a conversation. Now, again, having dealt with depression, I understand the mind fog and the lack of attention span and confusion that accompany the illness, so perhaps this is how she chose to represent that in the story. Plus, it didn't take away from the story at all--once I regained my bearings, I easily placed the events in order in my head and carried on.

I personally enjoyed the insight she provided on the struggles of women in the early 50s, particularly with respect to career options and sexuality. Her discussion of the virtually unlimited sexual freedom of men vs the judgmental, degrading, and limited sexual lives of women piqued my interest. She has a strong critical voice and I identified with her observations--to some degree, these are still problems in modern society, and she wrote about these issues at a time when women weren't really listened to or even taken seriously.

For anyone who would like to read a modern American classic from a female perspective, I highly recommend this book. I read it in one sitting, and it was an afternoon well spent. It's a raw look at uniquely female sufferings, and how one with depression tries to navigate a world that just doesn't seem to get any less brutal as time wears on.
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