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A Tragic Kind of Wonderful Hardcover – February 7, 2017
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Gr 9 Up—Mel has bipolar disorder and professes to have a "superpower" that lets her avoid thinking about certain things, especially her dead brother or the real reasons why she lost her best friends around the time of her diagnosis. She has made new friends, but she has been able to hide her illness from them. Mel works at a nursing home where a retired psychiatrist keeps an eye on her, and she is in treatment with her own doctor, too. After she meets a resident's grandson, David, she wants to get closer to him, but she is worried that as he really gets to know her, he won't like her. Though she has her ups and downs, Mel can appear fairly even-keeled until an incident with her former friends begins a terrifying descent into a manic episode. Lindstrom offers an intense look at one person's experience with bipolar disorder, but unfortunately, the story's execution is unsatisfying. The characters are undeveloped, particularly Mel, who seems defined by her diagnosis. In addition, there is a troubling correlation between her mental illness and her sexual behavior, and there are cringeworthy scenes relating her constant desire to touch the hair of minority characters. The messages that Mel needs to keep fewer secrets in order to truly be close to others (and to more effectively treat her mental illness) and that real friends will stick around in spite of her diagnosis are nearly lost in the meandering narrative. VERDICT Weak character development and plotting make this an additional purchase.—Amanda MacGregor, formerly at Great River Regional Library, Saint Cloud, MN
Praise for A Tragic Kind of Wonderful:
"Lindstrom (Not If I See You First) deftly addresses life with bipolar disorder, as well as the internalized shame often felt by individuals with mental illness. Emotions run high as Lindstrom's story confronts mental illness, grief, and shame, but the optimistic resolution provides balance."―Publishers Weekly
"Lindstrom's compelling novel is rich in clinical detail, which is nicely integrated into the plot, ensuring the novel is never didactic but always dramatic...Readers will find Mel's story always absorbing and gain insight into her troubling disorder. Those who enjoy this fine novel will also enjoy Jennifer Niven's All the Bright Places (2015)."―Booklist
"An engaging and fast-moving plot that foregrounds Mel as a person who maintains a strong ethic of kindness even and especially when [she's] down, making her a bipolar poster child fully worthy of reader sympathy."―BCCB
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Mel has bipolar disorder, the rapid cycling kind and is further afflicted with what is called Dysphoric Mania-strong depression with accompanying manic energy, a condition that can be scary and lethal. She’s just lost a year of her life, along with the three friends who saved her after the move. Her obsessive need/belief that hiding her illness is necessary in order to have any life or friends essentially cost her those friends and her rigidity surrounding her feelings toward them and her fear about coming clean, create an invisible prison that just seems to exacerbate her denial.
It isn’t until she finds a boy, David, whose grandmother is moving into the assisted living facility where she works part time and they start to connect, that the rigidity starts showing cracks. How it eventually crumbles takes readers through intense pain, a few scary situations and some teeth gritting over Mel’s refusal to let go of certain beliefs and behaviors.
The author may have tried packing too many scenes and ideas into the story, but as a former mental health professional who worked with teens, I found it a darn good read and one worth handing to young adults struggling with emotional issues or who have friends who are.
In A Tragic Kind of Wonderful, we get a look into a sixteen year old girl’s life as she deals with bipolar disorder. It’s an eye-opening experience for those who might not know much about it, and for those who do, you can understand what the main character is going through in the book. It is a raw and gripping read, one that will shake you up and give you insight into what it is like living with bipolar disorder.
“‘Battles are never won. Only survived.'”
Mel Hannigan knows battles. She has survived several of them – losing her brother and then herself. She is a sixteen year old girl who tries to keep herself closed off – after a falling out with her group of friends, she holds the two other friends that she has made at arm’s length, only talking in school and maybe hanging out once a week for Movie Roulette. No one at her school knows about her brother. No one at schools knows about her bipolar disorder – in fact, she has worked incredibly hard to keep both of those things hidden from everyone. Instead, she spends her days at home with her mom and her aunt, seeing her dad every now and again, and the rest of her free time goes to her job at the assisted living center, where she has made friends with the seniors living there. She also spends her time taking pills, seeing her psychiatrist, and measuring her feelings and emotions using her special charting system.
For the most part, Mel can handle her bipolar disorder – sure, she has “off” days, but for the most part, things have been going smoothly for her. And then a new resident moves into the assisted living center, and there she meets her Grandson, David. David and Mel don’t quite get along at first, but when they start talking and spending more time together, their feelings for each other blossom, which both confuses and delights Mel.
“‘When you’re happy,’ he says, ‘you’re the light in the room. And when you’re sad, you’re still the light in the room.'”
When one of her old three friends moves away, leaving a mysterious box with the belongings of the other two friends behind and in Mel’s care, she finds herself forced to interact with two people who used to be her best friends, but now she no longer talks to at all. When new secrets involving the three of them arise and start to build up and then tear down friendships all over again, Mel starts to lose control of everything, leading her to an inevitable breakdown. She starts to question who she can and cannot trust, and is forced to come to terms with a lot of things about her life – including her diagnosis, whether or not her friendship with those she cares about is real, and the tragedy involving her brother.
This book was a really honest look into bipolar disorder. I know some people seem to think that you can take a single pill every day and be just fine, and others think it’s just a temporary problem and will “go away with time.” Since that isn’t the case, and bipolar disorder is, in fact, a real issue that needs to be managed, it’s really nice to read a book that sheds light upon it and does a great job talking about what it’s like to deal with it on a day to day basis.
Not only does Mel have to deal with taking medications and monitoring her moods, she also has your usual teenage stuff to deal with – crushes, family issues, and friend related drama. Not to mention the horrible thing involving her brother that happened before the family moved. Mel has a lot on her plate, and her character deals with things in a realistic and healthy way – she cries, she tries, she deals with things the best she can, and sometimes she just can’t. I think this is important for people to know that every now and again, people have to take a step back and realize that they can’t always do everything – and that’s okay.
At first I was kind of confused by the way that Mel chooses to monitor her feelings and health, but after it gets explained and you read the book, I started to get more of a feeling for it. Each chapter starts with it, so you can watch as her moods change throughout the book. It’s a clever and unique addition to the novel, and it’s also pretty important to the book and getting to know Mel’s character.
This book has a lot of emphasis on a family support system, including Mel’s mom and aunt, who lives with them. Mel’s aunt just wants her to live her life like a teenager, while her mom works her hardest to be sure that Mel takes her medication and sees her therapist on a regular basis. Some of the actions that Mel’s aunt takes are questionable(for example, she buys Mel a bottle of vodka in one chapter), but she loves her with all of her heart and just wants her to live her life to the fullest. Unfortunately, Mel’s dad isn’t really around that much in the book.
I enjoyed reading how Mel and David’s relationship blooms – there isn’t any insta-love in this book, and I am so thankful for that.
A Tragic Kind of Wonderful is a heart wrenching portrayal about love, loss, and a very accurate portrayal about what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder.
Note: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review - Thank you!
There was so much to learn from this book. Mental health isn’t talked about anywhere near as much as it should be. There’s a complex system of animals Mel uses to illustrate her moods/how she’s feeling, which you might want to write down for reference throughout, because it is a little hard and confusing to keep track of. As far as I know (I’m not an expert), this is a poignant and realistic portrayal of the mental and physical highs and lows experienced by someone who is bipolar. It was an awakening for me as a reader, because I haven’t read many books with this mental illness. It brought keen insight into the disorder and how the individual’s thinking and feeling change, how they react, and the medicine cabinet full of medication that some who suffer from this disorder live with everyday. I think a big part of this story was trying to show how normal mental illness can appear to an outsider or someone who doesn’t know. There was a bunch of terminology I had no clue about and I was pretty startled by the idea of subintentional suicide; I’d never heard of that before. Generally when we think of people who make dangerous choices it’s in a oh, what a daredevil kind of way, but this was truly eye-opening for me, and in connection to bipolar disorder. I am still reeling.
I adored HJ (Hurricane Joan). She’s this feisty, sassy aunt, who like Mel, has bipolar disorder. She’s super fun and full of energy, and while she does have her down times, she has such a strong presence.
Mel was an intriguing character. She wasn’t particularly interesting, but she was compassionate, giving, a genuinely good person. Her emotions were a dizzying spiral of highs and lows, ups and downs, and very raw, honest. Her confusion and fear are clear, even if she doesn’t understand why she feels the way she does or how she’s going to react. Mel is trying to cope with her disorder, not beat it or pretend that it doesn’t exist. Mel believes she can be like a “normal” person and that in order to do so, she needs to lie. Why Mel insists on all the lies is revealed in time, but it doesn’t always feel like it was necessary.
Mel and David are cute together. They’re blunt and challenge each other. He is the only one that she is completely truthful with and where she can be the most herself. They’re funny, playful, and have an easy way with each other that feels meant to be.
A Tragic Kind of Wonderful is split into flashbacks and current events. There are two storylines, one regarding the time before diagnosis and another after. These stories mix and mingle with each other and I wasn’t entirely sold on how it was set up. They way these two narratives were presented made the pacing feel staggered. You feel like you wait forever to things that are alluded to from the very beginning-like why her friendship with Zumi and Conner is on the outs. The whole book you wait for this reveal and it’s built up so much that you expect it to be something world-shattering and terrible, and while it is a betrayal, when you know the reasons why, it’s like, oh, shrug. Other reveals, like what happened to her brother and the mystery about her name, were a little frustrating, but once you understand that they took so long to get to because Mel couldn’t safely, emotionally process them, it’s okay.
All of the characters except for David and Mel and HJ and most of the elderly people-let me fix this, most of the teen characters were antisocial, withdrawn, and even with the flashbacks, didn’t have much personality. The connection between them and Mel was supposedly so strong that it emotionally paralyzes her to think about it, and yet, that feeling does not carry through the book, it’s more talked about than actually illustrated. Most of the story, I questioned why Mel even cared that these people were no longer in her life, she had replacements in the form of Holly and Declan, who were similar enough to the original friends that they were kind of forgettable. Had there been more interaction with ANY of these friends, a stronger establishment between characters would have been made and it would have been easier to become emotionally invested. Again, I think this had a lot to do with how the book was organized.
I wish there had been more flashbacks to Mel and her brother. I felt like the focus was skewed. So much emphasis was placed on the loss of these friends she made after her brother’s death, when his loss is the root of so much of her hurt.
Most recent customer reviews
As someone with a mental illness (not the same, but still a mood disorder), I feel like Eric Lindstrom has hit the nail on the head with a lot of things.Read more
I hardly ever read fiction books with people who have bipolar disorder, I can handle a non-fiction like Carrie Fisher because I...Read more
It took me a while to start writing this review because I honestly didn’t know where to start.Read more