Talking About ‘Mad Girl’ with Bibliobeth

Mad Girl

How did I get it?:
I borrowed it from Beth!

Synopsis:

Bryony Gordon has OCD.

It’s the snake in her brain that has told her ever since she was a teenager that her world is about to come crashing down: that her family might die if she doesn’t repeat a phrase 5 times, or that she might have murdered someone and forgotten about it. It’s caused alopecia, bulimia, and drug dependency. And Bryony is sick of it. Keeping silent about her illness has given it a cachet it simply does not deserve, so here she shares her story with trademark wit and dazzling honesty.

A hugely successful columnist for the Telegraph, a bestselling author, and a happily married mother of an adorable daughter, Bryony has managed to laugh and live well while simultaneously grappling with her illness. Now it’s time for her to speak out. Writing with her characteristic warmth and dark humor, Bryony explores her relationship with her OCD and depression as only she can.

Mad Girl is a shocking, funny, unpredictable, heart-wrenching, raw and jaw-droppingly truthful celebration of life with mental illness.

CHRISSI: What do you make of the cover, its subtitle and the title? I find it interesting that this particular cover is yellow!

BETH: Well, I had to actually pick your brain on this one as you had a lot more insights than me, haha! So the title and subtitle is Mad Girl – A Happy Life With A Mixed-Up Mind and is bright yellow. The colour yellow is notoriously quite a cheery and happy cover which is ironic considering the subject matter, a woman talking about her OCD, depression and other mental health issues. The cover immediately attracted me because of the bright cover and the suggestion that although OCD and depression are far from a barrel of laughs (I should know!) the author would take us on a journey with some dark points but some light, funny moments along the way. Mental health is not funny on any level but making light of certain experiences can give other people the bravery to face their own demons and be better equipped to deal with their problems. It certainly felt that way to me and I got a lot out of this book.

BETH: How did you feel that anxiety and depression was portrayed in Bryony’s story?

CHRISSI: Hmm… good question. I liked how there were some lighter, funnier moments within the story. I think that Bryony Gordon mixed humour in really well. But I also appreciated the moments where there were darker points to her story. It’s not sunshine and showers and it’s certainly not something to be laughed at, but in making some light jokes on the situation, Bryony is showing the reader that she’s human too and is going through a constant battle. I know for many sufferers, if not all, mental illness will always be present. It’s how you battle it that matters/

CHRISSI: Mad Girl talks about some difficult issues. Discuss how Bryony Gordon mixes humour with her descriptions of darker emotions and situations.

BETH: As I rambled on about in my previous answer (maybe I should start reading questions ahead of typing?!) Bryony deals with some very difficult issues in her book. There are eating disorders, emotional abuse, addiction… to name a few. However, it never felt too much as there was always a note of humour to make even the darker situations easier to read and experience. I felt like I had scarily so much in common with Bryony and I tend to use humour as a defence mechanism myself to deal with horrible stuff. It just made me warm to her more to be perfectly honest.

BETH: Mad Girl is described as a celebration of life with mental illness. Do you think this came across in the author’s writing?

CHRISSI: I do feel like Mad Girl does celebrate Bryony’s life with a mental illness. Despite everything that Bryony goes through, she still comes across as someone that’s enjoying her life in the main part and is desperate to not let the mental illness dictate how she lives her life. That’s inspiring!

CHRISSI: Was the humour ever too much?

BETH: For me personally, no it wasn’t. I think some of the things she talked about, especially when she talked about her first serious relationship could have really got to me and put me back into quite a dark place. However, when I felt close to feeling that way, I felt the situation in my head was defused by a hilarious line that made me smile (or laugh out loud…sorry fellow train passengers!) that cheered me up and got me out of my own head again. Without that I think it would have been too much.

BETH: You’re not normally a fan of non-fiction. How much did you enjoy this book compared to other non-fiction you’ve read?

CHRISSI: Indeed, I’m not a fan of non-fiction. However, I enjoy reading non-fiction books when they centre around a subject I’m interested in or a subject close to my heart, which in this case, is Mad Girl. I am a ‘mad girl.’ There’s an awful lot I could relate to in this book, so it didn’t feel like I was being bogged down with information. It felt like I was chatting to a friend.

CHRISSI: What do you feel you have gained from reading this book?

BETH: The knowledge that I’m not the only weirdo in the village?! No, seriously I loved reading about Bryony’s life and as I mentioned before, felt I had an awful lot in common with her. You look at other people and the success they’ve had, especially if they’ve had a lot to deal with in their past and present (and probably future) and I’m in awe of what she’s achieved. It makes me hopeful for my own future. I also think it’s so so important to talk about mental health issues and your thoughts and feelings out there so people can realise they are definitely not on their own.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I would! I enjoyed her writing style and humour!

Would we recommend it?:

BETH: Of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

Banned Books #31- Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin

Banner made by Luna @ Lunaslittlelibrary

Welcome to the first Banned Books of 2017, where Beth and I read Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin.

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out

Synopsis:

Author and photographer Susan Kuklin met and interviewed six transgender or gender-neutral young adults and used her considerable skills to represent them thoughtfully and respectfully before, during, and after their personal acknowledgment of gender preference. Portraits, family photographs, and candid images grace the pages, augmenting the emotional and physical journey each youth has taken. Each honest discussion and disclosure, whether joyful or heartbreaking, is completely different from the other because of family dynamics, living situations, gender, and the transition these teens make in recognition of their true selves.

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
First published: 2014
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2015 (source)
Reasons: anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: This is a one of our most recently published “banned/challenged” books that we’ve chosen, only being published in 2014. Well, it sure seemed to cause a stir as it was immediately placed on the frequently challenged list for 2015! I don’t agree with any of the reasons for this book being challenged to be perfectly honest but I think I do know why the topic causes such a furore. I think the world of children who are transgender is relatively new (in the fact that we hear about it a hell of a lot more, not that the children never existed before). I think a lot of people either don’t understand or don’t believe that being transgender even exists and find it difficult to come to terms with, sometimes especially if it is their own child. I’m hoping with more publicity that people can educate themselves and the majority of ignorance surrounding it can be reduced.

CHRISSI:  This is one of the books that is banned/challenged that I want to roll my eyes at, because it really shouldn’t be. Like Beth, I understand why it has been challenged. It seems recently that transgender is much more publicised than it used to be. Of course, there’s always been transgender around, but it’s definitely more prevalent in the media. You would think that this means the book shouldn’t be banned, and I’d agree, but I can see why it is at challenged because it kicks off a whole debate and arguments about what gender really is. I hope that one day it won’t be such an issue and those that aren’t educated about transgender could be!

How about now?

BETH: See above answer. I will however, go into more depth about the reasons but will try to remain relatively calm. Offensive language – yep, I admit, it’s in there but as I’ve said about other banned books in our series, no worse than what children would hear in school, television, out and about etc. Then there are other reasons that make me want to do that little red angry emoji face. Like anti-family?! I mean, WHAT? Why would being a transgender teenager threaten or go against a loving family? Especially if they are supportive which is just all kinds of awesome if they are. And the last reason…oh my goodness, I just really wonder at the people who are complaining, to be honest. They really need some education.

CHRISSI: My answer is the same as the above although I would like to see the world in change in their attitude towards transgender. It seems ridiculous to me that we can’t be more accepting but perhaps that’s me being naive. As I read this book, I thought of a girl at my current school that still adamantly insists she’s a boy. I wonder what the future holds for her and hope it’s a more accepting one.

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: I enjoyed it! I felt I learned a lot more about what teenagers go through if they feel they have been born into the wrong body. I watched a Louis Theroux documentary here in the UK recently about transgender children and that was brilliant but I really wanted an informative, touching non-fiction book about the real experience as kids grow up. That was exactly what I got. The photographs were the icing on the cake and it was marvellous to see the children in their “wrong” and in their “right” body. I think this could be a hugely important book for any teenager struggling with this issue.

CHRISSI: I thought it was a great book! It was really interesting to read from their experience of how they felt in their ‘wrong’ body. It was fascinating to see the photographs too. I really thought that added to the reading experience.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!
CHRISSI: Yes! 3.5 stars!

Furiously Happy

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Synopsis:

In her new book, FURIOUSLY HAPPY, Jenny explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. And terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.

According to Jenny: “Some people might think that being ‘furiously happy’ is just an excuse to be stupid and irresponsible and invite a herd of kangaroos over to your house without telling your husband first because you suspect he would say no since he’s never particularly liked kangaroos. And that would be ridiculous because no one would invite a herd of kangaroos into their house. Two is the limit. I speak from personal experience. My husband says that none is the new limit. I say he should have been clearer about that before I rented all those kangaroos.”

“Most of my favorite people are dangerously fucked-up but you’d never guess because we’ve learned to bare it so honestly that it becomes the new normal. Like John Hughes wrote in The Breakfast Club, ‘We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it.’ Except go back and cross out the word ‘hiding.'”

Jenny’s first book, LET’S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED, was ostensibly about family, but deep down it was about celebrating your own weirdness. FURIOUSLY HAPPY is a book about mental illness, but under the surface it’s about embracing joy in fantastic and outrageous ways-and who doesn’t need a bit more of that?

Thoughts:

Furiously Happy had been doing the rounds on the blogosphere for a while and I was intrigued. I decided to pick up a copy and read it as soon as I could. I always feel slightly iffy going into reading a book that I know is about mental health. I’ve had a long term battle with anxiety and often feel books don’t represent it as well as they could. So what better than a memoir/non fiction book? Yes. Furiously Happy is fantastic. It’s funny. I really appreciate that. Anxiety isn’t always doom and gloom and there are definitely funny things that have happened to me due to my anxiety that I may not feel like laughing at during the time, but often look back and laugh or roll my eyes.

I was really impressed with how Jenny Lawson wrote about mental illness. She really portrays her anxieties wonderfully. I imagine that people that haven’t experienced it themselves or experienced a close family member with anxiety might think her thoughts and stories are far fetched. However, Jenny makes each and every one of her stories relatable, especially to those with a similar mindset. There may be a little bit of hyperbole but I think that makes it even more believable.

I don’t want to spoil this book too much. I just implore you to read it. It is a random book. It is a little strange. It is a little weird, but it’s a good weird. I promise.

Would I recommend it?:
Of course! 4.5 stars

A fantastic read about mental illness!

Banned Books #28 The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Banner made by Luna @ Lunaslittlelibrary

Welcome to this month’s edition of Banned Books, where this month Beth and I have read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.

The Glass Castle

First published: 2005
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2012 (source)
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: As one of the more fairly recent releases for our banned books list this year, answers for the first two questions are going to be similar as I don’t think attitudes have changed that much in the last ten or so years. There are a few profanities in the text with one mention of the “c” word which I know some people may not take too kindly to. However, I feel that no matter where you go or what you try to avoid, you cannot help but hear bad language, whether it’s in the street or on the television. If you’re offended by bad language, fair enough that’s your own personal right and you can choose to read this book or not. In my opinion, it’s not completely littered with profanity so I was perfectly happy whilst reading it.

CHRISSI: It does have some offensive language, I know the ‘c’ word certainly offends me, but when used in this book it didn’t bother me so much because it was the reality of the situation. It didn’t prevent me from reading this book, it just made me cringe a little. That’s fine. That’s real. I can see that its heavy subject matter might be too much for teenagers but moving into YA and adult, I don’t think it’s something that should be necessarily banned. As Beth says, you can hear much worse on TV, around friends and with music.

How about now?

BETH: See first answer! This book is not marketed as a young adult novel. In fact, it is on the “adult” category of GoodReads. This may be down to the occasional bad language, sexual references or some of the more adult content that it contains. The subject matter that this novel deals with is difficult and was, at times, hard to read for me but I’m incredibly glad that I did because I found it a wonderful, highly emotional piece of writing. I can’t really think of any hard and fast reasons why it should be challenged/banned and think a memoir of this standard deserves to be read.

CHRISSI:  Like Beth, I don’t think it should be necessarily challenged or banned as I think it’s a highly important read. Perhaps, if in a high school/college library it should have a notice for explicit content, but an outright ban? No I wouldn’t agree with that.

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: I thought it was a brilliant read! The fact that it is a memoir just made Jeanette’s difficult upbringing with her family all the more poignant and a little chilling in places if I’m honest. I felt so sorry for Jeanette and her brother and sisters being brought up in such an environment, moving from place to place, sleeping in cars and rooting through rubbish bins just to find something to eat. It’s a life that no child should have to experience and really made me think about people that are less fortunate and don’t have the blessing of a stable home/family.

CHRISSI: I was utterly gripped by this book. I couldn’t put it down, but at the same time, I wanted to because it was such an intense read. It was tough to read about what Jeannette and her siblings went through. It made me realise how lucky I was to have the upbringing that I did. It certainly kept me thinking and I imagine this book will stay with me for a long time.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

Talking About ‘The Last Act of Love’ with Bibliobeth

The Last Act Of Love

How did I get it?:
I borrowed it from Beth!

Synopsis:

In the summer of 1990 – two weeks before his GCSE results, which turned out to be the best in his school – Cathy Rentzenbrink’s brother Matty was knocked down by a car on the way home from a night out, suffering serious head injuries. He was left in a permanent vegetative state. Over the following years, Cathy and her parents took care of Matty – they built an extension onto the village pub where they lived and worked; they talked to him, fed him, bathed him, loved him. But there came a point at which it seemed the best thing they could do for Matty – and for themselves – was let him go. With unflinching honesty and raw emotional power, Cathy describes the unimaginable pain of losing her brother and the decision that changed her family’s lives forever. As she delves into the past and reclaims memories that have lain buried for many years, Cathy reconnects with the bright, funny, adoring brother she lost and is finally able to see the end of his life as it really was – a last act of love. Powerful, intimate and intensely moving, this is a personal journey with universal resonance – a story of unconditional love, of grief, survival and the strength of the ties that bind. It’s a story that will speak to anyone who has lost someone close to them, to anyone who has fiercely loved a sibling, and to anyone who has ever wondered whether prolonging a loved one’s life might be more heartbreaking than saying goodbye.

CHRISSI: How would you describe the experience of reading non fiction vs fiction?

BETH: Great question! A lot of the times I really feel it depends on the subject matter and the non fiction book in question. Sometimes it can be a bit dry but other times it can be written in a way that is just as compelling as reading a piece of fiction. This was definitely the case with The Last Act Of Love. It was quite literally a page turner and I managed to read it within a day as I just couldn’t put it down. It was terribly sad and at times almost unbearable to read but I’m infinitely glad that I did.

BETH: This is a harrowing story but ultimately uplifting. How did you feel when you reached the end of the book?

CHRISSI: I’m not a major fan of non fiction, as you know, but this book completely pulled me in. You’re right, it was such a harrowing story but it really was uplifting and I think that’s down to the fact that you can tell, as a reader, how much love was felt for Matt. His family really adored him and it was plain to see that. I loved that we got to read more about how the tragic event affected Cathy long after the accident. It was heart-warming to read Cathy’s letter to her brother at the end of the book. This book was an act of love in itself, as Cathy rawly and honestly opens up and it’s a beautiful thing. I felt incredibly moved by the end of the book.

CHRISSI: What does this book tell us about the nature of love?

BETH: Quite a lot. Love comes in many forms but is especially strong in a parent-child or sibling relationship. Obviously when Matt first had his accident, the family cannot bear for him to die so do everything possible in their power to try and prevent this, even taking him out of the hospital environment and learning how to care for him at home. However, after many years when he remains in a persistent vegetative state, they realise that they may be making it more difficult for him than just being strong enough to let him go. Their last act of love is making the hugely difficult decision to let him pass away but it’s not a decision they take lightly.

BETH: You’re not normally a fan of non fiction – what was it about The Last Act Of Love that touched you so deeply?

CHRISSI: I  am definitely not a fan of non fiction, but memoirs have always been the kind of non fiction that I do enjoy reading. I enjoy raw honesty even if it’s hard to read at times. I really felt that Cathy laid herself bare with this memoir. As I mentioned before, it was an act of love in itself writing this memoir. I really feel like Cathy had the most wonderful relationship with her brother and that relationship did touch me deeply.

CHRISSI: Did reading this book, knowing it was a memoir, affect your emotions more?

BETH: One hundred percent. Knowing that all of this really happened and that the family suffered for so long made it all the more traumatic. It must have been a very hard book for his sister to write, although it seemed that she got so much out of this process. I feel honoured as a reader that she chose to share her experiences with the world and really hope that she can come to terms with what has happened in time. Such an emotional read!

BETH: Would you read another book by this author fiction or otherwise?

CHRISSI: Yes, I would. I thought Cathy had a very engaging writing style. This book, despite it being so very sad, was such a page turner!

Would we recommend it?:

BETH AND CHRISSI: Without a doubt!

Banned Books #22 A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard

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Welcome to our Banned Books feature where this month we’ve read A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard.

A Stolen Life

Synopsis:

In the summer of 1991 I was a normal kid. I did normal things. I had friends and a mother who loved me. I was just like you. Until the day my life was stolen.
For eighteen years I was a prisoner. I was an object for someone to use and abuse.

For eighteen years I was not allowed to speak my own name. I became a mother and was forced to be a sister. For eighteen years I survived an impossible situation.

On August 26, 2009, I took my name back. My name is Jaycee Lee Dugard. I don’t think of myself as a victim. I survived.

A Stolen Life is my story—in my own words, in my own way, exactly as I remember it.

banned books

First published: 2011
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2014 (source)
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit and unsuited for age group.

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: Not really, no. Because this book is a memoir of something terrible that actually happened to an eleven year old child I think it’s a really important read that more people should be aware of. I was slightly surprised (and quite horrified) at how explicit the book was in points and that’s the only reason why I would hesitate for it to be used in a classroom environment with younger children. For older teenagers – definitely yes, it should be available and recommended by a librarian or a teacher.

CHRISSI:  Yes and no. In a classroom environment with young teenagers- yes. I understand. I know it’s something that shouldn’t be shied away from, it really happened and it does happen, but I worry that it’s too sensitive an issue to discuss in a classroom. However, if a teacher did want to take it on then I would have the utmost respect for them as I think it’s a book that should be explored. I definitely think it should be recommended to older teenagers. It’s important that it’s read and discussed as it contains so many sensitive subjects that need to be identified in a safe environment.

How about now?

BETH: This is a fairly recent release (2011) so I don’t believe things have changed much in the past five years. One of the reasons given for challenging the book i.e. that it contains drugs/alcohol/smoking I feel is quite ridiculous as I don’t think teenagers should be sheltered from things that clearly happen in the outside world and may give them vital information that they can learn from to help them make informed choices about such things.

CHRISSI: I think the only reason why I have doubts about this book is because it is such a harrowing read and could potentially trigger individuals that have experienced similar things. For being banned for drugs/alcohol and smoking- I totally disagree. Teenagers and young adults experience these things in every day life. Why hide from it?

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: I’d hesitate to say I “enjoyed” it as at points it was quite a harrowing read – especially when Jaycee was first kidnapped. The length of time she was held, the childhood she lost and the sexual abuse that she had to suffer was truly terrifying. It was interesting to read her journal entries and try to figure out the mind-set of her kidnapper who was obviously mentally disturbed in quite a few ways. It’s a hugely important read that I think teenagers should be exposed to and I commend the bravery of the author in speaking out about her traumatic experience.

CHRISSI: I can’t say that I ‘enjoyed’ it, like Beth says. It was hard to read at times. It was incredibly explicit. I hated reading about the way she was treated and how her childhood was stolen. However, it is such an important read!

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!
CHRISSI: Of course!

 

I Don’t Want To Be Crazy

I Don't Want To Be Crazy

How did I get it?
I bought it!

Synopsis:

This is a true story of growing up, breaking down, and coming to grips with a psychological disorder. When Samantha Schutz first left home for college, she was excited by the possibilities — freedom from parents, freedom from a boyfriend who was reckless with her affections, freedom from the person she was supposed to be. At first, she revelled in the independence … but as pressures increased , she began to suffer anxiety attacks that would leave her mentally shaken and physically incapacitated. Thus began a hard road of discovery and coping, powerfully rendered in this poetry memoir.

Thoughts:

I have been meaning to get around to this book for quite some time now. I feel like I have a bit of a connection with it as I personally suffer from anxiety. Having such a connection can really affect my opinion of a book, especially if mental health isn’t presented in a ‘real’ way. I wasn’t worried about this as Samantha Schutz’s story is a true story.

Reading I Don’t Want To Be Crazy feels like you’re creeping in on someone’s personal diary. Samantha writes with raw honesty. You really feel as a reader that you’re experiencing what it is like to suffer with anxiety. The descriptions are really relatable and true to those that suffer with anxiety.

This book is written in verse and I think it’s really interesting to read it in this way. I don’t think the verse really showed how powerful words can be, but at the same time, it came across as incredibly honest and to the point. That’s what you want. As a reader I want the mental health stigma to ease and for mental health to be recognised and understood more. This is why I appreciated the book!

Would I recommend it?:
Yes!

It won’t be for everyone, but I think this is a really honest look at mental health.