If you’ve been following my blog you know that my book, CRAZY, is about a teen dealing with her mother’s bipolar disorder in the sixties. That’s why I tend to read books like MEMORIES OF SUMMER, which is a different twist on the same theme.
Newbery Honor author Ruth White’s book tells the story of a sixteen-year-old girl in the fifties who slips into schizophrenia shortly after her family moves from an isolated holler in Virginia to Flint, Michigan. The move is a dream-come-true for Summer and her younger sister, Lyric, until Summer’s already different ways begin escalating. She drops out of school, neglects her appearance, begins talking to voices she hears, and becomes increasingly paranoid.
The story is told through the voice of Lyric, Summer’s thirteen-year-old sister who has warm memories of Summer taking over for their mother when she dies during their childhood. The sisters were always close and their harmonizing abilities were in demand at parties and church gatherings. But Lyric noticed from an early age that her older sister had peculiar ways. She was so afraid of electricity she would not go into a dark room to turn on a light. She sat apart, whispering to someone who wasn’t there. She huddled under a blanket in a corner because someone with a searchlight was trying to get her.
Even though their father struggles to make ends meet, Summer sees a psychiatrist who tries to control her increasingly severe symptoms with medication. On Lyric’s fourteenth birthday Summer seems well enough to go shopping with her. It quickly deteriorates when they have an embarrassing encounter with Lyric’s school friends, followed by Summer running off to meet up with a man she had been secretly phoning. With increasing wandering off, self-mutilation and playing with matches, Summer can no longer be left alone.
The psychiatrist tells the girls’ father to take the burden off of Lyric by hiring caregivers, but most of them quit after a short stay. When Lyric tries to get her to the basement during a tornado warning, she refuses because she says there were wolves down there. She hits Lyric on the head with a cup, sending her to the doctor for stitches. Lyric and her father realize they can no longer give Summer the care she needs, and they take her to the state mental hospital.
“We hope to take her home with us again someday,” Lyric said.
“I’ll not lie to you, Lyric,” Dr. Solomon said seriously. “You won’t ever again see the pretty, vivacious teenager who was your sister. She is gone. I have never known a schizophrenic to recover completely.”
While it remains true that one does not ever recover from schizophrenia, it is the exception, not the rule, to be permanently hospitalized with this disorder today. Modern medical practices and improved antipsychotic drugs have made it possible for many with this disease to lead relatively normal lives. Here are just two of the many resources available online.