When I was finishing my forthcoming novel, CRAZY, someone suggested that I should read STOP PRETENDING….what happened when my big sister went crazy. I did read it with interest, and as my own book marches its way to publication, I recently reread it with even more intense interest.
Sones book is written in her own voice as a thirteen-year-old who lives through the descent of her nineteen-year-old sister into manic depression. The simplicity of the free verse, while sprinkled with some loose rhyming and falling rhythm (one accented syllable followed by one or more unaccented syllables), reflects the fact that this is a Middle Grade book.
But Sones does not spare us any of the emotional traumas that she experiences as she watches her sister’s sudden, and at least in her eyes, unexpected breakdown one Christmas Eve. Having been an avid journal writer since her early teen years, Sones found her way to a poetry class led by the renown children’s poet, Myra Cohn Livingston. One of the assignments led to “Hospitalized,” a poem about visiting her sister in the psychiatric ward. Livingston encouraged Sones to continue with the theme as it would be helpful to others with similar family situations, and that was the beginning of this book.
I appreciated and related to the emotional roller-coaster life of someone in a family with a mentally disintegrating member. There was the fear that the same mental catastrophe would happen to her:panic rises grabs me at my throat tightens its grip won’t let me go
The fear that she caused it:Or maybe it was something that I did.
The feeling that this is a joke, that her sister is putting on an act:Stop this crazy act and show me that you haven’t changed.
The worry over “what do people think”:People say that Audrey Becker’s odd. They say that her mother chain-smokes cigars. ……… I wonder what they say about me.
The obsession to keep it a secret:Sometimes I worry that the truth will break out all over my face, like a fresh crop of zits.
And then there were the unexpected perks, the signals that life goes on:My art teacher changes my life when she sees me admiring her gleaming Nikon with the fancy lens and asks: “How’d you like to borrow it for the weekend?”
And young love can happen even when your sister is in the psych ward:I am in love with the new boy in love with every single atom of John.
And finally, there is the turning point, and hope:“She knew me today. She knew who I was and I knew her, too. She was there. Really there. We talked about dreams. She braided my hair. We sat side by side and played ‘Heart and Soul’.”
I love the honesty and simplicity of this book that deals with such a difficult subject. It should be an easy read for middle graders, and the experience would be enriched by a follow-up discussion with an adult or within a classroom setting.
My book, CRAZY, is YA, and deals with the mental illness of a mother rather than a sister. It is also semi-autobiograpical and portrays many of the emotions mentioned above but to a much deeper level. I share the same goal that Livingston suggested to Sones: that it would speak to young adults whose parent or sibling is in the throes of bipolar disorder (manic depression).