Hurray! I've officially finished my first book for My Re-Education Challenge! (Please note that links to all my reviews for this challenge will be available on the Challenge homepage. Reviews of any other books I read for the year will be linked on my "Reviews" tab, as usual.)
MTV Books/Gallery Books 2012
Well! We're certainly starting off the year with a bang! This book is definitely NOT a fluffy, light-hearted read. For most of my way through it, all I could think was that it reminded me of J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy in its unrelenting sobriety and human tragedies, only on a smaller, less cynical scale, because this book's protagonist and first-person narrator, Charlie, is very sweet and certainly an innocent.
But Stephen Chbosky is a very talented, subtle, even sly author. I immediately felt that Charlie was a sympathetic character; before long, however, Chbosky had me truly caring about many of his characters, through the vehicle of Charlie's deep and sincere love for them. Charlie is a beginning freshman in high school, and scared about this big change in his life. He has problems the full nature of which are slowly revealed over the course of the novel, and this is another element of similarity between this book and The Casual Vacancy, touching as it does on issues of mental health.
By the time I was 2/3 of the way through this book, I could barely put it down to deal with little trifles like eating and sleeping! It may have many of the typical hallmarks, even cliches, of an average YA "coming-of-age" tale, but it's very intelligently constructed, and is simply an interesting, well-crafted story, though NOT for the faint of heart.
On a personal note, I identified very clearly with the mental health problems Chbosky adresses, though mine began for very different reasons than those named in the book. It was very interesting to me, even though it was also saddening, to see from the inside how things develop as a result of abuse, rather than from fear for terminally ill parents and surviving a natural disaster, which were my particular triggers for 20+ years of emotional ill health. I sincerely hope, now that this book has been made into a major Hollywood film, that it will greatly help to raise awareness concerning mental health problems in adults and especially in teenagers and children. In all their mental romanticizations about the supposed "carefree innocence of children," too many adults never realize that traumatic events have as great an effect on children as on anyone else. Worst of all, the child's suffering often goes unnoticed and therefore undiagnosed; kids may not comprehend what is happening to them, don't know how to ask for help, and frequently act out in ways and for reasons that even they don't understand. It is vital that both adults and children receive treatment as soon as physically possible after a traumatic event, because the longer the emotional wound festers, the greater the chance of serious, even irreparable repercussions.
Moreover, the stigma that our society still attaches to emotional and mental health problems--in the 21st century, for God's sake!--has got to stop. It makes it much more difficult for people to get the help they need, or to lead a normal life. Some employers are too nervous to take the "risk" of giving them a job. Mental health professionals actually have to advise their clients NEVER to mention their illness at work, for fear that an applicant might be denied or an employee fired on those grounds, even if the company would invent some other, less harsh-sounding reason for their action. As I said, I sincerely hope that this powerful book, and the very popular film adaptation of it which has now been released, will go some way toward changing the status quo.