Juliet Escoria – Juliet the Maniac

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Juliet Escoria – Juliet the Maniac

When Juliet finally comes to High School, she has high expectations. Since she is assigned to many honours classes, her talents sure will soon be seen by her teachers. However, instead of concentrating on her educational goals, Juliet is completely preoccupied with what others think of her, why she does not fit in and why she even lost the only friend she had in middle school. She struggles more and more and enters a spiral of drugs and self-harm until she, at last, cries for help and is brought to a hospital. With changing school, she hopes to find back to her old self, but the mental illness she has to recognize as a part of her personality, keeps her at the edge between life and death.

I have read several novels about teenagers developing mental illnesses and struggling to come back to something like a normal life. Thus, I was keen on reading Juliet Escoria’s novel which comes with high praise and was highly anticipated. Sadly, the protagonist didn’t really convince me and I hardly could relate with her and her fate.

The biggest problem for me was that throughout the novel I had the impression that the medicine to treat bipolar disorder or depression is somehow glorified and paralleled with “ordinary” drugs that are consumed by teenagers, such as alcohol, marihuana or any type of pills. Also the fact that having sex while being completely out of your mind was repeatedly portrayed as something you should go for left me a bit wondering. Since Juliet does not really seem to be willing to overcome her addictions or to find a way of living with her diagnosis and the side effects that come with it, I also did not find the novel helpful in any way.

Well, there were some entertaining parts in it, it was even funny at times. And surely it shows that absolutely anybody might end up with mental struggles and that you cannot really do something about it. The tone was adequate for a teenager, even though she often sounded a bit older than just the 14 she was at the beginning.

RJ Jacobs – And Then You Were Gone

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RJ Jacobs – And then you were gone

Emily is looking forward to spending an entire weekend with her busy boyfriend Paolo, even though they will go sailing and sleep on a boat while she cannot swim. But Paolo will take care of her. The trip starts lightly, but she is quickly feeling sick and just after a bit of wine, she falls into a very deep sleep. When she wakes up the next morning, Paolo is gone. He could hardly be fallen overboard, and even if so, he was a coast guard and is a strong swimmer. So: where is he? The police also cannot find any trace and the longer Paolo is absent, the surer Emily gets that he has been murdered. Especially when she is contacted by one of his former colleagues who tells her about strange doings in their lab. But the investigators simply won’t believe her, understandably since in their eyes, she is acting very strangely and with a bipolar disorder, they doubt her sanity. Yet, the question remains: what happened to Paolo?

The fact that the author himself is a psychologist with practical experience can easily be seen in the novel. “And then you were gone” is playing on all facets of the human mind: Emily’s bipolar disorder and the different states she gets in when she forgets to take her pills, but also on question about what you remember and how you remember, different ways of judging a situation depending on with which eyes you look at it. This certainly keeps you alert as a reader and you never really trust any of the characters since you never know what they are up to.

Apart from the psychological aspect, it is also a very classical crime novel in which the capital vices motivate the characters’ actions. Pride and greed drive them to cross borders that are never meant to cross and that make them forget all ethics for fame and reputation. The case is actually not too complicated which makes perfectly sense since the stress is clearly on Emily and her deteriorating mind. There are many different clues to follow and since you only get the story from Emily’s perspective it is quite obvious that she is also missing some. A thriller which did not absolutely make me get goose bumps but that I enjoyed a lot.

Peter Swanson – Before She Knew Him

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Peter Swanson – Before She Knew Him

Hen and Lloyd have left busy Boston for a quieter place to live and where Hen can do her art work in a real artist’s workshop. Their neighbours Matthew and Mira seem to be nice, but the dinner Hen and Lloyd are invited to takes a strange turn when Hen during the tour of the house sees something she shouldn’t see. She does not want to believe her eyes, but it has been there and there is just one simple explanation to it: her neighbour Matthew is a killer. But who would believe her, the woman with a history of false accusations and a diagnose of bipolar disorder? Well, Matthew believes her and confirms her suspicion – sure that she cannot threaten him in her position…

Peter Swanson’s novel is a thrilling read that does not play to the normal rules of the genre. We quickly figure out that Matthew is a serial killer, since we get also his side of the story, it doesn’t take too long to sort this out. But then just a third of novel is over, so what is there more to come? A lot and very unexpected turns.

Even though the focus of the story is shifted again and again, each part of the novel has its own thrills. In the beginning, it is the fight between Matthew and Hen, who is stronger, who will win? This is the part I liked most since here the thrill is at its peak. This doesn’t mean that the rest is lacking suspense, it doesn’t at all. Swanson really could surprise me and I was wondering constantly if this could be true: people living with the knowledge of murders but keeping silent.

All in all, a psychological thriller full of suspense and surprising developments.

Lindsay Stern – The Study of Animal Languages

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Lindsay Stern – The Study of Animal Languages

Ivan and Prue both live for their careers, Ivan in philosophy and Prue as an ornithologist. For some time already, things have not run very smoothly between them, yet, it is not very clear why this is so. Maybe the fact that Prue is a lot more successful than Ivan and close to getting a tenure, or it is the arrival of one of Prue’s favourite authors who joins their circle of friends. When Prue is to give a public lecture which might finalise her post at the college, her father Frank joins them against his daughter’s wish. Frank has been struggling with his bipolar disorder and Prue fears the worst. Just a couple of days and nothing is like it was before anymore in their life.

Lindsay Stern’s debut novel leaves me a bit pondering. On the one hand, she addresses so many important topics that are worth mentioning and thinking about, on the other hand, when I finished it, I had to ask myself: and now? So what? It is a snap-shot of her characters’ life without a clear aim, I just didn’t get her intention for narrating this story.

As said before, there are interesting aspects such as the father’s way of coping with his mental issues, but also what the bipolar disorder does to him. I always find it worth writing and reading about these kinds of issues simply to raise awareness, but also to foster understanding and knowledge and I think literature can be a big help here. I also appreciated the way Stern shows the slight imbalances in the relationship between Ivan and Prue. They are professionals in different fields and certainly should not compete with each other, nevertheless, this is one of their main issues: how can a husband cope with a wife being more successful? In general, Ivan’s behaviour is worth taking a closer look at: he only starts to pay real attention to Prue when he becomes aware of other men’s attraction to her. The war they start is nasty, but I guess this is quite authentic in their situation.

There is a whole lot of theory about languages and especially bird communication. Even though I am a linguist, this did not really grab my attention since I already found the idea behind so strange that I didn’t want to go any deeper in this weird theory. Her style of writing though is quite promising and I surely would try another novel of the author.