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Series Review: The John Cleaver Series by Dan Wells

March 6, 2013 3 comments

Introduction:
I post series reviews after completing reading an entire series of books.  It gives me a chance to reflect on and analyze the series as a whole.  These series reviews are designed to also be useful for people who: A) have read the series too and would like to read other thoughts on it or discuss it with others OR B) have not read the series yet but would like a full idea of what the series is like, including possible spoilers, prior to reading it themselves or buying it for another.  Please be aware that series reviews necessarily contain some spoilers.

Notebook paper with blood on it.Summary:
Fifteen-year-old John Wayne Cleaver is not a serial killer.  At least not yet.  John’s therapist believes he has Antisocial Personality Disorder, commonly known as sociopathy, although he can’t legally deliver the official diagnosis until he’s 18 years old.  But both his therapist and himself hope John can learn to control his illness in the meantime.  An illness John refers to as Mr. Monster.  This becomes more difficult as a serial killer shows up in his town.  John starts to wonder if he can harness Mr. Monster to find and kill the killer.  A killer he soon learns is supernatural and ultimately faces.  The demons continue coming to his town, and John feels his grasp on control and an ability to function in average society slipping.  Are there really more and more demons coming to his town? Or is it just his sociopathy getting the better of him?

Review:
This trilogy starts with an incredible bang, but makes a slow trajectory downward to end on a whimper.

The first book is incredible.  It bashes ableism on its head by featuring a main character who is a teenager struggling with a mental illness, and not an easy one to identify with either.  People with APD lack empathy, which can make it difficult to empathize with them in return.  Wells carefully crafts a realistic yet sympathetic teenager with APD.  His struggles to defeat his mental illness and be a functioning member of society are great to see in a novel period, let alone in a YA one.  On top of this, we have a single mother running a business with the help of her just graduated high school daughter and part-time help of her teenage son.  It’s the perfect mix of non-traditional and yet not off the wall family to have as a backdrop for John.  We have all this, then, with a thriller plot that starts with the hint of a serial killer then deliciously builds to the revelation that the killer is a demon.  This fantasy element fits perfectly in with what is hot in YA right now, giving an interesting, unique main character an appealing wrapping.

Knife under an x.I was stoked after reading this and had high hopes for the trilogy.  The middle book maintains some of the elements that made the first book amazing but missed on others.  On the plus side, John is still who he was in the first book, although with more confidence.  He tries to date, and his family has their own struggles.  Although the thriller pacing is less deftly done, it still works in the context of this book, particularly since the middle book of a trilogy is traditionally setting things up for the last hurrah of the final book.  Plus this book manages to accomplish two things.  It has John learning more about himself and his mental illness and it shows him learning more about demons.  It ends on a powerful note with him inviting one of the demon’s friends to Clayton County to face off with him.  He’s tired of waiting for things to come to him and is ready to go on the offensive.  Thus, although this book wasn’t as strong as the first, I had high hopes that it was setting us up for a powerful final book in the trilogy.

Things really fall apart in the final book, which is what makes the trilogy taken as a whole disappointing.  Everything is building toward the final book.  Toward what John ultimately learns and what he ultimately becomes.  Unfortunately the answers to both of those questions are a major let-down after the unique and albeism-smashing features of the first two books.  In the climactic scene, John’s mother sacrifices herself to save her son.  When he loses her, he realizes that he is feeling feelings.  He’s feeling the pain of losing her.  When he realizes this, the lightbulb goes off in his head that he stopped feeling feelings when his father abandoned them.  It was just him trying to deal with his broken family.  I shit you not.  And then he decides he has been healed by his mother’s death.  His mother’s sacrifice opens him up to letting himself feel things again. What. The Fuck.

Burnt paper background to book title.First of all, going numb after being badly emotionally hurt is a real thing.  But it’s not a real thing that would be mistaken by a therapist as Antisocial Personality Disorder. And being numb doesn’t mean a person starts daydreaming about killing everyone around him and the girls he has crushes on in particular.  Numb is not the same as lacking empathy, and it honestly doesn’t even take a therapist to see that.  Numb looks and feels different from sociopathy.  They are not the same thing and simply could not be mistaken for each other.  If we decide that perhaps Wells didn’t mean to imply that John was simply numb and didn’t have sociopathy, then we can only read this as saying that John’s father abandoning the family *caused* his son’s sociopathy and that his mother’s sacrifice cured it.  I’m sorry, but your dad running off does not give people Antisocial Personality Disorder, and it certainly isn’t cured in the span of 10 minutes by someone sacrificing their life for yours.  (By the way, does anyone see the heavy-handed religious symbolism in that? Because it is definitely there).  The cause, as with many mental illnesses, is officially unknown but is believed to be a combination of genetics and severe environmental factors such as child abuse (source).  Since John is not abused, then we can only assume that in his case his APD is genetic.  It is utterly ridiculous to present the matter as his APD being caused by something as simple as a parent leaving.  Similarly, there is no cure for APD.  People do not get magically better overnight.  It can be managed so a person may have a healthy, normal life, but it does not just disappear.  The symptoms do sometimes become less severe on their own in a person’s 40s (according to the DSM-IV-TR), but John is not 40, and he doesn’t suddenly get better thanks to aging.  The whole climax of the series turns the series from being about a person with a mental illness learning to function and do positive things into a story about how a father abandoning his family destroyed them and almost ruined his son for life.  The former is unique and powerful.  The latter is heavy-handed and preachy.  Plus that whole dynamic belittles mental illness and makes it out to be just overcoming a bad part of your life, rather than the very real illness that people deal with every day.

So what we have here is a trilogy that starts as one thing and ends as another.  It starts as a thriller with a unique main character demonstrating dealing with mental illness in an engaging, realistic manner.  It ends with a thriller that quickly goes from spine-tingling to heavy-handed and preachy.  It is unfortunate that this preachiness also gets the facts about a mental illness wrong and presents these false ideas to a YA audience in such an attractive, fantastical thriller wrapping.  Ultimately the writing is good but the last book in the trilogy takes a nose-dive when it comes to facts and the realities of having and living with a mental illness.  Thankfully, one can read the first or first two books in the trilogy without reading it all.  There are not major cliffhangers that compel the reader to continue on, and the first two books stand on their own well enough.  I’m disappointed that the series as a whole is not something I can recommend whole-heartedly.  I’m disappointed that after starting out so strong, Wells went so far astray.  That doesn’t change the quality of the first two books, though, so I still recommend them. But only if you’re capable of leaving a series partly unread.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap, Audible

Books in Series:
I Am Not A Serial Killer, review, 5 stars
Mr. Monster , review, 4 stars
I Don’t Want to Kill You, review, 3 stars

Friday Fun! (Teaching, Fitness, Blog Tour)

July 13, 2012 2 comments

Hello my lovely readers!

I hope you all had great weeks. Mine has been incredibly busy but in a fun way.  The teaching sessions at work have been increasing since medical schools and medicine in general run on a calendar that starts in June (except for the first year students who start in August).  I was warned things would get busier, but I must admit it still has been a bit of a shock for me!  But I’m a person who enjoys being busy, so I’m loving it.

In fitness news, I had plateaued for a few months. I took a few tips from other fitness folks to increase intensity across the board.  Well, this week I decided to check my measurements (I don’t weigh myself), and in the last 1.5 months I’ve lost half an inch (1.27 centimeters) on my waist! Also an inch (2.54 centimeters) on my chest and hips, but the waist is the important factor!  You’re supposed 33 inches or under around the waist (for women) for cardiovascular health, and with the heart disease that is strongly prevalent in my family, that is one of the things I keep tabs on for my fitness. (source)  I’m so happy to be half an inch closer!  I now only have two inches to go.  🙂 Also this means that the changes I made in my fitness routines are working, so yay!

In other exciting news, today is the first day of the official Waiting For Daybreak blog tour!  I’ll be adding links to features as they come in, but I also will be mentioning the features in every Friday Fun post for the duration of the tour, since not everyone will be clicking through to the blog tour page.  Since today is the first day of the tour, there isn’t too much to talk about this week, but I do want to call attention to the reviews and interviews that have gone up that were not a part of the official tour.

The Chronicles of an Enamored Soul is running an international giveaway that ends July 17th, so you have plenty of time to enter!

Kelsey’s Cluttered Bookshelf says, “This book is recommended for Zombie fans, there are some sexual scenes and violence, but it’s not over the top which is good. This was a great first debut book for the author.” Be sure to click through to see her whole review.

Waiting For Daybreak was also reviewed on Beauty in Ruins, who said, “The writing is solid, the dialogue creatively engaging (even with Freida’s silent cat), and the novelty of the personality issue alone definitely makes this worth a read.”

Nicki J Markus says, “The pacing of this piece is well managed and the tension was maintained perfectly from start to finish.”

And Reflections appreciated Frieda, “Even though Frieda has a personality disorder and periods of extreme depression, the character was still somehow easy to relate to.”

Finally, in addition to a review best summed-up with the great phrase, “Wonderful book!” Love, Literature, Art, and Reason also interviewed me!  Be sure to check out the interview to find out everything from how I deal with writer’s block to why I decided to give Frieda Borderline Personality Disorder.

Phew! No wonder I’ve been feeling so busy…..Evidence-Based Medicine, fitness, and book tours. Oh my!

Happy weekends all!

Book Review: Abject Relations: Everyday Worlds of Anorexia by Megan Warin

Woman standing in waterSummary:
Warin, an anthropologist, takes an entirely new approach to anorexia, looking it from a purely cultural and anthropological perspective.  She spends a couple of years interviewing women with anorexia at various points in the life of the illness from early treatment to recovery to relapse.  In this way she analyzes not just the culture of women and men suffering from anorexia but also how anorexia is a response to the culture these people find themselves in.

Review:
This was my first read from the holdings of my new workplace.  The instant I saw the title and book cover, I knew I needed to read it.  The anthropology of anorexia? How fascinating!

It’s interesting that I feel I actually learned a bit more about anthropology than anorexia from this book, but perhaps that is because I am more familiar with the latter than the former.  From my work in psychiatry and as a mental illness advocate, I was already aware that people suffering from anorexia have their own culture.  I still highly valued seeing this presented in an academic fashion with a respect for the people involved.  I commend Warin for her ability to interact with these women and glean a sense of how they came to be who they are now with a respect for them as people that is all too rare to see in this type of work.

So what of the anthropology then?  What are abject relations?  Over the course of the book I learned that abject relations are ambiguous relations.

What is abject is in between, ambiguous, and composite. Abjection is thus contrary to dualist concepts because it undermines and threatens that which is separate. As such, abjection is fundamentally concerned with the complexities and contradictions of relatedness. (page 184)

Whereas most books about eating disorders attempt to say THIS definitively caused it, this book’s premise is that the etiology is entirely ambiguous.  What caused it, what makes it persist, what it is to suffer from anorexia.  Nothing about it is clear-cut.  That is the powerful statement of the book.  There are no easy answers to anorexia, but we can do much more to understand it both as its own culture and as an aspect of our own.

This focus on anorexia as a response to the mainstream culture and a formation of a new culture leads Warin to question a lot of the inpatient treatment techniques.   Warin sees anorexia as frequently about women attempting to assert a right to control over their own bodies that goes horribly awry, ripping the control out of society’s or tormentor’s hands, into their own, into ana’s hands, then into the hands of an authority figure again at treatment.  Warin sees value in helping people suffering from anorexia recover in the context of society.  Instead of feeding them alone in a single room have them cook and eat together in a group.  This reenforces the cultural and connecting aspect of eating that they have been denying for so long.

It is an interesting idea to look at anorexia as an abject cultural response, but I don’t think it’s one that is quite as unique or revolutionary as Warin seems to think.  Whereas there have always been those who think anorexia is the ultimate kowtowing to what society deems feminine, there have also been those who view it as women protecting themselves from being perceived as feminine, from having unwanted interactions with those who would objectify them.  Perhaps it is really both, which is what makes it so hard to treat.  I believe this is what Warin is trying to say, although she is often not as clear as she could be.  She gets caught up in academic jargon.  She is at her strongest when simply organizing her interactions with the women into themes and presenting them to the reader to do with what they will.

Overall, for an academic look at anorexia this is unique in that it is an anthropological study instead of a psychiatric one.  Looking at a group of people who are a group simply because they share the same illness and studying their anthropology is a truly fascinating concept.  The book is scientific, but it is social science and is thus easy enough for the mainstream reader to follow.  It provides the human aspect of anorexia without sensationalizing.  Anyone with an interest in eating disorders or anthropology will enjoy this book.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Work Library

Buy It

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Friday Fun! (Book Recs From My Job!)

Hello my lovely readers!

I had a wonderful vacation last weekend, thanks for the warm thoughts.  It was awesome seeing my dad and visiting the family in general.  Plus I got lots of sleep.  Also last week I got my stitches out (and by that I mean I took them out myself) and was finally able to resume most of my fitness routines this week!  I still can’t do girl pushups because it hurts to put that much pressure directly on my wound.  More reasons to work up to guy pushups, yes?

So last week our campus news magazine came out, and they went around asking doctors and professors from different departments for various book recommendations.  It was really fun to see from a group of people (scientists) that stereotypes say “don’t read for fun.”  So I thought I’d share the recs that made it to my own wishlist with you all today.  Descriptions all swiped from the book blurb, because I obviously haven’t read them yet!

  • The Social Transformation of American Medicine: The rise of a sovereign profession and the making of a vast industry by Paul Starr
    “Winner of the 1983 Pulitzer Prize and the Bancroft Prize in American History, this is a landmark history of how the entire American health care system of doctors, hospitals, health plans, and government programs has evolved over the last two centuries.”The definitive social history of the medical profession in America….A monumental achievement.”–H. Jack Geiger, M.D.”
  • Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health by H. Gilbert Welch, Lisa Schwartz, and Steve Woloshin
    “A complex web of factors has created the phenomenon of overdiagnosis: the popular media promotes fear of disease and perpetuates the myth that early, aggressive treatment is always best; in an attempt to avoid lawsuits, doctors have begun to leave no test undone, no abnormality overlooked; and profits are being made from screenings, medical procedures, and pharmaceuticals. Revealing the social, medical, and economic ramifications of a health-care system that overdiagnoses and overtreats patients, Dr. H. Gilbert Welch makes a reasoned call for change that would save us pain, worry, and money.”
  • Righteous Dopefiend (California Series in Public Anthropology) by Phillippe Bourgois and Jeffrey Schonberg
    “This powerful study immerses the reader in the world of homelessness and drug addiction in the contemporary United States. For over a decade Philippe Bourgois and Jeff Schonberg followed a social network of two dozen heroin injectors and crack smokers on the streets of San Francisco, accompanying them as they scrambled to generate income through burglary, panhandling, recycling, and day labor. Righteous Dopefiend interweaves stunning black-and-white photographs with vivid dialogue, detailed field notes, and critical theoretical analysis. Its gripping narrative develops a cast of characters around the themes of violence, race relations, sexuality, family trauma, embodied suffering, social inequality, and power relations. The result is a dispassionate chronicle of survival, loss, caring, and hope rooted in the addicts’ determination to hang on for one more day and one more “fix” through a “moral economy of sharing” that precariously balances mutual solidarity and interpersonal betrayal.”
  • How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman
    “How Doctors Think is a window into the mind of the physician and an insightful examination of the all-important relationship between doctors and their patients. In this myth-shattering work, Jerome Groopman explores the forces and thought processes behind the decisions doctors make. He pinpints why doctors succeed and why they err. Most important, Groopman shows when and how doctors can — with our help — avoid snap judgments, embrace uncertainty, communicate effectively, and deploy other skills that can profoundly impact our health.”
  • Your Genes, Your Health: A Critical Family Guide That Could Save Your Life by Aubrey Milunsky, MD, DSc
    “New advances in genetics have dramatically expanded our ability to avoid, prevent, diagnose, and treat a wide range of disorders. Now, more than ever, families need to know about these new discoveries, especially as there are some 7,000 rare genetic diseases that afflict about 1 in 12 of us. In Your Genes, Your Health, Aubrey Milunsky provides an invaluable and authoritative guide to what you should know about your genes. Illustrated with poignant family histories that underscore the lifesaving importance of knowing one’s family medical history and ethnic origin, the book highlights the importance of recognizing seemingly unrelated disorders in a family as due to the same gene mutation and it outlines the key genetic tests needed for diagnosis, detection of carriers, and prenatal diagnosis. Many genetic disorders are discussed including cancer, heart disease, autism, mental illness, birth defects, neurologic disorders, diabetes, obesity and much more. The message of this book is clear–know your family history, be cognizant of your ethnic origins, seek appropriate consultations, and opt for meaningful genetic tests. Recognition of your risk(s) enables prompt preemptive action. By knowing your genes, you may save your life and the lives of those you love.”
  • Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard
    “James A. Garfield was one of the most extraordinary men ever elected president. Born into abject poverty, he rose to become a wunderkind scholar, a Civil War hero, and a renowned and admired reformist congressman. Nominated for president against his will, he engaged in a fierce battle with the corrupt political establishment. But four months after his inauguration, a deranged office seeker tracked Garfield down and shot him in the back.
    But the shot didn’t kill Garfield. The drama of what hap­pened subsequently is a powerful story of a nation in tur­moil. The unhinged assassin’s half-delivered strike shattered the fragile national mood of a country so recently fractured by civil war, and left the wounded president as the object of a bitter behind-the-scenes struggle for power—over his administration, over the nation’s future, and, hauntingly, over his medical care. A team of physicians administered shockingly archaic treatments, to disastrous effect. As his con­dition worsened, Garfield received help: Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, worked around the clock to invent a new device capable of finding the bullet.
    Meticulously researched, epic in scope, and pulsating with an intimate human focus and high-velocity narrative drive, The Destiny of the Republic will stand alongside The Devil in the White City and The Professor and the Madman as a classic of narrative history.”

I hope some of these will make it to your wishlist as well!

Happy weekends!