Author: Felicia Johnson
Pub Date: May 22, 2013
In many ways, Kristen Elliott is a normal, seventeen-year-old girl. Kristen loves her family. She works hard academically, and tries to please her mother. She takes on the additional responsibility of caring for her twin siblings, Nick and Alison. She idealizes her best friend, Lexus, who not only seems to lead the perfect life, but also catches the attention of John, the boy Kristen secretly loves. However, as is the case with many teenagers, Kristen feels frustrated, isolated, and confused. In other ways, Kristen is not like other kids her age. She knows something is wrong with her. Kristen feels like an utter failure. She is unable to please her abrasive mother, and scared to confront Jack, her abusive stepfather. She is also unable to protect Nick from Jack, making her fell all the more helpless. Adding to her problems, she knows she will never be as beautiful as her best friend Lexus. Kristen finds solace in self-injury, and the company of Mr. Sharp, her imaginary friend who encourages her feelings of self-loathing.
After a failed suicide attempt, Kristen is placed in the Bent Creek mental hospital, where she is diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. While in the hospital, she meets a group of peers suffering with their own mental illnesses, and a compassionate staff of doctors and counselors. From there, Kristen begins her journey to survival. She discovers the circumstances that brought her to this breaking point, struggles to understand her mental illness, and fights to be a survivor against her own worst enemy: her self-blame. Kristen’s tale of endurance illustrates the complex illness of Borderline Personality Disorder. Readers – including those suffering from BPD and their friends and family – can glean insight into the illness from Kristen’s humanity. Her story is an example of how, if we try to push the past away, we are either doomed to repeat it or let it haunt us to our graves
Felicia Johnson is a writer, youth mentor, student and big sister. She loves ice cream and seeing her little sister, Laura, smile.
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My father would probably have killed my mother. Theresa probably would have still killed herself, and I probably would have done it, too.” “Were you scared?” “At first I was. When I first got here, I thought I was being punished. Now I see what being a survivor really is. It’s not giving up. It’s not running away. It’s getting through whatever it is you have to get through to make it. It is allowing you to grow stronger for whatever is coming next. It is being brave and choosing to live through it all so that you can share your story and help others. That’s what a survivor does. I don’t want to run away anymore. I just want to live and make things better. My mom wants to do the same. I tell you, Kristen, Bent Creek may seem like the worst place to be right now, but you’ll see. It’s not.” He looked straight into my eyes and said, “I’ve watched you.” My heart started beating fast. He grabbed my hand gently and looked down at my bandaged wrists. His fingers traced the fresh tape that Ms.Mosley had used for the bandages when she’d changed them this morning. I closed my eyes and let myself feel this moment between us.“You seem so sad and regretful. You can’t just let it out, can you?” I shook my head. My eyes were still closed. I felt tears begin to well up in them. There were no words to describe that moment. His words and the feelings inside of me were just too much. The tears poured out from underneath my eyelids. He squeezed my hands. I jolted, not afraid, just feeling too much.“Open your eyes,” he said. I did open my eyes, and his large, beautiful eyes stared into mine. “You know how the old people in here always have something to say to us? And when they talk, they think they know everything. You know?” He chuckled a little. Then his smile disappeared. “There are things I keep hearing over and over that I do believe, though. They sound old– fashioned, and they are definitely cliché. But remember this, Kristen,” he told me with his seriously passionate stare. “This too shall pass, and what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” He paused. “If you let it. Keep your head up and your eyes open. That’s how you will survive. If what you go through doesn’t kill you, let it make you stronger.”
I don’t think I’ve ever rooted more for a main character like I have for Kristen Elliot. Her is an honest, compelling and emotional roller coaster from beginning to end. From the start, we are thrust into Kristen’s mind and her fragile emotional state. I wasn’t sure about reading a book that began with a suicide attempt but Johnson held my interest, dropping pieces of the puzzle that is Kristen’s past – her memories prompted by little things that happen at Bent Creek, the mental hospital. The memories fall in bit by bit and just as it goes with completing a puzzle, the whole picture becomes clearer as Kristen slips back into memories of her past.
While we are only able to see things from Kristen’s perspective, Johnson’s narrative doesn’t feel one-sided. It feels complete, multidimensional even. We’re able to see things through her eyes and understand the causes or reasons for her hopelessness, the help she’s receiving and the love she’s sorely lacked from her mother and the monster.
There’s a character in the book, known as Mr. Sharp. He’s not what you’d call an ordinary character. Kristen refers to him as an “evil entity.” And I must say, I was a bit uncomfortable with his “presence” in the beginning but I think that was the point to not only understanding Kristen’s illness but to understand the difficulty and stigma around mental health treatment.
There isn’t a part of this book that I didn’t enjoy. Enjoy might be the wrong word – I was moved. There was no filler, no lag in the story. It’s a book you devour in one sitting and might need a box of Kleenex during or afterwards.
I can’t recommend this book enough to everyone and anyone.