Moving on

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Working with learning disabled students is like solving a variety of intricate jigsaw puzzles on a daily basis.   Thankfully I'm part of a team-teaching group, but honestly, some days our collective wisdom is insufficient towards solving the puzzles that embody particular students.  So I have great appreciation for the parents who get past the almost unavoidable denial and who launch a relentless quest for the pieces of the puzzle that will unlock a bright future for their child.

Parents on this journey need all the support they can find, and one of the most inspiring and supportive books I have read is Laughing Allegra, by Anne Ford, Henry Ford's great-granddaughter.  The book opens with Allegra's final competition in the U.S. Figure Skating Association's Adult Nationals at the age of 30.  In a nail biting moment, Anne Ford asks, "How can she do this?  How can she stand the pressure?" You find yourself asking the same questions as the author recounts the delays and irregularities in Allegra's development from infancy through young adulthood.  Anne Ford is forthright in describing friends and family who tried unsuccessfully to share early observations and concerns, countless schools that offered suggestions but not admission, the struggle to find appropriate friends, the search for the right doctors, the difficulty being in such a high-achieving, high-profile family.

The message in this book is clear.  No amount of money or status can buy a child's way out of the entanglements of learning disabilities.  But the determination and commitment of parents to become their  child's advocate and cheerleader will reap incomparable results.

In addition to the from-the-heart account of Anne Ford's heartaches and pain as a parent of a learning disabled child, she has offered valuable appendices with lists and resources on topics such as "Mothers and Fathers Understanding Each Other" and "Your Legal Rights."  Through her personal experience and years of chairing the National Center for Learning Disabilities she offers wisdom on everything from helping your child gain financial independence to preparing the way when you are gone.  This is an inspiring read for all parents, regardless of whether or not they have a child with learning disabilities.

Monday, January 17, 2011


Recent news of the tragic shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the reports swirling around the alleged shooter, Jared Loughner, brings mental health to the forefront once again.  So far, the facts seem to indicate that Loughner was suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness.  A disturbing video he posted on Youtube was enough to get him suspended from Pima Community College, with the stipulation that he not be readmitted without a mental evaluation proving that he does not pose a danger to himself or others.

We all want the best mental health, as well as physical well-being, for our sons and daughters when we send them off to college.  But sometimes they depart with weighty baggage, either known or unknown, over which we, as parents, have little or no control.  For example, some students that sailed off to college this past semester may have knowingly departed with a firm diagnosis of bipolar disease.  Hopefully they have checked in with the campus health center and availed themselves of all possible educational, medical,  and psychological services.

Chances are there were others, perhaps similar in some way to Loughner, who departed with a list of symptoms that have, if anything, increased in intensity or have not been shared with parents or dealt with in any organized manner. I recently came across an excellent resource for students who might be dealing with bipolar disease, or with symptoms they fear might be pointing in that direction  The book, Facing Bipolar by Russ Federman and Andy Thomson offers:
  • a concise description of the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder
  • a discussion of the essential combined role of psychotherapy and medication.
  • an overview of the multiple complexities of living with bipolar disorder during late adolescence and young adulthood.
Along with the helpful advice on this youtube presentation Drs. Federman and Thomson stress that "it's important you know that a healthy and balanced life with bipolar disorder is possible." While all forms of mental illness may not be so easily managed, early diagnosis and treatment of any mental illness will lead to a better quality of life and perhaps prevent tragedies in the future.  

Saturday, January 8, 2011


My book, Crazy, about a teen girl's obsession that she will end up like her bipolar mother, is currently being shopped around by my agent, Julia Kenny of MarksonThoma Literary Agency. While I sit by and wait ever so patiently (smile) for good news, I thought it worthwhile to compile a list of other YA books out there that deal with mental issues that challenge young protagonists either directly, or indirectly (sister, brother, parent, friend, etc.)

Many of these books are widely read by teens.  As a writer I am both concerned and curious about what motivates teens to read accounts of protagonists who sometimes face such challenging, dismal, or frightening circumstances.  Do teens subconsciously want the problems these often troubled characters have, or are they identifying with the protagonist in a quest for self-help?  Are authors who delve into these issues seeking to assist young readers, or creating unhealthy or troubled characters because they sell well, without any regard for the possible negative ramifications?

If you have read any of these books, whether you are a teen or an adult who enjoys YA literature (nothing wrong with that!) I would welcome your thoughts. Why do you gravitate towards such issues/books/protagonists? I realize there is a wide range of circumstances here from disorders such as autism to drug use to psychosis and many in between.  Perhaps they all have the common thread that could be labeled "disturbing."  What do we hope to gain by either writing or reading disturbing books?


After the Wreck, I Picked Myself Up, Spread My Wings, and Flew Away by Joyce Carol Oates.  A teenage girl, tormented by her mother's death in a car accident that spared her, nearly dies from abuse of Oxycontin before she can face her fears and grief.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon.
Told in the voice of a teenage boy with autism who applies his literal-minded observations in trying to disprove a neighbor who falsely accuses him of killing his dog. 

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.  Right before entering ninth grade a girl is raped at a huge party and then calls the police.  When her “friends” ostracize her she becomes depressed and literally stops talking until a second encounter with the “Beast” brings justice to light. 

Winter Girls by Laurie Halse Anderson.  Two teenage girls suffer from eating disorders.  One survives and one doesn’t. 

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.  Before she commits suicide, Hannah Baker records a tape that circulates to classmates after her death, painfully chronicling the reasons why she ended her life and how each of the recipients affected her decision. 

Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs.  Autobiographical account of Burroughs’ life with his mentally ill mother, alcoholic father, and the psychiatrist he ends up living with. 

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine.  A girl with Asperger’s works with a school counselor to find “empathy” and “closure” by finishing the Eagle Scout project her beloved brother left behind when he was shot to death. 

I am the Cheese by Robert Cormier.  A young boy’s discovery that he and his family have been given entirely new identities through a witness protection program intertwines with the actual death of both parents.  The boy ends up in a psychiatric hospital trying to regain his memory of the tragedies that have swallowed his life.   

Stop Pretending:  What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy by Sonya Jones.  In a sequence of short, intense poems based on the author's own experiences, a 13-year-old girl suffers through her shifting feelings about her sibling's mental illness.

Crank, and Glass by Ellen Hopkins.  A novels written in verse and told in the voice of Kristen, Hopkins’ daughter, as she battled a transforming addiction to crystal meth, even after giving birth to her first child. 

Impulse by Ellen Hopkins.   The stories of three teens who end up at the same psychiatric hospital after attempted suicides. 

Identical by Ellen Hopkins.  16 year old identical twins react in different ways to a dysfunctional family that includes two highly successful and professional parents whose secrets include alcoholism and sexual abuse. 

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini.  A 15-year old boy becomes depressed at a high-pressure school and checks himself into a psychiatric hospital where he returns to better health along with a new passion for art. 

Checkers by John Marsden.  A nameless adolescent girl is committed to a mental hospital following a nervous breakdown. 

Cut by Patricia McCormick.  A compelling and compassionate look at a young woman's struggle to overcome the impulses that lead her to inflict harm on herself. 

Damage by A. M. Jenkins.  A realistic portrait of a young man’s descent into the world of depression and suicide. 

Lisa, Bright and Dark by John Neufield.  A somewhat dated (1969) but still relevant account of a sixteen-year old girl’s descent into mental illness, and how her friends tried to help her when her parents missed the warning signs. 

Memories of Summer by Ruth White.  The story of how a teenage girl’s descent into schizophrenia traumatized her family, especially her younger sister. 

Tenderness by Robert Cormier.  The story of a psychopathic teen killer’s involvement with a promiscuous, vulnerable teenage girl. 

Tribute to Another Dead Rock Star by Randy Powell.  Not about mental illness per se, but the protagonist’s mentally challenged brother is a key character and part of the conflict. 

So Much to Tell You by John Marsden.  Based on a true story of a teenage girl who is the unintended victim of a vial of acid thrown by her own father.  She learns how to deal with post-traumatic stress through journaling. 

When She Was Good by Norma Fox Mazer.  After years of abuse from her mentally ill older sister, a girl gingerly takes her first steps toward liberation when her tormentor dies.

Border Crossing by Jessica Anderson. A 15-year-old boy tries to cope with a dysfunctional relationship with his alcoholic mother as he slips into schizophrenia.

Right Behind You by Gail Giles. A nine-year-old boy lights his seven-year-old neighbor on fire and the book deals with the aftermath.    

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott.  The account of a 15-year-old girl who has been abducted by a sexual predator who killed his last abductee when she turned 15.