Read this if you’re in the mood for: realistic contemporary YA, issues, character-driven, supporting characters, stand-alone, character development, diversity
Summary: Vicky Cruz shouldn’t be alive.
That’s what she thinks, anyway—and why she tried to kill herself. But then she arrives at Lakeview Hospital, where she meets Mona, the live wire; Gabriel, the saint; E.M., always angry; and Dr. Desai, a quiet force. With stories and honesty, kindness and hard work, they push her to reconsider her life before Lakeview, and offer her an acceptance she’s never had.
Yet Vicky’s newfound peace is as fragile as the roses that grow around the hospital. And when a crisis forces the group to split up—sending her back to the life that drove her to suicide—Vicky must find her own courage and strength. She may not have any. She doesn’t know.
Inspired in part by the author’s own experience with depression, The Memory of Light is the rare young adult novel that focuses not on the events leading up to a suicide attempt, but the recovery from one—about living when life doesn’t seem worth it, and how we go on anyway.
Read this if you like:
THICKER THAN WATER by Kelly Fiore (links to my recommendation)
In both books, the main character deals with a toxic family relationship, but no one in the family is painted as a villain. Also, both books were inspired by the author's real-life experience, so it lends a degree of nuance and authenticity to the story.
THE GIRLS OF NO RETURN by Erin Saldin (links to my recommendation on previous blog)
With a group therapy environment, secrets, guilt, toxic relationships, and a need to address a past tragedy, TGoNR has many similarities to THICKER THAN WATER.
Vicky's story provides a straightforward, honest, unpretentious look at the realities of living with clinical depression. She attempted suicide and survived only because she was found in time, and the book covers the "after" -- her treatment and her developing understanding of previously undiagnosed depression and how it shades every aspect of her life.
Vicky's difficult relationships with her father, stepmother, and older sister are particularly heartbreaking. Her father is an especially toxic presence in her life (some of the things he said to her under the guise of "helping" her just made my heart break), but I appreciated that Stork didn't paint him as a villain -- but he also didn't excuse his behavior. Part of Vicky's journey is learning how not to let her father's behavior drown her in darkness.
The ultimate strength of this book lies in the nuanced portrayal of Vicky and the other members of the teen support group at Lakeview. It goes far in de-stigmatizing mental illness, from depression to bipolar disorder to schizophrenia. The group members' growing trust in and support of one another was a wonderful thing to witness as a reader.
The book touches on issues of culture, economic class, philosophy, and religion with equal sensitivity, bringing diversity and life to Vicky's world. It's the kind of book that makes you want to highlight certain lines because they are so elegant and meaningful in their simplicity, but it also has a sense of humor, which is no small feat.
The Caveat: Though I admittedly don't have a thorough knowledge of the rules and regulations of treatment, a few times I was distracted by treatment details that felt somewhat far-fetched -- specifically, unsupervised and very lightly supervised travel outside the facility. But overall, it worked for Vicky's story and didn't cause me more than a moment's pause.
You should read this because: THE MEMORY OF LIGHT offers a nuanced and honest portrayal of living with mental illness.
Recommendation by: Donna