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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Crazy to Come: New YA Novel Explores What It Means to Have Schizophrenia Lurking In Your Family Tree

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"You don't know anything, you moronic jerk, I feel like screaming. Because for all his supposed Aura collecting, he has no idea how much Mom truly terrifies me. He has no idea that when I look at her, I'm not staring at a person, but a mirror. I'm seeing me, exactly as I'll be in the future" (135).

Most little girls want to grow up to be just like their mothers. Maybe Aura did, too, back when her mother's manic episodes seemed bright and fun. At 15, she now recognizes the episodes for what they are - scary as hell. Aura used to be able to talk her mom down, but these days, she's so far gone that Aura hasn't the faintest idea how to deal. The only thing she knows for sure is that she never, ever wants to be like her mom.

A gifted artist, Grace Ambrose is the kind of woman who paints fanciful murals on the walls, makes masterpieces out of old pianos, and dangles dozens of carved mermaids from the kitchen ceiling. She's also the lady who smashes into mailboxes she swears are in the middle of the road, runs screaming from buildings she thinks are on fire, and drops lit matches on her bare toes while trying to "fix" trinkets that were never broken in the first place. She's talented, creative, and crazy as a loon.

Aura has promised never to institutionalize her mother, never to insist on medication. Everyone knows Aura's promises are "like locks with no key" (47), but things are getting too complicated too fast. With no one to count on but herself, Aura does everything she can to fix the problem - from hiding to lying to hovering to playing her mother's insane little games. She even sacrifices her own art - the one thing that brings her solace - to keep the insanity at bay. But the crazy just keeps coming. Can Aura save her mother on her own? Or will the darkness that's been passed down for generations in her family swallow Aura whole?

A Blue So Dark, Holly Schindler's debut novel (available May 28, 2010), explores what it means to have mental illness lurking in the thick leaves of your family tree. It shows the terror, the guilt, and the anguish experienced by not just the schizophrenic patient, but also by those who love her. Brutally honest and heartbreakingly real, this is a read that is as painful as it is enlightening. Aura Ambrose is so skillfully drawn you want to pluck her out of the pages and wrap her in your arms. Seriously, I was surprised to see a photograph of Holly Schindler - I fully expected the author to be about 15. That's how authentic her voice is. She writes in vivid, Technicolor prose that thrills over and over with its fresh, visual appeal.

If you prefer happy, bubbly stories, steer clear of A Blue So Dark. It's exactly what it promises to be - dark. It's also an intense, compelling story that will grab you from the very first word. An absolutely stunning debut, this book promises good things to come from an author I will be watching very, very closely.

(Readalikes: Dirty Little Secrets by C.J. Omololu; The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley; The Memory of Water by Karen White)

Grade: A-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language

To the FTC, with love: I received this book from the generous folks at Flux. Thank you!


  1. This looks great! Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. I just read "The Memory of Water" by Karen White (recommended by my book group.)

    It also deals with mental illness as a part of family inheritance and is told through the voices of a woman artist who is mentally ill, her ex-husband, her sister, and her son. She, too, hates the treatment because it stifles her creativity.

    The story also addresses the horror of a family mystery and the damage left behind. I found it fascinating.

    Great review as always!

  3. i had never heard of this before, but it sounds excellent. thank you for the wonderful review. i'm adding this to my wishlist now!

  4. I think this will be a book that I must read. The cover is beautiful, if a little scary looking. Thanks for such a good review of this, Susan!

  5. Julie & Lisa - It really is a compelling read. I definitely recommend it.

    Laurel - Thank you! When I was trying to think of readalikes, I kept remembering a book I'd read about art and mental illness, but I couldn't come up with the title. I'm pretty sure it was THE MEMORY OF WATER. I added it to the readalikes list.

    Kay - The cover is a little freaky. Because of it and the blurb on the back of the book, I really expected to find out that Aura's mother was crazy because she was a mermaid or something. Nope. This book's so realistic, it's scary.

  6. Hey, thanks for stopping by my blog. I really like yours and am now following it. I enjoyed reading this review and will definitely add it to my list of books to read. :)

  7. I really do want to read this, especially after reading your positive review. We have mental illness in the family, though not schizophrenia, thanks be to God.

  8. I can't seriously wait till I read this. It's my Spring highlight, for sure.

  9. I worked in Psychiatry for 15 years and it was fascinating. I think I'd like this book. Thanks for your thoughts on it :)


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