Psalm for Lost Girls (YA)

 

By Katie Bayerl

Psalm

This is a complicated story told by the sister left behind after a sudden, natural death. To complicate things, Callie’s sister might have been an honest to goodness saint. The people of the small community of New Avon seem pretty convinced she was and so does Callie’s Mom. But Callie knew Tess, and Tess was no saint. While there is a growing movement to have Tess canonized, Callie and her Mom are trying to cope with the grief of losing Tess in their very different ways. Callie can’t get behind the sainthood thing and starts acting out putting herself at risk.

The story begins after Tess’s death with her diary entries showing how she feels about the visions and signs she sees. Some days she feels connected to the mystery and other days, she doubts and fears for her sanity. When the voices give information that is proven to be correct, Tess takes heart but some parts of what she hears make no sense. This part of the book is particularly well done and believable. As Tess’s fame in the community rises, a little girl goes missing but Tess herself dies before solving the crime. Enter Callie. When the little girl miraculously reappears near a shrine to Tess, Callie takes it upon herself to prove to the community that Tess has nothing to do with any of it. Her sister can’t be a saint!

This is a book that is getting solid five-star reviews and it is well-written. But. It is a book that stays firmly grounded in the material world allowing Callie to retain the memory of Tess as she knew her. By doing this, it strips away mystery and possibility. While the author did not have to confirm Tess’s mystical connection and make her a saint, it could have been hinted at in a number of ways. I’m arguing for the best of both worlds here where Callie’s firm belief in science stands alongside mystery. Instead mystery is gutted at the feet of science. The odd thing is that after reading the author’s notes at the end of the book, I’m wondering if the ending was edited to be more palatable for what’s perceived by a few to be today’s audience. It could have been a five-star book.

Mental Health in YA Literature

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No doubt that teens are under more pressure than previous generations. YALSA highlights some books which deal with coping skills for depression and anxiety. Click the link and take a look.

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Reality Scoop: Promoting Mental Wellness with YA Literature

MADE YOU UP by Francesca Zappia

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Alex is a paranoid schizophrenic in her senior year at a new school. No one at the school knows anything about her past or her struggles and that’s exactly the way she wants it. However, on her first day of school, she encounters a boy who looks like the same kid she hallucinated on the fateful day her disease became apparent. What follows are the typical high school experience of trying to fit in, finding your social group, and some dating. On one level, Alex is just like everyone else, but on another she’s entirely different. There are two mysteries which underlie and propel the storyline. Both are a bit contrived. But here, the larger story is really about a teen who struggles daily with getting and holding a grip on reality. Zappia has portrayed schizophrenia in a (mostly) accurate and sympathetic way. The book goes a long way in dispelling our collective fear of this disease and promoting compassion. We feel for Alex coping in a harsh world ignorant of what the illness is all about.

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Which brings me to another book I’m going to recommend. Before I read, Made You Up, I did some research so that I could see if what was being presented in some of the new teen books on mental health were accurate. That book was Surviving Schizophrenia: A Family Manual by E. Fuller Torrey, MD. The first edition of this book was released in 1983. Now in its sixth edition, it offers information on the causes, symptoms, and treatment of this disease. At its core, it asks what is it like to live with this illness. It shatters common conceptions and outlines the latest science has on what schizophrenia is, what causes it, and how to deal with it. Notice the title says surviving. It is not a light, fluffy read but it is fascinating and illuminating. It comes at the disease in a helpful, compassionate way.

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Asylum (YA) by Madeleine Roux

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No doubt about it, the cover is creepy. This was one of those books with a promising premise. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the wildly successful Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in its use of odd, black and white photos. But where that book was creative and different, this one fails to deliver. Don’t get me wrong- it’s not awful, it’s just not exceptional.

Sixteen year old, Dan spends part of the summer at a college prep program. His dorm is a former psychiatric facility. When things start to happen, the reader wonders if the school is haunted, Dan is going mad, or whether something else is going on. That part of the book works. Several murders and attacks ensue along with Dan becoming a possible suspect, but when a few too many co-incidents occur, the action starts to feel campy. In the end, the storyline is partially resolved but big questions remain (I guess this is so the author gets to produce a sequel. Anyone else tired of that ploy?). The initial idea, Dan’s history, and the location should have produced a better book.