Title: A bitter pill to swallow
Author: Tiffany Gholar
Genre: YA contemporary
Published: 01 January 2016
On the edge of the Chicago medical district, the Harrison School for Exceptional Youth looks like a castle in a snow globe. Janina has been there since she was ten years old, and now she’s fourteen. She feels so safe inside its walls that she’s afraid to leave.
Devante’s parents bring him there after a tragedy leaves him depressed and suicidal. Even though he’s in a different place, he can’t escape the memories that come flooding back when he least expects them.
Dr. Gail Thomas comes to work there after quitting her medical residency. Frustrated and on the verge of giving up on her dreams, she sees becoming a counselor as her last chance to put her skills to the test.
When he founded the school, Dr. Lutkin designed its unique environment to be a place that would change the students’ lives. He works hard as the keeper of other people’s secrets, though he never shares any of his own.
But everything changes late in the winter of 1994 when these four characters’ lives intersect in unexpected ways. None of them will ever be the same.
I received an e-copy of this book from the author in return for a review. This does not affect my review.
The book is written mainly in four POVs of Janina, Dr. Lutkin, Gail and Devante. Janina has been in the The Harrison School for about four years and Devante has just joined. The plot takes us through mental health problems and healing of all the students, Gail’s struggle to find a psychiatric place where she wants to work and Dr. Lutkin keeping the school how it is against others who want to change the way it works. The main highlight is given to Janina and Devante, and them liking each other.
What I liked:
- Concept of The Harrison School. It’s like a boarding school cum therapy for students. The kids who are in depression, have anxiety etc enroll in. The best part is that it’s not a mental institution like the usual ones around, where kids are sent. The school totally revolves around helping the kids heal and get them back out into life, while also not falling behind school when they’re in. The difference between rare institutions like this and the usual ones is also shown by describing a place called Haven House—where the patients are locked up and put on pills all the time. In Harrison, it’s okay to cry and taking pills is not looked down upon. You can be YOU here, with all your problems.
- All the mental health highlights. This book shows that its OKAY to not be mentally perfect and that you are heard. There is even a boy who wears gloves all the time because he’s afraid of germs due to an incident. Anxiety, depression, cutting—all of them are shown. And the right way to deal with it is also portrayed. Not by pushing them down or punishing them for it; but caring a little bit more.
- POC representation. Both Janina and Devante are African. The only time it’s mentioned as something different is when there’s a small part in the POV of someone else. He said that kids like them should be locked up and not roaming about in the school. Other than that, the skin colour was completely normal and there was absolutely no talking about it much. Unlike a few books where they keep mentioning it as if to show that there’s POC. (Am I making sense? Argh, I hope so.)
What I didn’t like:
JANINA. Only after about 90 pages could I properly get into the book but I simply couldn’t get past Janina and how in-over-her-head she is! The first time she saw him, she immediately took interest in him, and kept seeking him out. At a point, she said that she’s fallen so much in love with him and that was an over-reaction. She hardly knew Devante! All she thought about, most of the times, was him! Also, she showed signs of feeling better once Devante showed up?! Like, just being around him and thinking about him. I hate stories where characters lose all their problems after meeting their love interest. Does one start becoming better immediately after meeting someone?! Especially when there’s been no improvement in 4 years?
She also showed signs of bipolarity. Her moods changed so fast, I was getting a ht-and-cold feeling. She’s all cheerful, and suddenly she’s totally down. It would have been fine if she had bipolarity, but she didn’t. Those mood swings ain’t normal, I tell ya.
Little after halfway through, Janina became very attached to Devante. He was normal and fine, but she was totally in. Within a month! Classic case of one-sided obsession. At least Fr. Lutkin had his thoughts straight when he said “Before you can love anyone else, you have to learn to love yourself.”
Definitely a book to read when you want something about mental health and/or a diverse read.
Have you read this book? If so, what did you think? If you haven’t, would you like to? What do you think of the ideals and concept of the school here?