Book Review: Between the Bliss and Me by Lizzy Mason
Acclaimed author Lizzy Mason delivers a moving contemporary YA novel about mental illness, young romance, and the impact of family history on one teen’s future, perfect for fans of Jandy Nelson, Robin Benway, and Kathleen Glasgow.
When eighteen-year-old Sydney Holman announces that she has decided to attend NYU, her overprotective mom is devastated. Her decision means she will be living in the Big City instead of commuting to nearby Rutgers like her mom had hoped. It also means she’ll be close to off-limits but dreamy Grayson—a guitar prodigy who is going to Juilliard in the fall and very much isn’t single.
But while she dreams of her new life, Sydney discovers a world-changing truth about her father. She knew he left when she was little due to a drug addiction. But no one told her he had schizophrenia or that he was currently living on the streets of New York City.
She seizes the opportunity to get to know him, to understand who he is and learn what may lie in store for her if she, too, is diagnosed.
Even as she continues to fall for Grayson, Sydney is faced with a difficult decision: Stay close to home so her mom can watch over her, or follow her dreams despite the risks?
While certainly not an easy read, this is an important one because of how it looks at the mental health and justice systems. When Sydney learns that her long-absent father has schizophrenia and has been living on the streets for most of her life, she’s devastated. Not only is she heartbroken for her father, but she doesn’t understand how something so big was kept from her. Her mother says that when Sydney was younger, she didn’t know how to address it, and as she got older, she didn’t want to burden Sydney, already prone to lots of anxiety, with this information. Of course, since many mental health issues are hereditary, it’s important that Sydney know the truth. She spends a lot of time googling and basically finds all of the worst case scenarios for people with schizophrenia. And, unsurprisingly, when she learns that there’s a roughly 10% chance that she may inherit this illness, she becomes consumed with worry, looking for signs and symptoms all the time.
Sydney is still trying to live her life and figure out what her impending move to college will bring while trying to grapple with this new information about her dad, her family, and her own health. She’s hanging out with her gay BFF Elliot, sometimes singing in his band, going around and around with her mother about choosing to take her grandparents’ money and go to NYU instead of staying closer to home, and falling for a cute musician. But the news of her dad has rocked her world. She needs to understand his past, what her grandparents and mother did to help him, and what it means now that she knows all this. She learns about his stints in rehab and halfway houses, his refusal to take his medications, his many arrests, and the ways his generally untreated schizophrenia manifests. She and Elliot go to NYC to try to find him and learn while there that he’s in a hospital with liver failure.
It’s all a lot for Sydney to process and she can’t help feeling like everyone failed her dad. Understandably, she is also so, so worried about her future and what that would mean for all of her relationships. Thankfully, Sydney’s family gets her into therapy and puts her on a path to getting help for her own anxiety and depression as well as now having someone who can help monitor her mental health knowing her family history. While her dad truly is living out kind of the worst of all scenarios for someone with untreated mental health issues, Sydney is able to see a different future for herself, no matter what may happen with her own health. The reveal of this big family secret opens up her relationships with her own family members and helps her see more clearly what she wants out of life.
This educational and emotional look at schizophrenia is compelling, complex, and well executed. While Sydney is rather obsessed with the darkest paths schizophrenia could lead a person down, she is repeatedly reassured that many people live quiet, relatively “regular” lives while also having schizophrenia. As readers learn the many ways her grandparents tried to help her father, they will grow to understand just how complicated it can be to try to get mental health help and support especially when someone is unwilling or unable to accept that help. A thought-provoking read.
Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 04/06/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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