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.
A Bitter Pill to SwallowFeatured
I really loved the freshness of the subject matter. I loved that this novel focused on an important topic (treatment of young adult mental health). This sadly seems to be an underrepresented topic in YA. Although I have read some YA novels where mental health is part of the storyline, treatment was not the central dialogue .
This story did have a small romantic subplot but it was a minor one and didn't distract from the central theme.
I also love that this novel took place in the nineties. It helped to show how quickly the treatment of teenagers with mental health issues has advanced in the last twenty years. The author mentions that she did not use any psychiatry resources that post dated the era of the novel.
I also loved that three of the four main characters were African-American. The diversity of the characters definitely added to the depth of the story and made it more true to life.
I did also enjoy the prose. I think Choler's writing is very smooth and easy to read.
I did connect with the characters and I think that each had their own unique voice. They were all flawed in different ways. This made them more human and relatable.
What Left Me Wanting More
I do think that the switching of POV without any breaks or sub titles made the writing seem a little jumbled. I didn't get confused about whose POV was being represented but I do think it did make the writing a little choppy and a little harder to read. I also think that the storyline was a bit slow. I did take me quite awhile to finish but I did love the plot and the characters.
My Final Verdict
I really liked this novel. The writing was good and the story was well done. Although the story did lag a bit, I think the subject is important one.The characters were relatable enough to make it a good read. I would definitely recommend this book for teenagers. This is an important resource for anyone who is struggling with depression, loss, self-image or any other mental health issues.