Monday, November 21, 2016

Review: A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom

In the vein of It's Kind of a Funny Story and All the Bright Places, comes a captivating, immersive exploration of life with mental illness.

For sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to keep everyone at arm's length. And when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to come out and upend her shaky equilibrium.

As the walls of Mel's compartmentalized world crumble, she fears the worst--that her friends will abandon her if they learn the truth about what she's been hiding. Can Mel bring herself to risk everything to find out?

In A Tragic Kind of Wonderful, Eric Lindstrom, author of the critically acclaimed Not If I See You First, examines the fear that keeps us from exposing our true selves, and the courage it takes to be loved for who we really are.

Rating: 2 Stars

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Reading books about mental illness is so important because there is still a lot of misinformation out there about what mental illness is, especially in regards to certain conditions such a bipolar disorder. There are stereotypes that seem to have stuck and I appreciate a good try at getting rid of them because as someone who has to deal with it themselves, it's good to have representation on the page.

That is not the reason that I rated this book so lowly. The representation of the various "types" of bipolar disorder was good. I think the author showed that it isn't a singular diagnosis that makes everyone the same. There were three characters in this book that were diagnosed as being bipolar: Mel, her aunt HJ, and her brother Nolan. As the narrative is mostly focused on Mel we hear the most about her experience, a bit more from HJ's corner, but unfortunately not much about Nolan due to circumstances the took place before the book started.

The problem that I had was that the story itself felt flat. There were a lot of plot points that tried to take over the main story of Mel, but none that really had emotion attached to them. Even the story line with the friend from the past that is alluded to in the summary didn't have the tension or shock that I would expect from something like that. The first 50% actually went alright, but the pacing really started losing steam in the second half from the aforementioned extraneous plot points. I think the book was trying to be too many things at once and suffered for it.

The romance felt forced and the actions that came from Mel and David "getting together" felt fake because their relationship didn't ring true. Mel's friends Holly and Declan were posited as being more important than they turned out being. They were flat set dressing for her. I think Mel's best friends came from the Silver Sands Retirement Home and those characters I loved. I wish we could have heard more from them, especially Mrs. Li (David's grandmother). It felt like there could have been more there, especially since Mel's recently deceased grandmother lived there before her death.

All in all, it was a good effort, but A Tragic Kind of Wonderful felt like a cardboard setup for a play with characters on sticks dancing back and forth. You might get the story, but there's not going to be a lot of emotion conveyed behind those painted on eyes.

I wouldn't recommend this if you've never read an Eric Lindstrom novel before; you'd be much better off reading his book Not If I See You First.

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