Mental by Sherry Ashworth

This is a Young Adult novel dealing with what might be considered adult themes.  Told from the perspective of three first person narratives: Luke (the voice hearer) Kate (the sister) and Jamie (love interest) it is delivered in an immediate yet easy, open style which will suit the YA reader. It draws the reader into the teen world and in doing so makes a hard subject matter quite accessible.

There is an interesting juxtaposition between Luke’s voices and Kate’s obsession with a desired ‘boyfriend’ which forces us to reconsider what is ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ behaviour (especially for teens)

Dealing with mental health issues with teens is a fine balancing act and one which Ashworth achieves with effortless and consummate skill.  The stigma of ‘loony’, the fear of the abnormal and the angst of all teenagers is sensitively explored through the balancing of the three first person narrators.

The immediacy of teen life, where the moment is everything and ‘context’ is a scary concept which threatens to challenge the emergence of the ‘normal’ identity and where time is an abstract  concept not to be thought about are all well depicted in the narrative.

All three characters are equally well developed which is extraordinary. Jamie could so easily have been nothing but a foil, yet he has as valuable a role to play – it reminds me of the line from About a Boy where the boy realises that two people aren’t enough in life – ‘you need backup.’  Each of the characters provides a ‘backup’ to the others at points in their joint journey.

Throughout the novel, realities change for all of our teens. Luke gains insight, Kate grows up and Jamie gains depth of emotional engagement.  The novel shows some unpleasant (yet familiar)  realities as well as some more unfamiliar (and perhaps scarier) ones but offers the characters (and readers) the chance to face up to and cope with  all that is thrown at them, in the process enabling the development of understanding and awareness that the ‘norm’ is not a reality.   It doesn’t shy away from the difficult stuff but it offers a way of dealing with many of the issues that young adults face about issues which are so difficult to talk about inter generationally.  I think this is a valuable book for the teen market, but also for adults, who it may give an insight into the nature and issues of young adults in our contemporary society.

Reviewed by Cally Phillips

Available in Kindle format

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