Book Review: The Half Life of Molly Pierce, Katrina Leno (2014)

October 6th, 2014 12:56 pm by Kelly Garbato

An Unexpectedly Heartfelt Look at Mental Illness

five out of five stars

(Trigger warning for depression and suicide. Also, this review is of an ARC. Any mistakes are mine and not the author’s or publisher’s.)

Seventeen-year-old Molly Pierce is blacking out. Losing time. Sometimes it’s just a few minutes; other times, hours or even most of a day passes before she comes to. One afternoon, the Massachusetts native was halfway to New York before she woke up behind the wheel of her car.

Though this has been going on for a year, Molly can’t tell anyone: Not her parents, who already walk on eggshells around her as it is; not her sister Hazel or brother Clancy; not her best friends Erie and Luka; not even her psychiatrist Alex. She’s too afraid of what might happen. She’ll be labeled “crazy,” shipped off to a “loony bin,” perhaps. Plus, talking about it? Giving voice to her problems? Makes them real. If she can just pretend to be normal, maybe she will be. Eventually.

Plagued by chronic, crippling depression, Molly created a second personality – an alter named Mabel – to help shield her from the worst of it. Calm, collected, and capable, Mabel is everything that Molly is not – or rather, everything that Molly doesn’t recognize she is. While Mabel is content to exist in Molly’s shadow, a near brush with death brings her to the fore. And after Molly witnesses the accidental death of Mabel’s best friend, Mabel decides that she can no longer keep her existence a secret.

The Half Life of Molly Pierce begins in an almost confessional/stream of consciousness manner that pulls you right in. As the story progresses, it has a weird sort of Groundhog Day vibe that’s actually quite suspenseful. Though you’ve got the gist of the plot going in – Molly has dissociative identity disorder, like a teenage Sybil (albeit it slightly lighter and less over-the-top) – there still exist enough twists to keep you guessing ’til the end. Speaking of which, it’s wonderfully bittersweet and melancholy. I didn’t expect this book to make me cry, but it did. It got me right in the feels.

Leno does a lovely job of encapsulating the lows and low-ers of depression. As someone who’s struggled with anxiety and depression my entire life (and I mean entire; some of my earliest childhood memories are of self-harm), it was almost painful how well I could relate to Molly. Which isn’t altogether surprising, considering that Leno has been there herself.

Take, for example, this early passage:

And it’s not like…

I don’t want to kill myself.

It’s just that sometimes it feels like the whole weight of the universe settles itself on my shoulders and I can’t see the reason for anything. I don’t want to die, really, but I don’t particularly want to live.

Sometimes I wish I could slip away while I sleep. Wake up someplace better. Someplace quieter.

For me, it’s more like I wish I’d never been born. Just…nothing. Eternal oblivion. Not the same, but close enough.

To return to Sybil (which is given a bit of a hat tip in an oddly humorous scene) for a moment, I was expecting a slightly younger version in The Half Life of Molly Pierce. What I got was much less sensationalist look at depression, with multiple personality disorder as a sort of window into Molly’s fractured psyche.

And oh yeah, there’s a love triangle too. Ostensibly it forms the backbone of the story, but I rarely felt like it was intrusive or overbearing. Even the term “love triangle” is a bit misleading, as only one apex thinks of it as such. I’m not usually big on romance, but the telling of Mabel’s relationship with Sayer in reverse proved strangely charming and unconventional.

And the ending? Bring Kleenex. At least a box. Probably this is more of a 4 to 4.5-star read, but the ending was so moving that I nudged it up a bit. Even though my bookshelves are crammed to overflowing, I think I’ll keep The Half Life of Molly Pierce on hand for multiple reads. I liked it that much.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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