Book Review: Depression & Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim (2017)

Thursday, September 28th, 2017

misery loves company (or mine does, anyway)

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC through NetGalley.)

my grandmother says
heartache is
a hungry caterpillar
that must be fed
so it can grow
wings
& fly away
(“feed a fever, starve a cold”)

the girl gets carried away.
she is the sugar cube,
love is the cup of
darjeeling – she
dissolves,
faster
than
you
think
she
will.
(“magic trick 001”)

I’d never heard of Sabrina Benaim before spotting (and immediately downloading) a copy of her poetry book, Depression & Other Magic Tricks, on NetGalley. Later I learned that a live reading of her poem “Explaining My Depression to My Mother” went viral a few years back, with over five million views on YouTube, reportedly making Benaim “one of the most-viewed performance poets of all time.” And indeed, it is awesome and lovely and well, well worth the hype:

Though “Explaining My Depression to My Mother” is indeed one of the fifty-three poems found in Depression & Other Magic Tricks, you should definitely check out Benaim’s reading as well; her performance is brimming with frenetic, nervous energy that lends the poem an added sense of urgency. Anyone who has found themselves trying to explain the invisible, elusory monster that is depression to a non-believer will relate to lines like this:

mom says happy is a decision.

OR

mom says i am so good at making
something out of nothing,
and then flat out asks me if i am
afraid of dying.
no,
i am afraid of living.

After the sudden death of my husband earlier this year, I had to make my family understand just how bad my anxiety and depression had gotten in the years since I left home. Like, it was literally a matter of life and death. Survival. Luckily, everyone around me seems to understand what I mean when I say “depression” – thank pop culture or my younger sister, whose issues maybe paved the way for the revelation of mine – but “social anxiety” is a whole ‘nother mess. People hear “social anxiety” and think: Shyness. Introvert. Quiet. Loner. Misanthrope. What they don’t hear is “mental illness.” Drugs (maybe) and therapy (definitely) and professional help. “Explaining My Depression to My Mother” is heartbreaking and darkly funny and entirely too relatable, in more ways than I’d like.

Despite the collection’s title, not all of the poems explicitly focus on depression. Love, grief, parental estrangement, self-esteem, friendship – all make an appearance here, and why not? Life is a multi-faceted thing. Yet many, if not all, of the poems are tinged with an air of sadness, and why not? Depression sinks its poisonous tentacles into everything, it seems. It cannot be cornered or contained. It’s like that damned fog in Stephen King’s “The Mist.”

Aside from the obvious – birds of a feather, and all that jazz – I like Depression & Other Magic Tricks for two reasons: I actually “got” most of the poems, and it’s feminist AF. In this way, it rather reminds me of another book of poetry, Amanda Lovelace’s The Princess Saves Herself in this One. If you enjoyed one, most likely you’ll dig the other.

File Depression & Other Magic Tricks under “seven small ways in which i loved myself this week.”

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

Everything is The Worst. [PINNED POST]

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

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Book Review: The 100 Year Miracle: A Novel, Ashley Ream (2016)

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you…

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for suicide and child abuse.)

It did things to people, this miracle. Strange and not wholly wonderful things.

“Do you know what it’s like to be terrified of a shower?” Harry asked. Rachel did know. Unfamiliar showers sometimes had abrupt changes in temperature, which hurt her back terribly, but she did not say this to Harry, who had continued talking without her. […]

Most people, Rachel knew, didn’t want you to talk about your pain, not unless it was temporary like a twisted ankle or hitting your thumb with a hammer. If you did not hold up your end of the bargain and get better, things fell apart quickly. People would avoid you. It was easier to keep hidden, and she felt sorry for Harry because he could not hide.

Every hundred years, the Artemia lucis – tiny, eight millimeter long arthropods – come alive. They hatch from ancient eggs and spend the next six days mating, or trying to, before laying the next generation of eggs and dying. During the nighttime, they emit a neon green glow, turning the whole of Olloo’et Bay – their only known habitat – into a wondrous light show. The phenomenon is known as The 100 Year Miracle.

Yet, despite the colloquialism, few people are aware of the insects’ more miraculous properties. The (fictional) Olloo’et – southern Northwest Coast peoples who resided on (the fictional) Olloo’et Island until they were forcibly relocated in the 1920s – believed the (fictional) Artemia lucis sacred. During their infrequent periods of activity, the Olloo’et men partook in a ceremony: accompanied by a shaman and tribal leader, the men spent six days and nights drinking the bay’s water (complete with insects), which had hallucinogenic effects. The men reported having visions, slipped into trances, experienced great physical pleasure – and even claimed that the bugs cured their physical illnesses. Occasionally someone died; “usually by walking out into the water and never coming back.”

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

Monday, October 6th, 2014

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.

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Book Review: The Chance You Won’t Return, Annie Cardi (2014)

Saturday, October 4th, 2014

Interesting Concept, Unlikable Narrator

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: This review is of an ARC. Any mistakes are my own.)

It must have been like this for Mom – the longer you go without talking about something, the harder it is to start, until eventually you don’t know how to.

A junior at Oak Ridge High, Alex Winchester has tried to stay under the radar; until this year, it’s mostly worked. She’s failing driver’s ed., which is understandable given her phobia of driving – but since she’s too embarrassed to explain her fears to the adults in her life, they keep pushing her to get behind the wheel of a car. That is, until she drives the school’s Volvo right through the end zone, incurring the wrath of the football team and its newly rabid fans. As if this humiliation isn’t bad enough, her mom suffers a nervous breakdown during the meeting with her driving instructor Mr. Kane. The weird idiosyncrasies Alex has observed in her mother during the past few weeks fall into place: Janet Winchester is convinced that she’s Amelia Earhart.

A battery of tests and a brief stay in a psychiatric hospital are of little help; whatever Janet’s problem, it has no physical cause. And with insurance refusing to cover extended care, Alex and her family – father David, sister Katy, and brother Teddy – must care for Janet at home. Each member of the family deals with Janet’s illness in her own way: David is patient to a fault; Katy loses herself in her schoolwork; Teddy takes advantage of Mom/Earhart whenever possible; and Alex alternates between hostility, despair, and camaraderie. Before the illness, her relationship with her mom was rocky at best; now, she often stays up late at night, confiding in this new, not-quite-Mom. (Though the relationship isn’t as idyllic as the book’s synopsis would have you believe.)

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