As part of my 25 by 25 list I made it a goal to join a book club this year. Since my friends are not posh enough and I am pretty stretched for time as it is, I thought the best way to achieve this goal would be to join an online book club. From Left to Write is exactly that. Readers sign up for 1 of 2 monthly books and on book club day each reader shares a post relating the book they read to their own experiences. We are not reviewing the books but rather talking about how it relates to our own lives.
The book I chose this month was Mother Mother by Koren Zailckas. I was thrilled when this was an option as I read her previous book, Smashed a few years back and loved it. It was particularly thought-provoking since the book talks about the downward spiral of binge drinking and addiction in college. I read it the summer before I left for college so I was sufficiently terrified to engage in any sort of binge-drinking activities, which may or may not have been a good thing.
Back to today’s book. Mother Mother tells the story of the Hursts, an upper-middle class family living in upstate NY who on the outside appear perfect, but as we quickly discover reality is more than meets the eye. Like Smashed, Mother Mother is a psychological thriller which explores the negative effects of abuse and mental health disorders. The story centralizes around Josephine, the mother, but is told from the perspective of two of her kids, Violet and William. To thicken the plot, the third Hurst child, Rose has run away and we are left to wonder why she left and if Josephine is to blame.
In particular I took a liking to Violet’s character. We meet Violet just as she’s entered an adolescent psychiatric unit, a result from her supposed psychotic episode. Thankfully I have never experienced a psychiatric breakdown nor do I have a psychotic mother so my interest in Violet does not stem from personal experience, but on some level I felt I could identify with her character.
As a psychology major I have always been fascinated by the world of human behaviour. In particular, what leads us to behave in different ways, make certain life decisions and why some of us develop mental health problems while others lead perfectly happy and normal lives. As much as I enjoyed learning about these things in the classroom I often felt disconnected from the various disorders I was studying and how individuals with these diagnoses were actually coping in the real world.
As a result, I spent my after-school hours and summers immersing myself in the world of psych working as a counselor at a camp for kids with Autism, a “buddy” to an adult living with schizophrenia and a volunteer in the adolescent mental health ward at a hospital. The last experience was the one that stuck with me the most. As a 20 year old I was the same age as most of the inpatients and yet they were facing such obstacles while I was able to go home at night. The differences in our situations put so much into perspective for me and took the abstract knowledge I was absorbing in school and made it real.
I developed bonds with many of them and some felt comfortable opening up to me about their problems. I interacted with adolescents with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, dissociative disorder, and quite commonly (as was the case with Violet), drug induced psychosis. What I noticed was that the adolescents who successfully completed the program were to ones who had supportive and actively involved families.
Violet on the other hand seldom receives visits from her family-her dad comes sporadically and her Mom does not come by at all. As she spends more time on the ward she begins to unravel the deeply-seeded lies her Mom has planted. At the same time she uncovers who her true support system is, her loyal friends from home and the new friendships she’s developed on the unit. The more she sees what true love is the less she believes her mother possesses it. These realizations were incredibly reminiscent of the time I spent working with the adolescents from the ward I worked on.
The book made me grateful for the supportive family that I have, where I know if things start down a slippery slope they will be there to catch me. I am aware that not everyone is as fortunate as I am and can only hope for people like Violet and the adolescents I worked with that they will be able to find that same comfort elsewhere. It is a reminder to us all to cherish the support we have and be that support to others if they need it.
A controlling mother, a missing daughter, and a family who is desperate for love. This post was inspired by the the psychological thriller Mother, Mother by Zoren Zailckas. Join From Left to Write on September 19 as we discuss Mother, Mother.
*As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.
Who is your support system? Are you or have you ever been a support system for someone close to you? Are you in a book club?
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