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BOOK REVIEW: Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly

I don’t know what was going on with my Kindle version of this book. The product details gave the print length as 159 pages. I noticed that at some point, it said I was on page 158, but I was about three-quarters of the way through it. Every page after that also said I was on page 158—up until the last. And the more I read, the more I wanted it to end, so, continually finding myself on the final page began to annoy me.

Of course, if you are human and empathetic, what you read in these pages will hurt. It’s not fiction. Well, it was the Victorian era, so it shouldn’t be all that surprising. Many of us, myself included, romanticize the period, love to hear about it, and live there in fantasy while watching a movie or reading a book, but we don’t always get the reality of how bad things were for women then. People saw them as subhuman.  If a man didn’t like his wife’s behavior, he could say she was insane and drop her off in a mad-house.  No one seemed to care what happened to most of these “patients” after that, many of whom were quite sane—at least when they arrived.

This book wasn’t what I expected, but I had to ask myself, what did I expect?  It sounded as if there would be a lot of drama and chilling suspense, but as a reader, I had to be glad nothing worse happened to Nellie during her undercover investigation of Blackwell Island’s mental illness facility. Not to say it wasn’t bad enough.

Ten Days is not a page-turner riddled with suspense. It’s not an easy read. For the most part, you’re being told, in a somber, wearying way, about the egregious reality of that time.

I found it a little jarring, too, at the end where she began on another mission to assess the predicaments women faced in seeking employment. And, of course, I thought it was over and really wanted it to be over by this point.

It doesn’t seem fair to say these things. The book was well written, and Nellie Bly’s writing style was certainly pleasant enough. She came across as an empathetic narrator, very kind and brave. In writing Ten Days, she did an outstanding service to us all. It was a courageous effort that needed a fearless warrior. She was it.

Further, it was a story that needed telling. Some people today take for granted all that our predecessors fought for and won. We think we don’t need women to stay on top of that, but we do.

I’m glad Nellie Bly wrote this book, and I’m happy I read it. So, kudos to Nellie Bly and a posthumous thank you for a job well done.

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My Review of “In Pieces” by Sally Field

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Sally Field is one of those people who notices her patterns and vulnerabilities and, as a result, digs deep for answers. Because of that, she continually evolved as an actress, as a woman, and as a human trying to survive all the madness. That type of constant transitioning brings wisdom and strength, but it also leads to unlimited capacity for empathy.

Sybil was the first movie of hers that I watched after having read the book. While reading In Pieces, I had to go back and watch Sybil again. The woman is brilliant, and I can tell you, after reading her memoir, she’s badass as well.

I never realized how many movies she’d been in—at least 38! It was fun to read about the filming of many of those because she shined in every single one that I saw—Norma RaeSteel MagnoliasMrs. DoubtfireForrest Gump. She even played Aunt Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield—a made-for-TV movie adapted from one of my favorite novels.

If you are a fan of Sally’s movies, you will fall in love with Sally while reading In Pieces—the same way you fell in love with Sybil and Norma Rae when Sally became those characters on the screen.

Ms. Field wrote In Pieces herself and did a beautiful job of it.

At times, there were some unflattering things about others that I didn’t think were necessary. I wasn’t sure I’d be patient if that continued throughout the book. It didn’t. The more you read her words, the more you realize how fair she tries to be to everyone involved. Her kindness, her understanding, outweighs the need to point fingers and punish the people who inadvertently harmed her. It’s her raw honesty and accountability combined that leaves me in awe. She never tries to make herself look good or perfect or as if she is forever the victim but never the culprit. The rest is her truth, which she has every right to divulge. The “Me Too” revelations are merely a part of her incredible story because she triumphed over all of it.

In short, I liked this book from the beginning, and, by the end, I loved it.

Nobody would see the pain behind that beautiful Gidget smile of hers, but Sally Field has been so incredibly brave from childhood to this very day, and she has continued to grow more beautiful with time.

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Kyrian Lyndon’s Reviews: The Meaning of Matthew

Ordinarily, even with what appears to be ADD, I can read several books at a time. My curiosity pushes me through. Following a recent injury and long recovery process, however, I found myself unable to get into reading and leaving so many books unfinished.

Then the anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death came up—an unnecessarily cruel tragedy that affected so many of us. For whatever reason, I realized I wanted to know more about Matthew. Surely, he was more than this gay poster child that people murdered because he was different.

All my life, I’d heard people claim that those who were on a “different” path from what they interpreted as the “right” path are the evil ones. But when you see where hate for those who are different can lead, it’s hard to fathom that there is any worse evil than these self-righteous individuals who are so lacking in empathy.

We don’t need any more evidence, do we? And, yet, if we keep reading, keep watching, keep listening, we witness how unbelievably depraved “humanity” can get.

Still, I wanted to know this story, and, as a mom, I wanted to learn it from his mother—a person who truly knew and loved him.

Judy Shepard said so much in this book without making it, in the least, about herself. She seemed determined that Matthew was the focus, beginning to end, who he was besides that poor baby boy you keep hearing about every October. You think how awful, how sad, but we know so little about him.

Well, throughout this reading experience, Judy Shepard’s honesty floored me. Among other things, she divulged that Matthew wasn’t the saint the media portrayed. With whatever flaws he had, he was also lovable and sweet with a very kind heart. She had loved him wholeheartedly knowing exactly who he was, and this—this is the kind of love we all deserve. Not the type where loved ones put us on a pedestal we can’t possibly live up to, secretly detesting us when we fall short or blindly worshiping us for all the world to see. She knew her child. She knew that different kids had different needs, and, that, even with the heartbreak of specific hopes you have to put aside for this precious being you cherish with all of your heart, acceptance is critical.

Mrs. Shepard wrote this book so intelligently, so lovingly. I read it in just a couple of days, and I couldn’t put it down.

Fortunately, in this storytelling, we also see how beautiful humans can be. During this unspeakable tragedy, many gave their unconditional support to the Shepard family without hesitation and were capable of such unconditional love.

You know, I’ve often heard people say that it’s arrogant for a writer to think he or she can teach anyone by sharing a story. They are so wrong! This book was another reminder to me of how another person’s words, thoughts, regrets, and perspectives can make one stop and think. To feel something like, “I can relate to this or that,” or “Wow, that gave me new insight into something or another.” That is the beauty of reading.

We learn from anyone and everyone, and we are always teaching whether we mean to or not.

So, hopefully, after reading this heartrendingly excellent work of non-fiction, I have opened the mental corridors of my mind that allow for the processing of fantasy realms and old classics that can transport me instantly to the past.

Sometimes, reality hurts too much.

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THE THIRTEEN REASONS WHY BACKLASH: MY THOUGHTS AND BOOK REVIEW

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*WARNING- SPOILER ALERT*

If you’re planning to read the book, Thirteen Reasons Why, or watch the Netflix series, you may not want to read further. This blog does contain a few spoilers.

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I became interested in the book, Thirteen Reasons Why, when a reviewer of my book, Shattering Truths, said that fans of Thirteen Reasons Why would absolutely love Shattering Truths.

It is true that we explore similar topics, even though the premises are different.

In Thirteen Reasons Why, Hannah Baker takes her life and leaves behind cassette tapes that retrace her steps and explain her reasons.

In case you haven’t heard, the backlash over Thirteen Reasons Why is the perception that the book glamorizes suicide.

Romanticizing suicide in art isn’t new. Did people want to ban Shakespeare? I’ve listened to Don McClean’s Starry Starry Night and Chord Overstreet’s Hold On song tributes to suicide victims that inspire hauntingly beautiful imagery, and their lyrics have moved me to tears. Maybe there is something about giving up that most of us can relate to—the notion that if worse comes to worse, no one can make us stay here. At the same time, we are also filled with profound sadness over the depth of another human being’s despair.

Interestingly enough, I once wrote my own book about the aftermath of a protagonist’s suicide— not Shattering Truths but an earlier workI was nineteen at the time. The editor I submitted it to felt readers would not find this character sympathetic because, as a suicide, he’d be considered psychotic. That bothered me more than anything else—the distressing mentality—the heartbreaking reality—that even in these modern times, people are uncomfortable with any mental instability and quick to reject it. I submitted it anyway. The publisher said they would be interested only if I changed the ending and had my character survive. I wouldn’t do that. My whole point in telling the story was that the guy died, and he shouldn’t have. I shelved the project.

At the time, I did romanticize my character’s suicide. I hoisted the guy up on a posthumous pedestal and became obsessed with his life and death. But I didn’t want to die.

Sorry (and not so sorry) to say, that as a poet, a writer, and an artist, I embrace all of it—the good, the bad, the pretty, the ugly, the dark, the light and the scary.

But I am also an adult who realizes that death is not pretty, and it’s likely to be quite lonely and painful. Nothing about Thirteen Reasons Why gave me the impression that it would be anything but lonely and painful. There was never a moment I envied Hannah Baker or wanted to be her—before, during, or after. What happened to her seemed anything but glamorous.

I’d go so far as to say the story makes it clear that taking your life is not the solution; that there is always hope. A few minutes, days, or weeks could make all the difference in the world. That hope is extinguished when your light goes out for good.

I also happen to think that people who hurt you don’t deserve to take anything more from you!

From my perspective, the book actually provides clear examples of how not to behave, how not to treat others. It brings to light how little thought teens give to how their behavior may affect someone else, although, this is also sadly true of adults. Some will live their whole lives hurting and punishing others without thinking it through, without ever trying to understand the people they target.

That’s one of the messages in Thirteen Reasons Why. We need to be kinder to each other.

No doubt, some people will read this book and see it all differently. They’ll see that Hannah is talked about more and with more sensitivity after her death. They’ll see that people feel guilty. They may think that would bring satisfaction, but true bullies who destroy other human beings are not usually the ones who feel guilty. They don’t have consciences.

To a lesser degree, Hannah Baker herself lacks empathy in this story and is rather self-absorbed. That’s okay. Victims don’t need to be depicted as saints. A character can be tragically flawed in fact, and still not deserve the torment. It is normal for a trauma survivor to go through a period of victimhood that includes a great deal of introspection and a degree of self-pity. She has a human response to a rude and painful awakening. Yes, trauma does quite a number on the psyche. It changes a person, causing behavior that won’t make sense even to the survivor. The point is, what happened to Hannah Baker should not have happened to anyone. It’s sad that she’ll never have the chance to heal and evolve beyond what she became, so it’s a story worth telling and worth telling right.

I’m willing to bet that most of us can make a list of at least thirteen people who screwed us over and/or possibly scarred us for life. Some of the reasons might be the same or worse than what Hannah Baker experienced, but, for most of us, suicide was never an option we considered.

We are all different. We have varying degrees of ability to cope, and those who are coping well may be at less challenging stages of the healing process. To some of us, a burden is a challenge, and we push back. No matter what happens, we keep pushing. But not everyone can do that. It’s not weakness, and it’s not for lack of trying. We are where we are. None of us have control over the circumstances we are born into or everything that happens after that. We can’t be sure why we take the paths we take or what we need to learn. Healing begins when we are ready. It’s a long, grueling process that, unfortunately, some people will never begin.

I think it’s safe to say that Thirteen Reasons Why will be triggering for certain people and not others.

There’s always a chance that any one of us will find something we read, see, hear, or experience to be triggering. But that doesn’t mean we should censor ourselves, as writers, or as artists. We can’t. We can’t shy away from controversial subjects or prevent others from having those important conversations. For those wanting to sue and to ban, do we really want to set that precedent? Where would we draw the line? Would we have to stop talking about rape, about murder, about mental issues, and about everything that could be triggering? I hope not!

A common complaint people have made is that the book doesn’t delve into the mental illness factor when it comes to suicide. No, it doesn’t. Thirteen Reasons Why focuses on raising the level of awareness for bullying/harassment/character assassination, etc. and depicting how the victim feels—how a suicide victim feels. Hannah, in my opinion, sought to educate the culprits. She may have wanted them to feel her pain, too, but more for their benefit, I think, than in retaliation. As a trauma survivor, I can relate to wanting to raise the level of awareness. Even if the people who need to hear it most are not listening, someone is. And making a difference to anyone at all is a great start.

It doesn’t mean we should ignore the mental illness factor in our conversations about this topic. According to the University of Washington’s School of Social Work, “Of those who die from suicide, more than 90% have a diagnosable mental disorder.

Mental Health America states that “substance abuse may be involved in half of all suicide cases with 20% involving people with alcohol problems”.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse claims that drug abuse is a mental illness.

Sadly, families often have a difficult time acknowledging and accepting mental illness in a loved one. There is rejection, ridicule, even mind-boggling cruelty. For the person with issues, it leads to a social ineptness that only results in more ridicule and cruelty. The damage is hard to shake, and it’s heartbreaking because, with acceptance and unconditional love, a lot of the issues can be minimized or managed.

Shame is a key word here. Many parents and siblings are more concerned about what others may think. Are we sending a message of, I will not love you unless you are normal by my standards and anything less will be ridiculed and rejected? Are we teaching our “normal” kids to ridicule and reject?

The truth is, we have dangerous psychopathic narcissists running amok in this world, and they are considered normal by many. Meanwhile, people who struggle with things like autism, Asperger’s, bipolar, anxiety, etc. are met with skepticism.

I’ll admit, due to lack of acknowledgment/acceptance in my own life, it took me quite a while to realize and understand the problems I had with anxiety, OCD, and possibly other afflictions. I may never have realized if I hadn’t met some of the people I met along the way, people who had the same problems and steered me in the right direction. Awareness is key, and it helps to learn as much as you can about what you’re dealing with. It is a lifetime struggle with good days and bad, but it can keep getting better.

So, in light of all I’ve stated above, I believe Thirteen Reasons Why, is a profound experience for the reader. I felt like a part of the story, swept right in and completely absorbed, turning page after page. I loved the powerful descriptions of how the characters felt in critical moments. The book, written straight from the heart, shows compassion in abundance, and it brought me to tears.

Co-protagonist, Clay Jensen, in fact, shows considerable empathy while listening to Hannah’s tapes. He wants to understand what happened to Hannah. He not only forces himself to listen to every excruciatingly painful word—he follows her instructions, putting himself in her place and allowing himself to feel what she felt.

Imagine living in a world where everyone sought to understand one another like that! That would be beautiful indeed!

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© Copyright July 24, 2017 by Kyrian Lyndon at kyrianlyndon.com. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted without proper attribution.