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Posts Tagged ‘mental depression’

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick  silver linings

Pat Peoples seems like the sweetest man on earth, but for some reason he’s coming home from a mental institution to live with his parents—in his mid-thirties—and he completely loses it when he hears Kenny G music.

Pat thinks he has been away for a few months. Actually it’s been four years. He thinks that he is experiencing “apart time” from his wife, and that if he can control his temper (‘it’s more important to be kind than to be right’), and stay on his rigorous exercise program and lose weight, he will win her back. Because, after all, his life is like a movie created by God. It will have the silver lining of a reunion with Nikki.

In trying to understand Nikki, Pat is reading all of the books that she teachers to her high school English classes. He’s surprised at how negative and depressing they are. As a former English teacher, I laughed at Pat’s comments on books like The Catcher in the Rye and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. They don’t have the kind of silver linings Pat expects form life, the kind that ought to be examples for kids.

At home, the silver lining also remains hidden. Things are not going as Pat planned despite hours of daily weightlifting, regular visits with a psychiatrist, and all that reading, Nikki isn’t back on the scene. But another woman, who at first seems like a nymphomaniac but is grieving in her own dysfunctional way, is following him on his long runs. Meanwhile, the mood of the Peoples household, and particularly Pat’s father, swings with the fortunes of the Philadelphia Eagles football team. Pat’s dad is emotionally distant and unforgiving.

So where’s the silver lining? It’s not the one Pat was looking for, but it’s there. And I loved going on the journey with Pat to find it. Good, heartwarming stuff that embraces dysfunctional people of all kinds.

High school housekeeping: I’m always hoping that high school students will read adult books because they often (though certainly not always) juggle more issues, have more challenging vocabulary and less certain endings—like real life. I think Silver Linings Playbook is a good choice for moving into adult fiction. It’s just slightly longer than the typical YA fiction, but shorter than much adult fiction. It’s funny. You’ll like the main character, the story, and the pace. You’ll like that you can compare it to the movie. In addition, Matthew Quick writes YA fiction as well—and we have his stuff in our library. He was a high school teacher at one time, and has a good sense of what entertains and informs you. As mentioned above, The Silver Linings Playbook has a humorous vein about the books read in high school English classes. I really think it would be fun to have a ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ class and read this novel first, then read all the novels mentioned in it—and compare students’ reactions to the book to Pat’s reactions.

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  An Egg on Three Sticks by Jackie Fischer

“I’m pretty sure Mom is having a nervous breakdown.

“Which I tried to look it up and it’s not in the dictionary but I think I know what it is. It’s when your mom has to lie down all the time and has raccoon circles around her eyes and when she walks her feet are as heavy as the whole world and her face isn’t her face anymore and when she looks at you she doesn’t see you and when you look into her eyes, you can’t find her.”

What was referred to as Abby’s mom’s ‘nervous breakdown’ in An Egg on Three Sticks is 1970s language for a suicidal depression.

Fischer’s novel is so beautifully written that the reader sees the truth is what Abby’s best friend, Poppy, whispers about the problem, as she overheard it from her own mother: Abby’s mom, Shirley, has a creative muse and she can’t live a stifling life. And without hammering the reader about what a stifling life is—in fact, without even mentioning it, you will see that Shirley might as well have had her source of oxygen cut off. She’s a 1970s stay-at-home mom. Her husband, a typing teacher, won’t change or remodel the house. The exterior paint is deeply faded and flaking. The family uses old stuff beyond the point that it’s worn out. Their clothes are worn out and faded as well. The kids are not allowed to have anything fashionable, anything current—no new music in the house, no popular books. When Abby’s dad gives her mom a Crock Pot as her big Christmas present, you know you’re turning the corner into a dark alley. And, of course, Abby’s dad doesn’t even understand why this is not a great present. His greatest happiness is routine.

To manage a routine and order, there are rules for everything—no TV during dinner ever, no yelling across the house to call someone to the room, no swearing, no rock or pop music, no being late home from school, no piercing the ears, no go-go boots, no mini skirts, no reading popular books like Jaws, no skipping piano practice ever, trash is incinerated every Saturday.

But still.

Lots of people live routine, dull lives with lots of rules. They aren’t suicidal. So how does Abby make sense of it? She can’t, and she rebels as her mom’s world becomes darker and darker. She wants her mom to snap out of it, punish her, take charge. But her mom can’t. And Abby can’t forgive her for it, for being so very ill.

An Egg on Three Sticks truly is a beautiful book although the subject is pretty dark. I might have missed reading it if I hadn’t been asked to participate on a ‘recommended reading’ committee for the California Department of Education. For any student who needs a work of fiction with historical elements that s/he will later research, this one has a lot of fun references to the early 1970s—the music, the hippies, the styles (mini skirts, boots, Levi jackets and more—actually a lot of the same styles are popular now). And some sad references, too—especially to the Vietnam War.

I highly recommend this one to mature high school readers.

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