G. Bianco, 2019
In her bestselling memoir Girl, Interrupted, Susanna Kaysen chronicles her time living in a psychiatric hospital as a teenager. This book, which was adapted into a movie in 1999, has become a renowned look into mental health and the stigmas surrounding it.
In 1967, after a session with a psychiatrist she'd never seen before, eighteen-year-old Susanna Kaysen was put in a taxi and sent to McLean Hospital. She spent most of the next two years on the ward for teenage girls in a psychiatric hospital as renowned for its famous clientele--Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, James Taylor, and Ray Charles--as for its progressive methods of treating those who could afford its sanctuary. Kaysen's memoir encompasses horror and razor-edged perception while providing vivid portraits of her fellow patients and their keepers. It is a brilliant evocation of a "parallel universe" set within the kaleidoscopically shifting landscape of the late sixties.
This book is masterfully written and the story flows from chapter to chapter really nicely. The way Kaysen describes her experiences is haunting as well as hopeful. Some of the stories of therapy and medication and the images she depicts of vegetative residents is sorrowful. However, the stories she tells of pranks and getting ice cream and the friends she had on her floor are funny and show that despite being in a mental hospital, she was just an 18 year old girl lost in the world.
This memoir also brings to light an awareness of mental illness. The fact that Kaysen was diagnosed with “borderline personality disorder” and sent to a mental hospital after meeting only 15 minutes with a new doctor is insane. Her deconstruction of mental illnesses throughout the book showcases both flaws and lack of understanding that clouded this area of medicine in the late 1960s.
Despite being a memoir, Kaysen’s story will enrapture fiction and nonfiction lovers alike. It is poignant, thought-provoking, and startlingly relevant for a modern reader. Girl, Interrupted will leave a lasting impression and make you question all that will make you question all stereotypical definitions of what it means to be mentally ill.
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