As some of you know, I have been chronicling my good friend, Linda Phillips', path to publication. In my last blog about her in March, Linda shared some of that journey as well as information about bipolar disease; the mental illness that afflicts the protagonist's mother in CRAZY.
It has been my great joy and privilege to walk alongside of Linda over the last fifteen years as she has crafted her debut YA novel. From reading the first twenty poems in which Linda poured out her anguish as a teen struggling with her own mother's mental illness; through watching Linda add, subtract, and organize these poems into a story arc at the 2009 Chautauqua Highlights Writing Workshop we attended together; through hearing the up's and down's of finding her agent and publisher; to now actually turning the pages and savoring the poems--it's almost as amazing as watching the birth of a child!
Now I have the opportunity to share with you some of my favorite poems and parts of this book. I've read some of these phrases several times and they still catch my breath for their simple beauty and sensory imagery; others surprise me as if I've just discovered a new treasure. Without further ado, here are some gems from CRAZY.
In the opening poem, the protagonist, Laura, is humiliated in home ec when the class decides that her best color is brown. This poem not only foreshadows much of Laura's conflicts, but also provides the subtext for the cover of the book:
So the class decided on brown
for my basic color,
as in mud
and dirty anything.
I ran out the side door after school,
thank heavens home ec was last period,
thinking my cheeks were so hot they must be leaving a trail of smoke.
I stopped by the canal,
swarming with hungry pelicans
and screeching gulls,
and I wondered,
just wondered and wondered
for I don't know how long,
what it would fee like
not to sit and dangle my feet through the slats
and daydream and watch
like I usually do
but instead to climb up on the railing,
and let myself just slip off and down
I decided against it because,
I'm not the crazy one
in our family. (pp.14-15)
Laura's artistic talents are admired throughout her school. She sees the same talent--now unexpressed--in her mother. Laura wonders how her mother "had drifted from/creating brilliant oil paintings/to slapping paint on molded figurines." (p. 23) She asks,
"Why don't you take up painting again?"
I ask her one day,
admiring the pleasing arrangement she created when she was fourteen.
"Oh, I could never get back to that,"
she says, slamming a window
against the rising storm. (p.24)
Her mother's behavior becomes more erratic, irrational, and bizarre. One day Laura comes home from school and finds:
First thing inside the door
I smell turpentine.
I nearly trip over a wet canvas
propped against the door frame.
I follow a trail of smudgy rags
and scattered paint tubes
into the living room
where I find Mama,
her back to me,
before a dripping canvas.
She's been painting again!
"Hail Mary, Other of God…."
A sickening sense of panic begins
crawling up my spine.
"What's going on, Mama?" I ask
She passes grubby hands absently
through her disheveled hair,
leaving multicolored streaks
and smudges on her face,
and she begins crawling on the floor,
looking for the missing paint
or who knows what.
Then it hits me.
This is my fault.
I caused this.
I pushed her over the edge,
oh my God,
I did this.
It was my suggestion,
"Take up painting again," I'd said--
oh my God…..
I clean up the mess as best I can,
finally getting Mama to sit down in her rocker.
back and forth
staring past me
I watch her rock
almost in rhythm
with the ticking wall clock
and I take deep breaths
trying to match the rhythm,
trying to beat down
my body. (pp.65-68)
Here is Linda reading one of the next poems, "Nervous Breakdown."
As the book progresses, Laura wrestles with her own demon: her fear of being as crazy as her mother. With the encouragement of two new friends--a local gift shop owner who "stands out like an art piece herself/in a shift dress full of helter-skelter bright colors,/dangly earrings,/and the most beautiful long gray hair/I have ever seen" (p. 148); and her crush, Dennis, who pushes Laura to "dig for answers/don't run, dig"(p.272); Laura discovers the work she must do to discover the truth about herself and her family.
There are two things this review of CRAZY cannot do. First, I can't communicate how proud I am of Linda's accomplishment and how wonderful it is to see this book in print. In a previous blog I compared myself to a mid-wife but that's not quite accurate. Linda is like a sister to me. Since CRAZY is her baby, I guess that makes me a proud aunt.
Second, I can't begin to tell you how Linda's poetry touched a place deep inside of me. When I finished reading her final poem in which Laura asks her mother for forgiveness, I was in tears:
In her typical way,
she brushes it off,
says I don't have need for forgiveness
but of course she forgives me,
and she understands my confusion and frustration
and she doesn't hold anything against me,
and she loves me very much.
I'm not sure if she gets it at all,
what I am trying to say,
but the important thing is
I get it
and I did what
I needed to do
and it feels as good
as anything I have ever done.
I wouldn't want to say it,
but I think there has been some healing
in our family
after all. (p.314)
CRAZY's official release date is not until October 20, but you can read the ARC now! There are two ways you can win a copy. Leave me a comment and I'll enter your name for my gently used copy; the drawing will be held on Friday night, June 13. You can also go to Goodreads and enter the giveaway contest there which will run from midnight on 6/10 to midnight on 6/17. And of course, if you don't win, you can support Linda by pre-ordering her book through Eerdmans or Amazon.
Wonderful Linda and Carol. Sounds like a fascinating story! You two have a special friendship! Going through all the years of writing together, definitely creates a special bond!Congrats Linda!!
I have been sharing everyone of your blogs, but forget to say so!!Always great to read!!
Thanks for the kind review, Carol! And Sheri, thanks for dropping into both of our blogs. I have to say that many times over the years Carol has pulled me up by the bootstraps and said "keep going." Such friends are treasures of immeasurable worth!
Thanks to you, Carol, for chronicling Linda's journey. And thank you, Linda, for putting your journey into words. As a child of a bipolar father, with a bipolar brother, I, too, struggle with the possibility - and fear - of that diagnosis. I am very anxious to read your Crazy, Linda! Congratulations to you!
I am so glad I found this blog and this review. It is wonderful that this book has created such a bond between the two of you.
Thanks Ann and Connie. I added your names to this growing list!
PS- Connie--I'm glad you found me too!
Thanks for sharing your own personal experience with bipolar, Ann. It takes a lot of courage to talk about it, and I do hope that the book will open up dialogue and touch lives.
And thanks, Connie, for dropping in and leaving a comment. You are right about the bond Carol and I have. We have helped each other through writing and life challenges over the years!
Congratulations, Linda! How exciting to hold an ARC in your hands. I'm pretty sure I already pre-ordered your book, but I'll double-check to be sure.
Nancy- thanks for leaving me a comment. I'm going to assume you would still like to be in the running for the ARC for this book--so kind of you to preorder it too!
Oh, my. I have to read this book. My mother was bipolar as well. I will definitely be reading what sounds like an amazing book. Thanks for telling me about it and for a chance to win a copy.
Carol and Linda, you are tight friends and this book has brought you even closer. I am so ready to read it from cover to cover. Best of luck to you, Linda. Carol, your turn is coming too.
it's gorgeous linda- i will be pre-ordering today- so so proud of you!!!
Yes, please enter me in the drawing for Linda's book. I can hardly wait to get my hands on a copy. What great poems.
Did you notice the typo in the first poem? You dropped an "l" between the "Feel like" and wrote "fee like."
Thanks for your kind words Nancy, Joyce, Linda, and Janine and to any of you who pre-ordered. And I totally agree that Carol's turn is just around the corner!
Thanks Rosi, Janine, and Linda. You're all in!
I've already preordered this fab book - but I'd still love an ARC!
Can't wait to read it...
What a GREAT review of Linda's book. I can't wait to read it.
Sign me up for the contest.
Hi Rosi, thanks for sharing about your mother having bipolar. I do hope this book will speak to people like yourself who have been affected by a family member with the disorder.
That first poem tore me to bits. Poetry is powerful. Congrats on your upcoming release!
Congratulations on the book, Linda. I'm looking forward to reading it.
Thanks Gretchen, Sandra, Robin, and Donna. Linda and I appreciate your comments on my blog and interest in her book!
Yes, thanks for your kind words Gretchen, Sandra and Donna and for pre-ordering if you did. And Robin, I don't mean to tear anybody up too bad, but I'm glad the poem spoke to you. Thanks for sharing that.
This sounds like an amazing book. Not only being told in poetry, but it's also tackling a profound topic. Thanks for bringing this into the world Linda, and congratulations on getting published! Unfortunately I missed the give away here, but I'm definitely pre-ordering Crazy!
Thanks , Anna. Yes, you are too late for this giveaway--but not for the one still going on at Goodreads!
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