Between Bright and Dark: A Guest Post by Jennifer Archer
After I finished writing THROUGH HER EYES I remembered a novel I read when I was a teen called LISA, BRIGHT AND DARK by John Neufeld. In this story, sixteen-year-old Lisa struggles with the onset of bi-polar disorder. I was both intrigued and horrified by this book; I couldn’t put it down. The character “Lisa” seemed very real to me, and I was terrified for her. I also related to her – she could’ve been me or one of my friends.
Here’s the blurb from the novel LISA, BRIGHT AND DARK.
Lisa Shilling is 16, smart, attractive -- and she is losing her mind. Some days are "light," and everything is normal; during her "dark" days, she hides deep within herself, and nothing can reach her. Her teachers ignore what is happening. Her parents deny it. Lisa's friends are the only ones who are listening -- and they walk with her where adults fear to tread. This classic novel of a teenager's descent into madness, in the tradition of Go Ask Alice and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, has remained a best seller for close to thirty years.
As I said, I had already written THROUGH HER EYES before I remembered LISA, BRIGHT AND DARK. I can’t help wondering, though, if this novel that I had found to be so compelling when I was a teen had stayed at the back of my mind, and if in some way it influenced my idea for certain aspects of THROUGH HER EYES. I haven’t re-read LISA, BRIGHT AND DARK as an adult, but I plan to. I’m curious to find out if I have the same reaction to it as I did at the age of fifteen. Also, it should be interesting to see how far we’ve come (or haven’t) since 1968 when the book was published in regards to how bi-polar disorder is treated and how we view those that have it.
Another novel about a mentally unstable girl – GO ASK ALICE – which is named in the book blurb above as being similar to LISA, BRIGHT AND DARK in theme, was also a favorite of mine as a teen. I wonder why stories with troubled teen characters intrigued me so much when I was young, and why they still appeal to me and so many other readers. Is it because our teen years are a time of vulnerability? As teens, perhaps more than any other time in our lives, we’re trying to figure out who we are and who we want to be. We’re struggling to find our place in the world. In my experience, those years were wonderful, but also filled with confusion. Sometimes overwhelmingly so. I often felt as if I had very little control over what happened in my life. I was, I suppose, as mentally healthy as the average teen, but even so, I often feared I was losing my mind! Maybe that’s why I was so drawn to Lisa’s character. She wasn’t all that different than me or my friends, and reading her story made me think the unthinkable: If someone like her can lose her mind, it could happen to anyone – even me or someone I love.
I remember experiencing the same fears and uncertainties that so many “troubled” teens in fiction strive to overcome, albeit I felt them on a much smaller scale. Knowing that a character feels what I did, multiplied by 100, fills me with instant compassion for them. I want to hold their hand and help them through their struggle. I want them to fight their battles – mental and otherwise – and win.
Books like LISA, BRIGHT AND DARK and GO ASK ALICE led the way for the many YA authors of today who write books in which teen characters face difficult personal issues. Wonderful books like Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK, for instance, that deal with disturbing realities. And books like THROUGH HER EYES, in which a character’s unsettling circumstances may – or may not -- be exactly as they seem.
Do you have any favorite books in which the main character is becoming mentally unstable, or fears she/he is? I’d love to hear about them and your thoughts on the appeal of these stories!
Jennifer’s website www.jenniferarcher.net Blog www.jenniferarcher.blogspot.com
Jennifer's debut, Through Her Eyes, is also currently on sale on Amazon
I have an autographed copy of Through Her Eyes and swag to giveaway to two lucky winners!
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