I received an Advance Readers Copy of this book. It will be published May 2019.
This book very clearly states “A Novel” on the front cover. Which is something I kept returning to because it reads very much like a memoir. This is the story, told in first person, of young Juliet Escoria and her teenage years, particularly her struggle with mental illness and self-harm. In fact, if it weren’t for one particular passage where the narrator wonders whether to give fictional Juliet the same version of the story as she herself experienced, I would have found myself doubting that any of this was made up.
It isn’t clear what’s fiction (maybe all of it?) and what’s truth (maybe all of it?) In the end, I’m not sure it truly matters. The story is compelling and Juliet the character is honest and frustrating and sympathetic.
Juliet is a smart, normal, fourteen-year-old when she begins to experience an encroaching darkness in her mind, including hallucinations. Her struggles escalate, along with her drug and alcohol use, until she attempts suicide. Her parents reactions are both frustrating and painfully realistic. Their relationship feels nuanced and complicated, as all relationships are. They don’t react perfectly but Juliet thinks of them with great love and their love for her is also clear.
One of the most interesting parts of the story are the other characters Juliet meets as she is sent from one school to another and, finally, ending up in a sort of boarding school for troubled teens. Each character feels fully realized, even those who show up briefly. Juliet looks back on them with the greater understanding of adulthood; this is particularly poignant when she relates the story of how she refused to testify against a teacher who may have sexually abused her friend.
There are hints of how Juliet’s life might turn out but the story is by and large limited to her teenage years. I can’t speak to how accurate a portrayal of mental illness this is but it feels very true and when it portrays general teenage life in the late 1990s/early 2000, I can testify that it is accurate.
I’ll be interested to read more from Escoria, whether that is fiction or not. She writes with a strong, truthful voice and is one worth listening to.