A Tragic Kind of Wonderful
Genre: Realistic Fiction
There are four animals running rampant inside of Mel Hannigan: her hamster brain, her hummingbird heart, her hammerhead physical health, and the “Hanniganimal,” her overall well-being. They fly and race and dictate everything, competing or working in concert as they see fit. At least, that’s how Mel sees it all. The metaphors make it easier for understand her bipolar disorder.
Not that she’d ever share any of that with her friends. She’s perfectly happy keeping it all between herself, her parents, her aunt, and her therapists. But for some reason things have just been harder lately. She’s always cycled through moods quickly, but getting a box from an ex-close-friend who is leaving the country seems to have triggered an unusually powerful stress response. Add to that the fact her new good friends don’t seem to like her old good friends and the sudden influx of new people at work, and Mel’s not sure how much longer she can keep it together.
But if she keeps taking her meds, keeps breathing in and out, keeps track of her animals, she’ll have to manage. She knows she can.
She doesn’t have a choice.
Okay, I think I’m mostly over my initial reaction. Face washed, glasses wiped, tear-puddle slowly drying off my comforter…yup, I’m good.
This book, guys. This book.
Straight off the bat, the thing I noticed most about A Tragic Kind of Wonderful is how smooth it is. It’s like the first sip of the perfect milkshake, rich and creamy and perfectly blended. There’s no need to worry about hunks of ice or gobs of ice cream or even chunks of cookie or berry clogging up the straw. Just one perfect sip, and another, and another until it’s halfway gone and I’m finally coming up for breath. It’s absolutely perfect.
And that’s not to say this book is a cakewalk, either. It’s dealing with some serious issues in a serious way. They’re issues that hit close to home in several ways that I’m not going to go into here. But despite the tough stuff, the way Lindstrom approaches all of it, evenly and with eternal patience, is absolutely perfect.
I love the way the plot unfolded. Over the course of the book we got glimpses into the past, and we were finally able to hear the entire story once Mel, the narrator, processed it for herself. I just love that method of storytelling. I love finally learning things when characters are ready to share them, not just being told because the author feels like we need background to understand what’s going on. In a first-person narrative like this, it’s all so much more organic that way.
The characters are all so well-developed, particularly Mel. It’s all first-person from her point of view, and Lindstrom does a great job of showing us the way her brain cycles through the different states. When she’s sluggish, the words seem to come through like taffy from her head, and she’ll drop off in the middle of a sentence. When she’s manic or her mind is racing, we get huge run-on sentences that look like paragraphs, they’re so long and convoluted. At one point, her hormones are wrecking havoc with her meds, and she ends up in a tense, paranoid state. That entire chapter was edge-of-your-seat-tense, even with a reader’s sense of detachment (I’m constantly trying to predict what’s coming next). Even when I knew I’d guessed correctly, watching the rest of the scene play out on the page was heartbreaking. It wasn’t much, but those techniques illustrate more clearly what’s going on in her head than almost anything else he could have done.
The other characters were flawed and realistic and wonderful, too. The residents of the nursing home where Mel worked were unique and fun. I loved how they all seemed to just “get” her, even though she never told them her diagnosis. It was the same with her family: her father wasn’t in the story much, but her mother and aunt were supportive and kind. It was clear that they were all trying to do the best they could for Mel, even if sometimes Mel couldn’t see it (or didn’t want to). I don’t think Mel ever really gave her five friends (Holly and Declan; Zumi and Connor; David) enough credit; I feel like she probably could have told them about being bipolar long before she actually did. They seemed like the kind of people who would understand without changing their attitude towards her, especially since it wasn’t like they’d just met her. Except for David, of course, but even then, he didn’t seem like the kind of person to turn her away for something she couldn’t control, especially since he could tell that something was up to begin with. I mean, I get her choice—it can be a big deal for people, and there’s still such an awful stigma about it.
That was actually an interesting aspect of the message Lindstrom seemed to want to get across: be honest about yourself with people. I’m sure there are those who might have stopped being friends with Mel, but honestly, she was better off when she told. Her friends didn’t abandon her like she thought they might. (Zumi and Connor camped out on the grass—I’m not gonna cry again, promise!) I like that Lindstrom uses this book as a platform to say to readers that it’s okay to have a mental illness, it’s okay to be on medication for it—it’s more important that you be you as best you can, and the people who love you best will love you regardless.
This will definitely be fine for high school shelves, and eighth graders could handle it easily. Lindstrom’s messages definitely deserve to be heard!
- Certain types of kids with a mental health diagnosis
- Kids who love someone with a mental health diagnosis
- Teens who want a realistic fiction novel where the romance is secondary
- Alcohol Use: some characters drink underage
- Bullying: some characters bully others
- Death: references to character death
- Deceit: characters trick others
- Emotional Abuse: characters manipulate others into behaving in a certain way
- Lying: characters frequently lie to others
- Sex: discussions of consensual sexual activity
- Suicide: discussion of why a person might commit suicide; references to a character’s death, which may have been suicide
- Swearing: characters swear throughout
- Mental Health
- Overcoming Adversity
- Romantic Love
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