And now for something completely different! Spoiler alert again. I’ve been dreading writing this one even more than Waiting for Godot. Absolutely not the fault of the book or the friend who recommended it to me.
I’m going to get this out of the way. One of the things I foolishly thought have been quite fun about writing out my thoughts on the things I read is that I can talk a bit about how my own personal self/context/experience of the world affects how I read and what I take away from what I read. This time, I don’t really want to talk about it, but it would feel dishonest to pretend I read this book from some robotic blank slate perspective. I have pms. I know everyone in the world is either rolling their eyes or yelling at me right now (because how dare I, and I know I know I know), but it’s not normal and sometimes it doesn’t feel safe. I’m lucky in that by its nature it’s temporary, if regular. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to justify myself. No one cares and it’s not their business anyway. These experiences, if I’m allowed to call them that, did affect my reading of the book. Now I’m going to take a leaf out of Audrey’s book (literally hohoho) and just leave it there, because I’m allowed to do that.
Which is a neat segue, actually, into the book itself.
Finding Audrey is about a girl who’s developed an anxiety problem after an undisclosed school incident, and follows her getting back on her feet. It’s aimed at younger audiences, and feels true to what I assume is Kinsella’s signature style (embarrassingly, I haven’t read any of her other stuff) – light and fun and ultimately upbeat. Her teenage girl voice is pretty great, casual and with a plausible minimum of ~*~teen speak~*~ that reinforces rather than making naff. Her family are all great characters, and sometimes her experiences with her parents gave me slight Adrian Mole vibes (though Audrey is much more savvy than poor Adrian ever was).
I wonder if people might take issue with the description of the book as lighthearted, but my own opinion is that one valuable step towards removing the stigma of mental health issues is to have a variety of narratives, as many as you can think of.
The nature of Audrey’s problem is not chronic but acute (it’s implied) so we get to follow her through a narratively satisfying recovery trajectory, seeing her frustrations and setbacks and ultimately the moments when she can look back and see that she’s made progress. We don’t get to see the beginning or end of her journey, we just sort of dip in at the middle and walk beside her a distance.
Kinsella gives Audrey a generally supportive environment – her parents are helpful and never try to belittle her or dismiss her feelings or push her too hard. Even her younger brother is understanding (and if he occasionally lets a little resentment slip, then we can’t blame him). It’s a nice book to read in that respect – Audrey’s problems are real and will take work, time and patience to manage, but she has people on her side. Another really nice feature is that Kinsella sort of slips in a couple of coping mechanisms, as Audrey uses them, but in a way that a reader in need can stealthily pick them up if need be. Little breathing exercises, things like that. It’s a nice detail. The one character who isn’t already familiar with Audrey and her situation at the beginning of the book is the brother’s friend, and he occasionally asks questions that might be construed as honest but insensitive, or says things that are a bit frustrating, but he means well, and this is shown in how he accepts Audrey’s answers and modifies his own behaviour. I liked this sort of openness.
Kinsella is too clever to try to explain too much to her audience – Audrey isn’t very coy about her condition. Instead, when she’s getting a bit cryptic about her behaviour in the beginning and lets slip a detail she openly says to the reader, there, now you know the secret, or you’ve guessed it, knowing that at this point the reader is sleuthing. The timing of these interjections was pretty spot on. It was almost like a real dialogue for some scattered moments. She’s also clear that she isn’t going to explain what happened (and her therapist has been clear that she doesn’t owe anyone any explanation). As she says later, does it matter? It does not. It’s not relevant to the story of Audrey’s journey when the reader joins her. It would give space in the story to her tormentors, and this story is not about them. There’s no place for them here.
To her credit, she never does explain the details, thus preventing any possible underwhelmed reaction or judgement of the severity of Audrey’s reaction. We find out only details – that Audrey is changing schools in September, that four girls were excluded as a result, that teachers and friends didn’t act quickly enough, that it went on for a long time and was cruelly creative, that the whole class was involved, that Audrey’s parents are still furious about it. It’s well done.
Audrey’s panics and frustrations and self-centred-self-loathing spirals are also well done. The pure inward-turning nihilistic sort of narcissism (a fact of life only noticed when it lifts, demonstrated in an understated and elegant way in the book) is captured well. The loomingness of those thoughts that pop in at random, and how stupid they are when a light is shone on them, is well portrayed.
The happy ending is well deserved.