Since being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Mel has learned to compartmentalise both her life and her emotions in order to gain a sense of control. Still mourning the loss of her larger-than-life older brother Nolan, whose absence is felt like a constant gaping hole in her life, Mel is also struggling to move on from the break-up of three once all-important friendships. Add a love interest and an old friend’s secret to the mix, and managing her day-to-day life as well as her mental health suddenly becomes all the more complicated.
Despite a slow start, this is a story that is about mental illness without being totally defined by it – Mel is reminded that she is not bipolar, she has bipolar. The subtle difference in this means that the story has rich layers that take into account themes of family, friends, grief, race and LGBT+. Although Mel’s mental health issues become more pronounced throughout the novel, the importance of exploring this cannot be overemphasised, particularly as Mel attempts to conceal her issues in order to appear ‘normal’ to those around her. Without a doubt, it is Mel’s self-imposed isolation to hide her bipolar disorder along with the narrative regarding her brother Nolan and the mystery around his death, that are the stand-out moments which make this story so memorable.
Heart-rending in capturing the ups and downs of mental illness, this is a novel that should appeal to fans of Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places.