I seem to have had strange choices of vacation reads this summer. I can’t say the books have been relaxing, but they have been interesting. While on vacation at the beach a few weeks ago I read the book A Divided Mind by M. Billiter and wow, let me tell you, it was a ride. The author explains up front that “While there are similarities to our journey through mental illness, this book is a work of fiction.” The book takes you through the development of schizophrenia in a high school boy.
Chapter by chapter you go back and forth from the mother (Tara) narrating, to the son (Branson) narrating. The difficulties and challenges that each face throughout the book is unique, yet they are both focused on the same goal. For Branson to be able to go on to live a “normal” life.
The author showed the difficulties that the mother had in accepting her son’s diagnosis, and while this reluctance is understandable, the degree of denial can only be attributed to the stigma associated with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. By writing this book M. Billiter is doing what she can to help show the world what mental illness is like not only for the individual, but also for the family.
(Not a spoiler, it’s mentioned on the back of the book). A large part of the book focuses on that fact that Branson made a “friend” who turns out to be a hallucination. This aspect of the book was obviously critical for the novel, and is also how schizophrenia is depicted in the movie A Beautiful Mind, but it left me confused. When I did my research into schizophrenia for this post I read that it is rare that visual and auditory hallucinations happen concurrently. I do not have schizophrenia nor am I a licensed professional so I am going to assume that this depiction is accurate to at least a reasonable degree and that everyone (even fictional characters) experiences their mental illness in a way that is unique to them.
I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in reading a novel that is respectful of schizophrenia (rather than villainizing the illness). It’s a good book for teens as well as adults and might be a good conversation starter for parents to talk to their kids about mental health.