Monday, January 3, 2011

Where Are the Cocoa Puffs by Karen Winters Schwartz

The book's synopsis from the publisher's website:

Where Are the Cocoa Puffs?: A Family's Journey Through Bipolar DisorderAs eighteen-year-old Amanda spirals into mania, her father, psychiatrist Dr. Jerry Benson, sees the realization of his worst fears: his daughter is not just moody, but truly ill. With his words, his diagnosis--manic depressive illness--his world and that of his family is forever altered. Carol, Amanda's mother, struggles with the guilt and shame of having raised a "crazy" daughter. Christy, Amanda's fifteen-year-old sister, denies the illness; after all, my sister's a bitch is so much easier to accept.
Meanwhile, the Bensons' extended family offers up everything from unconditional support to uncomfortable scrutiny as Amanda careens between bouts of frightening violence, cosmic euphoria, and suicidal despair. Then there's Ryan, an architecture student who is initially ensnared by Amanda's manic sexuality, but is ultimately captured and held throughout the chaos by the force of love and strength of family.
Anybody who has ever been even remotely interested in bipolar disorder, otherwise known as manic depressive illness, should read this book. There really aren't enough of books like these on the market nowadays. You should also read this book if you like coming of age stories, because despite Amanda's illness, she and her sister, Christy are still teenagers trying to find themselves in this world of ours, which alone is a great feat.

I really enjoyed reading how the Bensons managed to fight through this horrendous ordeal. I probably felt for the mother the most. Carol seems to be such a true figure as if taken straight away from a real home and put inside the book. Her struggle with her emotions, her feelings towards her oldest daughter, Amanda are heartwrenching, hard to bear sometimes but impossible to turn away from, especially if you're a parent as well. I literally felt her pain at what was happening with her beautiful baby girl that could no longer recognize because of this vicious 'stranger' living in Amanda's brain. Ms. Schwartz really did an amazing job portraying the parents' fight for their child.

I have to admit that I did struggle a bit in the beginning with how convenient the whole setting was, with the father being the top psychiatrist and all. And that brings me to my next point. Where Are the Cocoa Puffs? is important in the story it tells but it's even of more value in what remains unsaid. Amanda was indeed very lucky to have a dad that diagnosed her bipolar disorder almost right away, giving her a chance for a good life early on. Unfortunately, in real life, it rarely happens. Mostly, it takes years before the right diagnosis is made and we're talking about a deadly illness here, after all. Manic depressive illness, just like any other mental illness, kills people if left untreated, and it doesn't matter that it's done by the hand of the person suffering.

Where Are the Cocoa Puffs? is definitely worth reading and paying attention to. Karen gave us a story that will not be quickly forgotten but will instead open our eyes to what's around us and that mental illness, just like cancer or diabetes, is real, it's serious and it affects many more people than just the one person suffering from it. Sometimes, it just makes you think who suffers more, the person that's ill or the people who love him/her.


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This review is part of my Understand My Sorrow challenge, under the bipolar disorder.

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Special Thanks to Karen Winter Schwartz for sending me a copy of her book for review and to Shellie from Layers of Thought for getting Karen and me together.