The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

“If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: in love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”

5/5 stars.
Hardcover, 440 pages.
Read June 12, 2019 to June 17, 2019.

Well, well, well, isn’ it wonderful when the hype about a book turns out to be true? This novel had the perfect combination of things that I love in a good book. A historical-fiction plot based in WWII (one of my favourite settings), strong and dynamic female characters, great writing, and a few surprises in store at the end. If this book has been on your TBR pile, it’s time to go and pick it up!

It’s 1939 and the Nazis have started to encroach on France. Two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, are about to face the war that’s coming. Having lost their mother at a young age and with an absent father who was dealing with his own demons from WW1, the two girls each felt abandoned in their youth. Vianne, the eldest, found love and married early but always relied on her husband for the guidance, rarely making decisions for herself. Isabelle never stopped feeling angry for being abandoned by her whole family. Rebellious at heart, she was kicked out of several girls schools before the start of the war and is rash and headstrong. The two of them couldn’t be more different yet each of them must face the war and the occupation of their country. Vianne must say goodbye to her husband, the only solid foundation she has ever had in her life, as he leaves to fight in the front. Isabelle is anxious to do something to assist in the war efforts, naive to the potential costs and sacrifices. Each sister grows and finds strength through horrible circumstances and rekindles a sisterly love and forgiveness for each other before the tragic end of the war.

The depth of characters in this story is what makes this book so exceptional. Vianne grows from a meek and passive young woman to finding her own voice even through immense tragedy and suffering. Isabelle joins the Resistance and makes an impact in the war yet when she returns home she finds that she is not the only one that has suffered and comes to understand her sister’s sacrifices, as well as their father’s.  The story is both moving and inspiring and there is a particular moment with the father that nearly brought me to tears.

This book has something for everyone and combine that with the great writing it’s no wonder it’s been so popular. Unless another book comes around before the new year, this book is the top contender for my favourite book of the year.

Perfectly Hidden Depression by Margaret Robinson Rutherford

No one knows the real you because you never let them in. You’re not comfortable with the reality of you so you pretend it doesn’t exist.  If this sounds all too familiar to you, then you need this book.

5/5 stars.
ARC, ebook, 232 pages.
Read from May 29, 2019 to May 31, 2019.

You always meet your deadlines regardless of how you’re feeling, you push forward through difficult circumstances and hide behind a facade in order to keep an appearance of having it all together. All because you don’t want to be perceived as incompetent or weak, yet inside you’re constantly battling with yourself, your feelings, and your self-worth. You’ve tried to line yourself up with the standard definitions of depression yet you never fully fit it due to your heightened sense of responsibility, your inability to recognise or share your feelings, and the high sense of control you constantly try to implement in your life. No one knows the real you because you never let them in. You’re not comfortable with the reality of you so you pretend it doesn’t exist.  If this sounds all too familiar to you, then you need this book.

After some harrowing experiences with patients, the author of this book noticed a pattern and began to put together the shape of this unique type of depression that often goes unnoticed and undiagnosed. Coined by the author, Perfectly Hidden Depression (PHD) can be the result of a variety of factors such as upbringing, ingrained beliefs, and personality traits. The author states that there isn’t anything in the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (DSM) on this type of depression but that this is an acknowledgement and an observation from her own professional experiences (which she details and provides resources for). The author believes PHD is a subset of depression that many practitioners miss because it doesn’t present the way the DSM has listed. The author gives this list of defining features that make up someone with PHD:

  • Are highly perfectionistic and have a constant, critical,
    and shaming inner voice
  • Demonstrate a heightened or excessive sense of
    responsibility
  • Detach from painful emotions by staying in your head
    and actively shutting them off
  • Worry and need to control yourself and your
    environment
  • Intensely focus on tasks, using accomplishment to feel
    valuable
  • Focus on the well-being of others but don’t allow them
    into your inner world
  • Discount personal hurt or sorrow and struggle with
    self-compassion
  • May have an accompanying mental health issue, such
    as an eating disorder, anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or addiction
  • Believe strongly in counting your blessings as the foundation of well-being
  • May enjoy success within a professional structure but
    struggle with emotional intimacy in relationships

Think of some of the shocking celebrity suicides that have happened recently, Anthony Bourdain, for example. Everyone thought he has this dream life and that he seemed like a generally happy and satisfied person. What if Anthony was the epitome of PHD? In that, he felt his personal value was only in his accomplishments, driven by how grateful he thought he should feel, and then feeling burdened and overwhelmed by the mask of achievement and perfection that he felt he had to wear. He also had addiction problems. If we knew more about people that presented with this perfectly masked depression we could provide them with better treatment and save them and those around them an immense amount of suffering.

“Anthony Bourdain was apparently not physically ill, not financially destitute, not concerned about getting his next meal, and not lacking in fame. In fact, he remarked he had “the greatest job in the world.”” – Toronto Sun, July 7, 2018

It’s hard not to get personal in reviewing this book as I picked it up from Netgalley out of my own personal interest. After reading The Gifts of Imperfection eight years ago I worked through my own PHD, which at the time was just learning to be vulnerable again. I started talking and writing about my issues and the condition, dermatillomania, that still plagues me, something that would have been unthinkable before. I made steep headway with Brené Brown’s book but it wasn’t enough. This book feels like the acknowledgement and the validation I need to press forward in my own personal growth and happiness in terms of the regressions I have made at this point in my life.

The author of this book is shedding light on an area of depression that requires some serious attention. Her writing is personable, concise, insightful, informative, resourceful and clinical. I have already recommended this book to at least three people I know and I anxiously await its publication as I look forward to adding this to my permanent bookshelf.  At this time, I have not done the reflections recommended in the book as I was excited and anxious to get through all the content because of how alarmingly relevant I found it. I am now looking forward to re-reading the book and diligently doing the reflections which I believe will be immensely valuable. I’ve already started recommending this book which is due to be published on November 1, 2019. I highly recommended this book to anyone who feels they fit this description, and if you do, chances are you’re reluctant to reach out for help, so start with this book, no one has to know.

I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb

Books likes this come only ever so often. I have not loved a book like this in years.

Love grows from the rich foam of forgiveness, mongrels make good dogs, and the evidence of God exists in the roundness of things.”

5/5 stars.
Hardcover, 897 pages.
Read from March 28, 2017 to April 5, 2017.

I can go for years sometimes without reading a book that truly blows me away. A book that I need to devour, can’t put down, and find few faults with. This book has become one of those rare books for me. The last time I read a book a like this was back when I read  Jane Eyre, which was back in 2012.  Like Jane Eyre, this book will give you all the feels. Unconventional and real, this book brought me to near tears numerous times. That is a feat that almost no other book can claim.  This book is now one of my personal favourites.

Dominick and Thomasare identical twin brothers. While the two of them may look identical the brothers have remarkably different temperaments. Dominick is masculine while Thomas is soft and fragile. As children, only Dominick seemed to be able to withstand the harsh and abusive nature of their step-father. As the boys grow, Thomas continues to exhibit peculiar behavior until it finally becomes clear that Thomas is more than just different; he has a severe form of schizophrenia. Dominick has spent his whole life trying to get away from Thomas’ shadow as tragedy seems to envelop the two men.

As adults in the present day, Dominick is regrettably divorced and still in love with his wife but he is unable to deal with the anger and emotions of a lifetime of living and dealing with Thomas. Dominick loves his brother and would do anything for him but the turmoil of dealing with the severely mentally ill takes its toll. When Thomas acts out violently in a public place Dominick is there to help him. As more tragedies befall Dominick, he attempts to sort out the legal mess his brother created and reluctantly start on his own journey of self-healing and forgiveness.

What is beautiful about this book is that it highlights the real trouble, guilt and anger that comes in loving someone with a mental illness over a lifetime. The imagery of emotions in this book is full spectrum. At one point, I remember thinking that it there is no way that Dominick could handle another major incident in his life but really, it was because as a reader my heart was aching for the character that I was now so attached to. Dominick’s journey is one of resilience, understanding, and ultimately about forgiveness. Mostly towards himself. Thomas’ story is also one of resilience; one that is often less understood. His inner turmoil to make sense of the world around him with his paranoid and invasive thoughts is exhausting. Thomas truly believes that his acts of paranoia will save the world from war. He is genuinely distressed that he cannot control any aspects of his life and that no one listens to his ideas and pleas. Can you imagine how that would feel? As is the case of many people with schizophrenia, the comprehension of their world is so different from our own but it does not make it any less real for them.

The style and approach of this book is both delicate and masculine, an intentional approach to help address the frail concept of North American masculinity and the trouble that it causes so many men. Dominick hates that Thomas is gentle and soft but really it is because he was afraid that he too might also be like that. Dominick treats these traits as if they were the worst fault a person could have; a testament to the harsh upbringing of his overbearing father and passive mother. The themes of forgiveness and growth demonstrate everyone’s journey and progress through life, though both the ups and the downs.

While many readers have found fault with the length of this book, I could not. I was sad when I finally finished this nearly 900 page tome and regretted reading it so fast.  I found that the author’s work was concise, necessary, intricate and well-thought out.

I want to recommend this book to everyone as I believe there are many facades of life that the characters in this book either embody or go through that few adults would not be able to relate to.  Do not be afraid of the length of this book, I assure you that every page is well worth it.