The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong

This is a trainwreck of an upbringing that you can’t help but sympathize with, as you berate yourself for laughing at the strangeness of it all.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 304 pages.
Read from March 3, 2019 to March 9, 2019.

Lindsay Wong describes the Woo-Woo as a Chinese superstition that ghosts are the cause of bad things in your life, which unfortunately for her and mental-health-ridden family, meant an array of irrational behaviour followed by never seeking treatment. This book is in the Canada Reads 2019 shortlist after a few near misses in previous years so no doubt this book will be a fan favourite for the debates.

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Joe Zee defending The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong during the debates taking place on March 25-28, 2019.

Lindsay and her siblings are first generation Chinese-Canadians. Her family came over from Hong Kong and settled in Vancouver which has a large Chinese population giving the city the appropriate nickname of Hongcouver. She lives in an upper-middle-class neighbourhood with her mother father, brother and sister, and for a short time her grandmother. Lindsay basis of daily dealings with her family and her life included things like swearing, name-calling, bribes with money, escaping life decisions and people with makeshift camping trips, and smothering bad feelings and “ghosts” with junk-food. Shouting matches, arguments, grudges and personal hang-ups are what Lindsay thought being a family was all about.

Despite her family having a comfortable income Lindsay wore old, dated clothes and showered once a week. Lindsay lacked the social skills to make friends but her aggression made her an excellent hockey player, an endeavour her father bribed her into to achieve some sort of Canadian-dream status.  Her father insisted that she was extremely stupid and fat as some messed up means of motivating her to achieve more along with a sick sense of dark humour. While her mother fell prey to the mental illness that plagued her own mother resulting in her being obsessed with ghosts and trying to protect her family from them. Her protection came in the form of insisting that her family never show any emotion as to not invite the ghosts in, terrorizing midnight wakings, lighting Lindsay’s feet and bedding on fire, day-long walks in shopping malls, and more.

Lindsay grew up in fear the Woo-Woo as she saw it slowly wreck her grandmother, her mother and eventually even her Aunt, whom she thought was safe. Without the means to empathize and deal with normal human situations in a healthy manner, Lindsay was in constant worry about her own mental state. Despite all this Lindsay managed to get into a university far from home where she was relieved to finally escape her family, only to find that the Woo-Woo seemed to have followed her there.

Even with these enormous hurdles to overcome, Lindsay seems to have found peace and understanding with her upbringing. Despite the dark and sometimes traumatizing events that Lindsay endured she approaches her story with a stoic and entertaining sense of dark humour. This is a trainwreck of an upbringing that you can’t help but sympathize with, as you berate yourself for laughing at the strangeness of it all. It brings awareness to the stigmas around mental illness and the barriers we still have to overcome, especially culturally, which healthcare systems could benefit from learning more about.

If you live in Vancouver, I would absolutely say this is a must-read. This is also a relevant book for those looking from some reprieve from their own families and mental health struggles.

The most moving part of this story comes from Lindsay finding the courage to write such an intimate memoir about her family, especially since she is writing from a standpoint of success in battling her inner Woo-Woo and family troubles. It’s a testament to the power of healing yourself and finding faith in yourself against the odds.

 

 

Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews

Did this book traumatize you as as teen?

4/5 stars.
ebook, 416 pages.
Read on October 26, 2018.

So this is the book that disturbed a generation of teens! Huh, I can definitely see why. ‘Cause this book is the epitome of a fucked up childhood. This book is banned in a lot of places and I can see why but at the same time I’m not sure I believe in sheltering teens away from certain realities. By reading books like this one, teens open up their mind to the world around them and become aware that there is a good chance that someone they know is suffering from some form of child abuse.

Everything was perfect for the Dollanganger family, four beautiful, blonde children and their doting parents, but their idyllic family-life is brought to an abrupt halt when their father suddenly passes away in a car accident. For the twins, Chris and Cathy, they soon realize that their mother is no longer able to provide for them alone. Their mom then makes a decision to return to her wealthy parents for assistance, a reasonable decision. Or so it would seem; their mother has been keeping secrets from them. The children soon learn that their mother has been disowned by her own family due to the scandalous relationship that brought them into this world, and that if their mother wants to inherit the family fortune the children need to be hidden away until after their grandfather dies. Since they are children they reluctantly agree to the strange situation with their mother promising to return in a few days. Those days turn into weeks, months, and then years as the Dollanganger children live out some of their peak emotional and cognitive years in the confinement of their grandmother’s attic. Their situation is volatile and desperate but they deeply fear their grandmother so they only thing they can do is stick together and look out for each other.

Annnnnd that’s where I will end the book summary since things get particularly twisted from there on out. Most people approach this book knowing full well the pinnacle twisted moment so I’m going to spoil part of it… Chris rapes Cathy. It’s a tumultuous and sad scene as Chris has confused his love for his sister in not having any other contact to the outside world. There are also a number of horrific and heartbreaking scenes involving the grandmother and of course their despicable mother. The author does such a remarkable job in creating this terrible story that many people have wondered if any aspect of the story was real. The author claims this plot is a fictionalized version of a true story as part of the plot came from the author overhearing a story from a doctor during a stay in a hospital.

It’s hard to believe that this book is classified as YA because it sure doesn’t read like one. This book is twisted and it might be too much for people who have had the trauma of child abuse, rape or incest. Having said that, this book left its impression on a generation for better and for worse. I would let older teens read this if as a parent you’re comfortable with but I would suggest that you read this book first, if you haven’t already.

A Moth To The Flame by Debbie Sands

I knew Amy. Lots of people I grew up with could say that but did anyone know her struggles?

5/5 stars.
ebook, 162 pages.
Read from September 14 to 15, 2016.

I knew Amy. Not as well as I would have liked or for very long, but we grew up in the same town and had solid year together in the Studio Theatre class in our high school, the very one mentioned in this book. Her death hit the community and anyone that ever knew her hard. Perhaps this review is a little biased because of that connection but I am thankful that Debbie shared Amy’s story and her struggles.

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Amy as I remember her in 2003 – Studio Theatre – Foothills Composite High School -Okotoks, AB

Amy passed away in the summer of 2012. She was shot through a garage door with a bullet that never should have been shot and was not ever intended for her. She was 27 years old. Amy was eccentric, fun, independent, beautiful and confident. I’ll never forget some of fun times we had or the few inside jokes we created together. I remember envying her. However, few would have ever known the struggles that she dealt with and the problems it would cause in her adult life. Even more, few would have known about the struggles Amy’s family went through in trying to help her.

Amy had borderline personality disorder (BPD). A mental health condition that is characterized by overt and unstable emotions as well as abnormal behavior and relationships with others. Sufferers often have an unstable sense of self and extreme sense of abandonment that can often lead to dangerous behaviors.

Amy’s condition drove her to abuse drugs and mix with a crowd of people that ended up resulting her death. The book details the intimate struggles that her family had to endure while trying to deal with Amy. I cannot fathom the amount of pain and how trying it would have been trying to manage Amy. Her family loved her dearly but at the same time did not want to be enforcers to her behavior. They knew she was troubled but it wasn’t until after Amy’s death that they came to determine that she had BPD. The book spares no details and gives the deep down trauma of living with BPD and what it does to loved ones. While the book was heartbreaking to read, it is also immensely insightful.

I had the pleasure of working with Debbie on during a Dewdney theatre production of The Importance of Being Ernest around 2005. Debbie made a stellar Lady Bracknell and she never ever showed any signs of the potential turmoil that was effecting her private life. I am so glad that she wrote this book. Not only has she shed light for all that loved Amy but she is spreading awareness of about BPD. I hope that the writing process has been a healing one for her. No mother, or family for that matter, should ever have to endure what she went through. It was very brave of her to publish this book.

I would highly recommend this book for anyone with BPD or has a loved one with BPD. Or for those who have had mental illness effect them or someone that the have loved. And especially for anyone that loved or knew Amy.