Finding Audrey, Sophie Kinsella, Doubleday, 2015.
Sometimes I vet the content of books to see if they’re suitable for inclusion in our suggested reading list. I don’t have any qualifications in bibliotherapy, but occasionally I suggest a book that I think might inspire, comfort, or provide solace. Poetry is particularly good in this regard and I can usually find a poem or two to recommend, but fiction can be a bit trickier. Anyway, when I heard about Finding Audrey, a YA novel about a teenage girl dealing with anxiety and depression, I thought I’d read it and see if it was a candidate for the list.
Sadly, I found the book to be entirely fatuous, but not quite as inane as the reviews on GoodReads that describe the book as ‘cute’ and ‘fun’. Those readers seem relieved that the author catered for their aversion to reading anything ‘depressing’ and laud Cabot for presenting ‘serious issues’ in a light-hearted and ‘fun’ way. (I swear that trying to get my head around other people’s self-delusion will drive me completely insane one of these days!)
Anyway, on with the tale of Audrey, who is fourteen and experiencing anxiety and depression as a result of something that happened at school. We’re never told exactly what happened, but it seems as though she was bullied by three classmates and everyone else stood by and let it happen. As the book opens we learn that Audrey has had a breakdown and spent time in hospital, but is now back home. She’s supposed to be starting at a new school soon, but she’s so anxious that she can’t make eye contact with anyone and wears sunglasses all the time. She never leaves her parent’s house except to attend her therapy sessions, and she spends a lot of time in bed. Poor Audrey has a lot of difficulty dealing with daily life and although medication helps her out, she’s still struggling.
In the telling of the tale, Cabot makes liberal use of caricatures and cliches we’ve all encountered a million times before: Audrey is the quintessential bright but quirky teenage girl; her mother is hysterical, controlling, and totally inept; her father is emotionally distant and ineffectual; her older brother is the stereotypical male teenager (messy, smelly and non-communicative); and her little brother, aged four, is one of those cute-as-a-button kids who says and does the most charming things, and seems to take care of himself most of the time because he only pops up now and then for comedic relief. And then there is Linus, the friend of Audrey’s brother who, surprise, surprise, has beau potential. He is only sixteen and Audrey is fourteen, but they behave like much older people and I felt a bit disturbed about their incipient relationship. Audrey is still a child, but the way Cabot writes about her and Linus I doubt that they’d be content to just sit on the couch and kiss one another for the next two years, if you know what I mean.
More disturbingly, the fact that a boy finds her attractive serves as the catalyst which sets Audrey on the road to an extraordinarily speedy recovery. One minute she’s unable to leave the house or look anyone in the eye, and the next minute she’s out and about and talking to strangers. I’m sorry to spoil the daydream this book is based on, but anxiety and depression are just not like that, and finding a boyfriend is not a cure for anything.
I wanted to get along with Audrey because she seemed like a nice enough kid, but then Cabot revealed Audrey’s Cinderella Complex. Audrey didn’t really try to get well for herself, but as soon as Linus came along she tried to behave ‘normally’, so he would be more attracted to her. She seemed to think that Linus paying attention to her meant that she must be worthy, or something. Oh, I could go on and on and on, but you get my drift. This book just sends so many wrong messages about relationships and self-respect, but most of all about mental illness. Although I’m sure Finding Audrey makes some readers think that dealing with mental illness has cute, fun and light-hearted aspects, I’m afraid that the book doesn’t do anything to make readers aware of the cold and very hard reality of mental illness. I can’t think of one single ‘fun’ thing about having anxiety and depression. They are serious illnesses that can kill people. Audrey’s miraculous recovery bears no resemblance whatsoever to the reality of trying to recover your equilibrium after having a psychological meltdown. If only it were as simple as Meg Cabot makes it out to be.
I found the book to be totally inane and I won’t be suggesting that anyone else read it. I just don’t understand why readers ‘like’ books such as this and the egregious The Rosie Project which, it seems to me, invites people to laugh at someone who has Autism Spectrum Disorder. I had a hard time reading that book, just as I did reading this one. If anyone wants to write a book about such things, the least they could do is to get it right. Some things simply are not laughing matters, and I think that other people treating them as if they are just smacks of ignorance and disrespect. Cabot’s heart is probably in the right place, but I think that her frivolous treatment of mental illness serves to trivialise something that needs to be taken very seriously, and the messages she sends via the character of Audrey, about the healing power of ‘love’, are just all wrong. Waiting around for a Prince Charming to rescue you from your brain is never going to work in the real world, and being dependent on a Prince Charming for your feelings of self-worth is never going to work, either. There are ways to deal with anxiety and depression, and it is possible to recover, but Cabot’s brand of magical thinking is not the answer.
I was surprised to learn that Sophie Kinsella, a pseudonym for Madeleine Wickham, is almost 46 and has five children. She looks about 25 in her website photos. You never can trust online portrait pictures. 🙂 Not that it matters, but insinuating that an author is ‘young and fun’ strikes me as being one of the tricks employed by publishers/marketers to entice readers to adhere to a ‘brand’. Oh, I should just crawl back into my cave and read Ulysses, or something. *sigh*
P.S. If you (or someone you know) is struggling with anxiety and/or depression, do please talk to a health care professional about it. There is hope. *hug*
Book Website: Finding Audrey