Wow! What a book! Tiffany Gholar’s A Bitter Pill To Swallow was such a satisfying read, and I absolutely loved it!
Devante has just been through a devastating experience in which the girl he loves dies, but he survives. One day, unable to take it anymore, he tries to commit suicide, but is rescued and eventually ends up in The Harrison School, a therapeutic school for troubled children and teens. Janina has been living in The Harrison School for four years and is feels so out of tune with the outside world that she is afraid to leave. Gail Thomas is angry and disillusioned with a mental health system that puts profit above people, and sees The Harrison School as her last chance to actually make a difference. Dr Lutkin who runs the school has a mysterious past and is struggling to keep The Harrison School they way it is –a positive place where teens and children with mental health issues are truly cared for.
When I read the description of the book, I assumed that it would be a very dark and emotionally draining read. I was surprised that the only tears I had at the end, were tears of happiness! I admit that the very neat and perfect solutions that all the characters have in the end is a rarity in real life, and that The Harrison School sounds too good to be true. I doubt things are so good in real-life, and the cynical side of me certainly fought this, but at some point I gave up analyzing and was just happy for the characters.
The book deals with some very relevant issues with reference to mental health –how mental health care is hard to come by for POC (most characters in the book are POC), pharma-politics, misdiagnosis, etc. It is to the credit of the author that she does so without overwhelming the reader. However, there is mention of suicide and self-harm so a few trigger warnings are needed for suicide, suicidal ideation, self-harm.
There were couple of issues I did have with the book. In one place, Dr Lutkin mentions that the pills the teens are given are placebos and that he doesn’t support the use of pills. This jarred me a bit, because while an over dependence on pills is not advisable, I don’t think it is okay to completely do away with them either. Some people really do need the medication! Another was that a couple of the characters refer to each other of to themselves as ‘crazy’. There was also the idea of ‘normal’ thrown about. Even though the characters know that they are not supposed to use these words, and the author has used them to help us understand the inner monologue of the characters, it is still a bit uncomfortable to read them. The ‘head-hopping’, change in POV from one character to another, while usually very well done, was a bit abrupt and jarring in a few instances, especially when one paragraph in a chapter was from one POV and the next paragraph from another POV.
But in spite of these issues, this is a 4 star read for me, because I was so completely involved in the lives of these characters. The author has written them so well, that the reader begins to really care for them. The pacing is really good too, and I found it very difficult to put the book down. Also, I loved how the book took suicide with the seriousness it deserves and not just as a gimmick. It is a tale about the struggle that recovery is.
I commend Tiffany Gholar for writing such a touching, positive book about teens with mental health issues. At the end of the book, she admits that she is not a medical or mental health professional, and that much has changed from the time that this book is set in (the 90’s). In spite of that, I think this is a very relevant read.
FTC disclaimer: I received a e-copy of this book from the author in exchange for this honest review.
Author Bio: http://www.tiffanygholar.com/about