by Jessica Bell
Publication Date: January 18th, 2013
When I was a child, my mother, Erika Bach, and my father, Anthony Bell, wrote in an illustrated journal by Michael Green called A Hobbit’s Travels: being the hitherto unpublished Travel Sketches of Sam Gamgee. This journal is the inspiration for The Book.
Since reading this journal, and realizing how different my parents sounded in the entries compared to how I know them in real life, I often thought about writing a book which explored how differently parents and children perceive and respond to identical situations. Now, I know this concept isn’t ‘new’. But I certainly felt I had a unique bent to add to it. I hoped by using journal entries and therapy transcripts, in conjunction with a 1st person point of view of a five-year-old girl, it would make the story a little more intimate, make readers feel like they are peeking into the lives of real people. This way, it’s like you are reading memoir rather than fiction.
Set in the late 1970s, early 1980s, Bonnie, the five-year-old protagonist, was born prematurely. I hint, through the journal entries of her mother, Penny, and the transcripts of Bonnie and Dr. Wright, her therapist, that due to her premature birth, she has trouble learning and significant behavioral problems. However, I try to juxtapose this through Bonnie’s point of view. The reader is able to see how differently she perceives things in contrast to the adults in her life.
Bonnie is very smart. And she understands so much more than she chooses to let the adults see. So, at what point does one draw the line when it comes to defining poor mental health? Can anyone really see what is going on in a child’s mind? What right does one have to assume a prematurely born child is going to have difficulty learning or mental instabilities? What signs does one have to show to prove they are having difficulties at all? The Book raises these sorts of questions, hopefully offering readers a lot of food for thought.
It took me fourteen years before I could spell father properly. No matter how many times I was told, I still spelled father as farther and friend as freind and finally as finnaly. To this day I still have to look up the different conjugations of lie and lay. For some reason they just don’t stick.
What’s that say about me? Could that mean I am dyslexic? Have a learning disability? Perhaps I’m just being selective with what I feel is important to store in my long-term memory. I’m sure there are lots of reasons one could come up with. But when it comes to mental health, I don’t believe there are any definitive answers. This is one of the themes I explore in The Book.
What ‘signs’ do you think define stable mental health? And is there really such a thing?