“They needed someone to blame, and I was the only available scapegoat. Their daughter was my best friend. Playing the scapegoat was the least I could do under the circumstances.”
Seventeen year old Hannah Gold was born mature – or so her parents tell her. She has dined in fancy restaurants, explored the most sophisticated corners of the globe and lived a life of luxury.
Those days are over.
Now she is confined to a single, locked room in a mental health institution. Now she must wait for the nurses and judges to realise they’ve made a mistake. That she’s perfectly sane. That Hannah Gold could never be a danger to herself and others. Until then, she must be on her best behaviour to earn privileges and hurry her release along to be back home in time for her new school term.
However, when Hannah is assigned a roommate, Lucy, she is confronted with the memories she has supressed and the truth about what really happened the night Agnes fell from the window.
A Danger to Herself and Others by Alyssa Sheinmel is one of those books that you just can’t put down. It had me hooked from the get go with its unreliable narrator and stimulating plot. The writing flows beautifully and keeps the reader engaged through some very sensitive topics which made it a really poignant, effortless read.
This contemporary novel explores the reality of mental health facilities and challenges the stereotypes associated with someone suffering from mental health issues. The characters in the story are depicted as everyday people whose minds just work differently, which is a great attribute to this novel as it attacks the notion that people with mental health conditions are other. A Danger to Herself and Others perfectly illustrates the prejudices surrounding mental health and the treatment people, who have been diagnosed, receive. How people fear what they don’t understand, how mental health is treated as a taboo and how people avoid those who need them most.
Alyssa Sheinmel has brilliantly created three-dimensional characters that a reader can really invest in, especially Hannah. Hannah is very intelligent, witty and egocentric and it was refreshing to have a strong character as someone with mental health issues as, too often, these conditions are seen as a weakness. She’ll have you feeling frustrated, tired, joyful and confused right along with her. By the last chapter I felt like I’d been there with her and experienced it all – this is all down to Sheinmel’s fantastic writing and characterisation.
My only criticism of this book is that, although the theme and representation of mental illness is brilliant, I wanted a little bit more form the plot. It started really strong and I kept waiting for a twist or event to come but it never did, which left me wanting more.
A Danger to Herself and Others is my first encounter with Alyssa Sheinmel and it was a great one. I have already ordered some of her other works and can’t wait to delve in to them.
*Trigger warnings: Psychosis, depression, bulimia and anorexia