Book Review & Author Interview: The Sister Pact by Stacie Ramey

sisterpact

Who holds your secrets?

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Plot Summary:

Allie is devastated when her sister commits suicide-and it’s not just because she misses her. Allie feels betrayed. The two made a pact that they’d always be together, in life and in death, but Leah broke her promise and Allie needs to know why.
Her parents hover. Her friends try to support her. And Nick, sweet Nick, keeps calling and flirting. Their sympathy only intensifies her grief.
But the more she clings to Leah, the more secrets surface. Allie’s not sure which is more distressing: discovering the truth behind her sister’s death or facing her new reality without her.

Grade: A

Review:

Full disclosure: I was attracted to this book for all the wrong triggering reasons. A little backstory: Much like the protagonists Allie and Leah, as teenagers, my cousin Melody and I also had made a “pact” to bail out if life took a turn that we couldn’t handle. Flash forward to 2013, and Melody bails out in the worst way possible but also breaking the pact that had made where we would’ve made the decision together. Now, six years later, I am still trying to figure out what I could’ve done or said to make her not wish to want to go. In a way, in these six years, I’ve tried to experience all the things that I knew Melody wished to experience or travel to places she would’ve wanted to. In other words, I’ve tried to live for both of us.

My first book from Stacie Ramey was It’s My Life, and despite the protagonist having cerebral palsy, it wasn’t as dark or heavy as The Sister Pact. There was a stark contrast between the two novels. In It’s My Life, Jenna had to deal with a chronic illness, however, she had a loving family and friends. But in The Sister Pact, the protagonist Allie has to deal with a highly dysfunctional family and awful friends that betray her. What I’m trying to say is, this book was very, very dark.

Ramey doesn’t sugarcoat anything and instead depicts grief and depression in a very realistic way. At times, Allie’s pain is so palpable and visceral that you can almost feel it as your own. I found it to be a very powerful and moving novel. Which seeing that it was this author’s debut novel to boot, she really came into the writing scene with a serious bang.

And although the subject matter of the novel is extremely dark (suicide, depression, drug abuse) it isn’t dreary for the sake of being so. You understand why Allie makes the bad choices that she does. But ultimately, she finds the strength to want to live, even if her older sister Leah, whom she looked up to, isn’t there with her anymore. The end was uplifting and hopeful. And in a way, it made me feel a little hopeful about my own grief over my cousin’s death.

I recommend this for anyone who wants to read a novel that discusses serious topics and has some real feelings.

Short Q & A With the Author:

Jenna and Allie have dramatically different families. One is very loving and supportive while the other is highly dysfunctional. How do you think their families contributed to your protagonists’ personalities?

I think that’s the point, isn’t it? I mean, Allie has to overcome a lot of things. Her sister’s suicide. Her parents’ divorce. Her feeling that her world is unraveling. We understand that her family’s struggle has contributed to her issues, but we also see that she’s undergoing complicated grief which is a type of grief where Allie feels slightly complicit in her sister’s death in addition to everything else and she’s not coping well. But we don’t really blame her because it’s really too much for her and that’s what makes it so empowering to see her crawl out of it and find some hope.

As for Jenna, she has tons of support, but she’s stopped believing in herself. She’s given up on herself and haven’t we all done that at some point in our lives? Her family’s support is constant and wonderful, but it’s also something she’s trying to break away from in order to take the next steps in her life. All teens go through this. Jenna struggles with how to accomplish this in the wake of her disability. Some people have described her as self-pitying, but I don’t buy that. I believe that wish-fulfillment fantasy that she has of being a better version of herself is very typical and her response to the limitations of her body is very believable and deserves our witness, not our judgment. Just my opinion.

In both novels, the protagonists are academically smarter than the classes they decide to be in for themselves. Jenna decides to take easier classes because she is absent from school a lot due to her condition, while Allie decides to take lighter courses because she’s distraught over her sister’s suicide. Do you think this was a subconscious effort for both of them to control one aspect of their lives since they had no control any other way?

Yes. They each try to control their lives in any way possible. Teens have a ton of pressure on them these days (I mean they always have but now we expect them to be little adults from the time they can talk and make decisions).

For Allie, some of the adults in her life are trying to ease her burden, although interestingly enough, her parents do not share this viewpoint. They keep looking for reasons to believe Allie is ok and they look to her progression through typical milestones such as graduating on time and staying focused on getting into a high-pressure college as a means for evaluating her condition. I believe they should, instead, as her guidance counselor suggests, take time to heal, but when bad things happen, we tend to want to get back to business as soon as possible. It’s the wrong way, in my opinion.

As for Jenna, she is definitely trying to flex her decision-making muscles here. It’s not a good decision to go into lower classes, and she regrets it, but sometimes we have to allow ourselves to make bad choices in order to figure out what works and what doesn’t. She’s always fought as Daddy’s little warrior, but now she’s trying to work out who she is now and, more importantly, who she wants to be.

What was your inspiration behind both novels?

It’s My Life was actually the first book I ever wrote even though it was the fourth book I sold. I really wanted to tell the story of a girl who has a disability who gives up on herself and then has to work to find herself again. It was important to me that she has a fully supportive family, because I wanted her struggles to be with herself and how she sees herself. While I do not have cerebral palsy or a mobility disorder, I have struggled with invisible disabilities my entire life. I am the youngest of very capable older siblings and have many times felt lost in my life’s course, even while having my family’s support and love and, like Jenna, I’m still trying to figure out who I am supposed to be.

The Sister Pact was based on a few different things, some easy to discuss in this space, some harder. Mostly, I wanted to write the story of two groups of people who both had the same intent-save Allie-but were in complete opposition on how to do that. In this case, it’s kind of Allie vs her parents and even though both sets of people want Allie to heal, initially they don’t understand the other person’s intentions and methods so they work in conflict with each other. It was really an experiment and I’m glad it worked out that both groups could work together. I also wanted to show how mental health issues can look completely different from what we might expect in this case, Allie’s sister is super successful, all the while she’s battling consuming depression, as is Allie’s mother. I wanted to show how we try to act like everything’s ok when it’s all falling apart. Also, I wanted to show sisters who are so close they tell each other everything, except any of the important things.

Are you currently working on a new project?

I am currently writing a retelling of a Yiddush Fairy Tale. It’s a lot of fun.

*Thank you so much to the author for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: How To Make Friends With The Dark by Kathleen Glasgow

dark

Here is what happens when your mother dies.

Release Date: April 9, 2019

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Price: $12.91 (hardcover)

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Plot Summary:

It’s the brightest day of summer and it’s dark outside. It’s dark in your house, dark in your room, and dark in your heart. You feel like the darkness is going to split you apart.

That’s how it feels for Tiger. It’s always been Tiger and her mother against the world. Then, on a day like any other, Tiger’s mother dies. And now it’s Tiger, alone.

Here is how you learn to make friends with the dark.

Grade: A

Review:

Having read Glasgow’s heart-wrecking debut, Girl In Pieces, I had an inkling that perhaps her second novel would be another emotional rollercoaster. What I didn’t know is just how much of a wild, heart-breaking ride this would be. Last year, I finally got around to reading White Oleander (about a girl who goes into foster care once her mom is sent to prison for murder), so when Tiger’s mom dies, and she goes to foster care all I can think is, “OH NO BAD THINGS ARE GOING TO HAPPEN NOW!” Because some crazy shit went down in White Oleander that made me grateful that I never had to be a foster child, but at the same time made me feel extremely sorry for those poor kids who do end up becoming wardens of the state. And although I had only known Tiger for a couple of pages, I instantly liked her and was fearful of her future without her mother.

The prose in this book is amazingly STUNNING, even when events happen that leave you feeling like you’re repeatedly getting sucker punched with the most horrible reality. The author has a way of writing that makes grief and despair appear simultaneously poetic and yet very harsh. This book doesn’t lull you with a false sense of security, instead, it pulls the rug out from under your feet making you fall painfully hard. This book isn’t for those who are looking for a casual YA because other than the protagonist being a teen, a lot of the tough reality of life wasn’t glossed over nor sugar-coated. Glasgow wants you to see how difficult it can be to lose the only person you have in life, even if that reality makes you feel uncomfortable at times.

This book will make you feel in ways you didn’t think you were capable of feeling. It will also absolutely shatter your heart to pieces. Not to mention that ugly crying will be in your near future once you pick up this novel. You’ve been warned. But it’s well worth it.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Suicide Has Escalated Because Americans Are Depressed

suicide

Suicide Can Be Preventable If We Know The Warning Signs

Warning Signs of Suicide

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself.

  • Looking for a way to kill oneself.

  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.

  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.

  • Talking about being a burden to others.

  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.

Suicide has been on the rise in the past ten years. And it’s no surprise that that is the case when 1 in 4 Americans are depressed. There’s a myriad of reasons why more and more Americans are depressed, whether it’s for the lack of stable employment, unstable relationships, and debilitating debt. In a world where success is measured by your bank account, it’s obvious that the average person nowadays feels like they’re severely lacking.

But what about celebrities who seem to have it all? Why are suicide rates rising in their circle as well? Because depression is a serious illness and often not one that people are readily willing to admit to having or needing help. And often, when they do go to doctors for help, they are merely prescribed anti-depressant after anti-depressant, that often, one of the side-effects of said anti-depressant is suicidal thoughts.

What actually needs to find out the source of their unhappiness, and only then can a true recovery be accomplished. Medication may help alleviate symptoms for some, but it’s only with the help of other people and your own can you overcome depression and the feeling of unworthiness that comes along with it.

But while suicide rates have increased over the years, the ones who are the most at risk of committing suicide are white males by 84%. A study has shown that just this past week with celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain committing suicide, has increased suicide across the states by 25%. Now experts are afraid that suicide contagion may cause those individuals that have been contemplating suicide to take the so-called plunge. Suicidal thoughts may increase when you see celebrities taking their own lives, as it has individuals experiencing a greater sense of hopelessness, thinking that if a celebrity who was living their best life committed suicide, then how could they ever achieve happiness themselves, and thus see suicide as their only way out.

Mental Health conditions and depression aren’t the only reasons people are seeking suicide as a solution to their problems. People experiencing relationship problems and loss of a loved one are at a greater risk, along with those that abuse alcohol or drugs. Stress is also a major component, whether you’re experiencing stress due to employment (or lack of one), money, legal, or housing issues are also at risk for suicide. Not to mention stress due to physical health conditions.

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So what can we do to help?

  1. Don’t leave that person alone.
  2. Separate that person from anything that might harm them.

If you or someone else is thinking about suicide, there is help!

The suicide rate in the United States has seen sharp increases in recent years. Studies have shown that the risk of suicide declines sharply when people call the national suicide hotline: 1-800-273-TALK.

There is also a crisis text line.

For crisis support in Spanish, call 1-888-628-9454.

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