The Bell Jar By Sylvia Plath

There are a number of reasons for which this book is famous, but my favorite is that The Bell Jar is the only novel ever written by Sylvia Plath, who has only published two other works (both are books of poetry). In fact, Plath took her own life about a month after The Bell Jar was published, famously putting her head into the oven and turning it on. Her novel is semi-autobiographical, as it follows her life story, changing only the names of her acquaintances and the mental health treatments that the main character, Esther, endures.

While the plot of the novel is intriguing, the most important aspect for me was psychological. The main character, Esther Greenwood, compares life to a bell jar, suffocating her when it covers her completely, and letting her breath when lifted. The bell jar’s meaning has been debated, but I believe that it symbolizes the box that society and Esther’s own perfectionist ideology create. Esther actually spirals into a depressive state, and this peaks when she attempts suicide via overdose in her other’s basement, almost exactly like Plath did with her mother’s sleeping pills under her house in 1953.

After her suicide attempt, Esther spends some time at a mental institution, where she is prescribed electroshock therapy, which was a form of therapy for depression used in the 1950s, in which electric shocks were administered until the patient had a seizure. Guess who else was prescribed electroshock therapy for years? Sylvia Plath- the sheer number of details that match between the novel and its author are the reasons for the novel being called semi-autobiographical.

Overall, this novel is absolutely fantastic, and I would certainly recommend it or anyone looking for a mental and psychological eye-opener. Plath’s detailed insight into mental illnesses that women suffered through during the early to mid-1900s as well as the treatments for these illnesses is truly awakening to the mind. A true work of art, The Bell Jar is a perfect novel for someone looking for psychological semi-fiction.

-Arushi S. 

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

In Challenger Deep, written by Neal Shusterman, Caden Bosch is a teenager who struggles with mental illness. This story is told from two perspectives where it switches from his point-of-view of his life and his fantasy world. In his fantasy world, he has become a part of a voyage with a man who calls himself the Captain and his parrot to explore the Marianas Trench, Challenger Deep, to find the bottom of it.

In Caden’s daily life, he begins to show signs of his mental illness. His friends, family, and teachers begin to notice his anxiety, his random thoughts, and his new hobby of pacing and walking. At first, they shrug it off thinking it’s only a phase, but everyday Caden falls deeper in his mental illness.

Caden’s story is an emotional one about a boy going through his first mental breakdown. There were some funny moments, but it’s a sad story of a teen going through a mental illness.

Although it took me some time to read this book, I highly recommend reading it. This book gave me some new insight about how people with mental illnesses feel. The author did a fantastic job in capturing Caden’s emotions and of his family and friends emotions.

There are some curse words ( no F-bombs though) and no sexual content (Yay for those who don’t want to read smut!). This book has little to no romance since it mainly focuses more on the friendships of Caden and his recovery from his mental breakdown.

This is a good book for older teens, I don’t recommend kids ages 13 and younger reading this because of the mature themes. Also, it can be a bit confusing because it’s from Caden’s perspective, but it’s entertaining.

*Spoiler alert* In one scene, some of the patients talk about what happened to them before they were hospitalized. The author doesn’t go into detail, but it’s a little disturbing. 

-Ash A.

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

itskindofafunnystory_nedvizziniIt’s always tragic when one takes their own life. Ned Vizzini, the author of this highly acclaimed novel, did so at age 32. His death lends so much more meaning to this book about a 15-year-old battling depression and suicidal thoughts. In the story, teen Craig Gilner has absolutely nothing to complain about in life. He’s got a good, loving family, great friends, and goes to one of the hardest to get into schools in Manhattan. Which is why he can’t figure out why he’s so depressed. He can’t eat, he can’t sleep, and every day is another waking nightmare. So finally, he decides he’s going to do something about it and kill himself. But Craig isn’t an idiot, he realizes something is very wrong with him. He calls the suicide hotline and checks himself into a hospital, where he is sent to the mental ward. While there, he learns about the truths behind the other patients, and more about himself than he’d ever known. Written in a tone of humor mixed with tragedy, this incredible story brilliantly illustrates how severe depression really is, and how to try to beat it.

You feel as if you know Craig personally, and are constantly rooting for him. This is because he talks to the reader casually, as he would a close friend, making him all the more relatable. When I read this book the first time through, I had unfortunately skipped the forward and didn’t find out that the author had actually killed himself until someone I had recommended it to told me. This was devastating, as I grew so close to the main character (who was based very closely on the author). This story is incredible, not only because of how well-written it is and how relatable the characters are, but because shortly before writing this book, Ned Vizzini, himself, was admitted into a mental hospital for suicidal thoughts and wrote It’s Kind of a Funny Story based on his real-life experiences there. This is a book that should be read by everyone, old and young, depressed and not, because people need to wake up and seriously look at this issue. I would, however, keep this book out of the hands of children twelve and under. As many of my friends struggle with depression, this book really helped me to understand. Highly recommend!

Evan G., 8th Grade

It’s Kind of a Funny Story is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive.

Every Last Word, by Tamara Ireland Stone

everylastword_tamarastoneSamantha has friends that she’s known forever. She’s also one of the popular girls in her junior year of high school. She wears make-up with all the right clothes and pretends that everything is all right inside. It’s not.

Samantha thinks. A lot. She can’t turn off her mind that fills with paranoia and second guesses. It keeps her up at night and distracted during the day. Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD (though she isn’t a neat freak, common misconception). She has a thing for the number three. She always swims in lane three. When she pushes a button, she likes to do it three times. The odometer has to end in three before she can park. And when she listens to music she likes to remember the best three words to describe the song.

Even though Sam has had the same clique of friends since kindergarten, they sometimes seem more of a hassle than they are worth. There is girl drama and the need to conform on how they expect Samantha to act. That’s another thing. They will only call her Samantha. Sam is just a person in the summer who is free to swim. Sam is just temporary. That is until she meets Caroline.

With Caroline as her new friend, Sam’s life is different but better. Sam discovers the Poet’s Corner and finds a place with supportive people who make her feel almost normal. With her newfound love of poetry, it almost seems too good to be true. Maybe it is as Sam makes a discovery that puts her sanity into question on an entirely new level.

I love when a book has plot twists that you don’t see coming, but looking back there were clues that add up to something odd. The poetry in the Poet’s Corner ranges from deep to glorifying fast food. It’s a beautifully written book that deal with the Sam’s disorder, friendship, romance, poetry, and whatever clever saying is on Caroline’s t-shirts (They are pretty awesome). The only annoying parts were with Sam’s friends since childhood. Deal with them a few chapters, just like Sam has been doing her whole life and move on to better friendships and poetry readings.

-Nicole G., 12th Grade

Every Last Word is available for check out from the Mission Viejo Public Library