Black Box is a young adult novel that will appeal to both teens and adults. Julie Schumacher writes about a 16-year-old girl, Dora, who is suffering from depression and is admitted to the hospital psychiatric ward. The book is told from the point of view of Dora’s 14-year-old sister, Elena, whose loyalty to her older sister causes her great pain.
Though the younger of the two girls, Elena feels responsible for Dora, watching her like a hawk after she returns from the hospital. Elena is torn between keeping her sister’s actions secret and telling her parents so Dora can get the help she needs.
Schumacher’s writing pulled me in from the first page and dropped me right in the scene. It felt as though I really could hear the girl in the psychiatric ward screaming to be let out, and I could feel the mother’s pain as she crumbles to the floor, realizing the screaming girl is her daughter. I could feel the tension between Elena’s parents as they worry if they’re doing right by Dora, and I could feel the confusion, anger, sadness, and loneliness weighing down on Elena.
It’s been quite awhile since I was a teenager, but I think Schumacher did a great job getting into the minds of teenage girls. I also loved the character of Jimmy Zenk, the outcast who takes an interest in Elena and does his best to help her with her situation. He was so different from the boys I knew as a teenager; he loved to cook, and he actually listened to Elena. I developed a crush on him by the time the book ended. 🙂
With a history of depression in my family, I know what it’s like to have the feelings Dora had. I also know what it feels like to be in Elena’s shoes. And as a mother, I could sympathize with the parents, knowing that I’d be torn up if I was in the same situation.
At 164 pages, I easily finished reading Black Box in one day. Schumacher’s writing flows so easily and so brilliantly captures the characters’ pain and vulnerability that before I knew it, half the book had flown by.
It’s hard to say I enjoyed this book because who enjoys watching someone suffer from depression? But Black Box was a great read, and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes books that stir their emotions.
I’ll leave you with my favorite passage from the book, when Elena is speaking with her therapist:
“Sometimes when I think about Dora I wonder, you know–” I felt my pulse beating in my throat. “I wonder what I’m supposed to do with it.” I looked around her office–the lamp, the rug, the bookshelf, the table with the box of tissues and the jar of stones–and I felt as if I were waiting for the end of a story, for the moment when the crisis passed and the characters wisely understood what had happened to them and someone shut the book with a satisfying snap. But what if the story didn’t end, and the book stayed open?
“You wonder what you’re supposed to do with what?” the Grandma Therapist asked.
“This.” I couldn’t look at her. I tried to gesture but ended up just turning my hands palm up in my lap. This thing, I wanted to say to her. This giant shape always pressing and bruising and taking up every single particle of air between us.
The Grandma Therapist leaned toward me. “Are you talking about sadness?”
I could barely speak above a whisper. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with it,” I said. “What do other people do with it? Where do they put it?”
She didn’t answer right away. “Sometimes they carry it with them,” she said. “Because they aren’t sure what else to do.”
“But sometimes they open it up like a package in the presence of a person they can talk to,” she said. “Someone they can trust.” She held out her hands. “Any person who is carrying a lot of sadness,” she said, “needs to be able to rest sometimes, and to put it down.” (pages 127-128)
This passage really stuck with me. Isn’t Schumacher’s writing beautiful?
Disclosure: I received a copy of Black Box from the author for review purposes. I am an Amazon associate.
© 2008 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.