In A Tragic Kind of Wonderful, we get a look into a sixteen year old girl’s life as she deals with bipolar disorder. It’s an eye-opening experience for those who might not know much about it, and for those who do, you can understand what the main character is going through in the book. It is a raw and gripping read, one that will shake you up and give you insight into what it is like living with bipolar disorder.
“‘Battles are never won. Only survived.'”
Mel Hannigan knows battles. She has survived several of them – losing her brother and then herself. She is a sixteen year old girl who tries to keep herself closed off – after a falling out with her group of friends, she holds the two other friends that she has made at arm’s length, only talking in school and maybe hanging out once a week for Movie Roulette. No one at her school knows about her brother. No one at schools knows about her bipolar disorder – in fact, she has worked incredibly hard to keep both of those things hidden from everyone. Instead, she spends her days at home with her mom and her aunt, seeing her dad every now and again, and the rest of her free time goes to her job at the assisted living center, where she has made friends with the seniors living there. She also spends her time taking pills, seeing her psychiatrist, and measuring her feelings and emotions using her special charting system.
For the most part, Mel can handle her bipolar disorder – sure, she has “off” days, but for the most part, things have been going smoothly for her. And then a new resident moves into the assisted living center, and there she meets her Grandson, David. David and Mel don’t quite get along at first, but when they start talking and spending more time together, their feelings for each other blossom, which both confuses and delights Mel.
“‘When you’re happy,’ he says, ‘you’re the light in the room. And when you’re sad, you’re still the light in the room.'”
When one of her old three friends moves away, leaving a mysterious box with the belongings of the other two friends behind and in Mel’s care, she finds herself forced to interact with two people who used to be her best friends, but now she no longer talks to at all. When new secrets involving the three of them arise and start to build up and then tear down friendships all over again, Mel starts to lose control of everything, leading her to an inevitable breakdown. She starts to question who she can and cannot trust, and is forced to come to terms with a lot of things about her life – including her diagnosis, whether or not her friendship with those she cares about is real, and the tragedy involving her brother.
This book was a really honest look into bipolar disorder. I know some people seem to think that you can take a single pill every day and be just fine, and others think it’s just a temporary problem and will “go away with time.” Since that isn’t the case, and bipolar disorder is, in fact, a real issue that needs to be managed, it’s really nice to read a book that sheds light upon it and does a great job talking about what it’s like to deal with it on a day to day basis.
Not only does Mel have to deal with taking medications and monitoring her moods, she also has your usual teenage stuff to deal with – crushes, family issues, and friend related drama. Not to mention the horrible thing involving her brother that happened before the family moved. Mel has a lot on her plate, and her character deals with things in a realistic and healthy way – she cries, she tries, she deals with things the best she can, and sometimes she just can’t. I think this is important for people to know that every now and again, people have to take a step back and realize that they can’t always do everything – and that’s okay.
At first I was kind of confused by the way that Mel chooses to monitor her feelings and health, but after it gets explained and you read the book, I started to get more of a feeling for it. Each chapter starts with it, so you can watch as her moods change throughout the book. It’s a clever and unique addition to the novel, and it’s also pretty important to the book and getting to know Mel’s character.
This book has a lot of emphasis on a family support system, including Mel’s mom and aunt, who lives with them. Mel’s aunt just wants her to live her life like a teenager, while her mom works her hardest to be sure that Mel takes her medication and sees her therapist on a regular basis. Some of the actions that Mel’s aunt takes are questionable(for example, she buys Mel a bottle of vodka in one chapter), but she loves her with all of her heart and just wants her to live her life to the fullest. Unfortunately, Mel’s dad isn’t really around that much in the book.
I enjoyed reading how Mel and David’s relationship blooms – there isn’t any insta-love in this book, and I am so thankful for that.
A Tragic Kind of Wonderful is a heart wrenching portrayal about love, loss, and a very accurate portrayal about what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder.