Thursday, January 16, 2014

Review: Her by Felicia Johnson (5 Stars)

Title: Her
Author: Felicia Johnson
Publication Date: May 22, 2013

In many ways, Kristen Elliott is a normal, seventeen-year-old girl. Kristen loves her family. She works hard academically, and tries to please her mother. She takes on the additional responsibility of caring for her twin siblings, Nick and Alison. She idealizes her best friend, Lexus, who not only seems to lead the perfect life, but also catches the attention of John, the boy Kristen secretly loves. However, as is the case with many teenagers, Kristen feels frustrated, isolated, and confused.

In other ways, Kristen is not like other kids her age. She knows something is wrong with her. Kristen feels like an utter failure. She is unable to please her abrasive mother, and scared to confront Jack, her abusive stepfather. She is also unable to protect Nick from Jack, making her fell all the more helpless. Adding to her problems, she knows she will never be as beautiful as her best friend Lexus. Kristen finds solace in self-injury, and the company of Mr. Sharp, her imaginary friend who encourages her feelings of self-loathing.

After a failed suicide attempt, Kristen is placed in the Bent Creek mental hospital, where she is diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. While in the hospital, she meets a group of peers suffering with their own mental illnesses, and a compassionate staff of doctors and counselors. From there, Kristen begins her journey to survival. She discovers the circumstances that brought her to this breaking point, struggles to understand her mental illness, and fights to be a survivor against her own worst enemy: her self-blame.

Kristen’s tale of endurance illustrates the complex illness of Borderline Personality Disorder. Readers – including those suffering from BPD and their friends and family – can glean insight into the illness from Kristen’s humanity. Her story is an example of how, if we try to push the past away, we are either doomed to repeat it or let it haunt us to our graves.

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I went into this book thinking it was about a cutter. I came out of this book thinking completely and totally different about quite a few things.

This made me see inside the head of someone with a mental disorder. The way it is written just paints a picture so clear and real about how Kristen sees life and the things that she is living through. My head and heart for her so many times at the things that just kept happening to her and how she reacted to them because it is what her mind told her to do.

I absolutely love that it wasn't described as Kristen being right or wrong in her actions, but what was healthy or what her disease was doing to her. Seeing how her life was lived in the mental hospital and her growth each day was incredibly intriguing. I just had to know what had gone on with Jack, what was going to happen if/when she got out, what was the thing that made her go so far and put herself in the hospital. Seeing her with her mother and best friend, Lexus, made me hurt so bad because it was like there was just so much confusion and hurt on both sides of the fence.

In the end, I cried and maybe even laughed a bit, especially when Nick and Kristen danced. My heart broke a few times along the way too. But what a wonderful read to help people really understand what goes into a mental illness and how people that have a mental illness aren't the disease. Having a mental illness doesn't mean you can't eventually lead a normal life once you learn to be open and honest about what you are going through.

Felicia Johnson is a writer, youth mentor, student, and big sister. She loves ice cream, and seeing her little sister, Laura, smile.

Author Q&A:

Q. Music when you write? Tell us more. How do you decide what to listen to while writing? Do you choose music with a beat that matches the mood of your words or how do you decide?

A. That's a good question! LOL Sometimes, I listen to music while I write. Other times, I'll start writing and there may or may not be music on. I don't really plan it. If I am listening to music while I am writing, it's more than likely music that is already playing on my mp3 player. It would be music that's on my playlist. I listen to all types of music. It's whatever I feel. Artists that I like include: Lenny, Coldplay, Billie Holiday, Evanescence, Natalie Cole, Bruno Mars, Seether, The Beatles, Michael Jackson...the list goes on!

Q. What do you use as inspiration for a story? Do you use personal experience?

A. I'm a realistic writer, even if I'm writing fiction. It has to come from real life. Each story may not necessarily always come from my own experiences, but they may come from someone else's experience. It is life that inspires me.

Q. Do you have any books in the work for the future? If so, can you share a little about what its about?

A. I am working on a new novel called Black Girl. Black Girl is a novel that reveals the stigma of racism and discrimination within the Black community. I'm hoping to release Black Girl sometime in the Fall/Winter of 2014.

Q. Do you read? If so, what is your favorite genre to read and why?

A. I love books! I'm a self proclaimed bibliophile. Therefore, genre is not something I bother with. If it's good, then it's good. I'll give any book at least 5 pages of my time. I love to be enraptured in a book that makes me feel all sorts of emotions. As long as it has me wrapped up in the characters and each of their situations, I'm into reading it!

Q. If you could visit one location in the whole world, where would you go? Why? Who would you take with you?

A. Japan. Hands down! I love the culture, the food, and I speak a bit of the language. Still learning, but I love it! I'd definitely take my husband because he's into Japanese culture as well. I think it'd be really fun.

Q. Do you have any tattoos? What are they and do they have any significance behind them?

A. I do have a tattoo. I've always loved to dance. Still, to this day, dancing is one of my joys. I gave myself a tattoo when I was a kid. I used to dance ballet, and I had a teacher who would always tell me to "fix my feet" when I danced. To tell you truth, to this day, I have no idea what she was talking about because when I dance I feel the music and just go. I've never really thought too hard about feet or position when I danced. I just did it. But when this teacher constantly tell me to fix my feet, it made me feel bad. So, I went home one day after dance class, and I tattooed the Japanese kanji for "dance" on my left foot. I still have it and smile at it when I see it. I guess that was my way of "fixing my feet". lol

Q. What is your favorite indoor activity to do? How about outdoors?

A. If I'm stuck indoors, I like to play video games, read a book, play my piano, or sing karaoke with my friends or family. When I go out, I love to go for walks, play tennis, swim, hang out with my loved ones, and the list goes on. There's so much to do outside of the house.

Q. If you could only buy one type of item for the rest of your life what would you buy (besides the necessities of course)

A. If we're not talking about necessities, I'd buy an elephant because it's not necessary, but it would be neat to have one. Of course it would live in the wild where it belongs, but it'd be my elephant.

Q. What was the hardest part of Her for you to write? Would you care to share why? If not, it's understandable.

A. There's a really haunting character in the book. His name is Mr. Sharp. He's the imaginary friend of the main character, Kristen. He's kind of a ghostly and dark figure that talks to Kristen through a butterfly pendant that she covets. He was pretty hard to write because he was so dark and scary. I even had a few nightmares about him while I was writing the book.

Excerpt #1:

Nick pulled the sheets off of me, and found me hiding. I was lying still on my back with my wrists turned up. Blood stained my sheets and ran down my arms and onto the floor. I could hear soft, mellow cries in the background.

“Is she dead? Oh, God!” His voice faded as I drifted out of consciousness.

There were many pills. There was a lot of blood. There was only one knife.

I could hear him crying for our mother. I could hear them both shouting and screaming. He was screaming my name. I was too exhausted to call out to him and tell him that everything was going to be okay. This pain was going to be over soon. Nick was crying hysterically. He wouldn’t have listened to me.

I felt weak, like I had all of the weight of the whole world on me. It felt heavy at first. The paramedic lifted me up and onto the stretcher, and without any support, my head fell back. I couldn’t move my head. I started to feel weightless when he laid me down on the stretcher, like I was floating in the air. It was warm and peaceful.

I didn’t hear Nick’s screams or the sirens anymore. I was surrounded by darkness.I knew this was the moment I had been waiting for. The pain was almost gone. I felt a big relief, took a deep breath, and let out a sigh. If I were left alone for a little longer, I might have completely fallen asleep…

There was pressure on my chest. The pressure was so hard that I could feel my heart moving without my having any control over it. Air was forcibly making its way down my throat and into my lungs. The paramedic was breathing into my mouth.

I blacked out.

I came back.

I blacked out again and was back in the dark.

Excerpt #2:

From under his strands of hair, I could see his lips shivering and his teeth chattering. He
hugged himself tightly and bunched his knees to his chest.
“I didn’t hear you come in,” I told Mr. Sharp.
He wouldn’t look up at me.
“Are you afraid?” I asked him.
He didn’t answer.
I felt the blood drip down my finger. I pulled my hand out of my pocket, and the sharp butterfly
fell into the palm of my bloody hand. Mr. Sharp stayed crouched up on the seat. He looked at
my hand and his shivering lips would not give me that smile I was waiting for.

“What’s wrong? I need you! Help me!”He bit down on his lip and kept his head low. He
wouldn’t let me see his eyes. I pressed the sharp butterfly wing to my hand
and twisted the wing into my palm. I screamed in pain as I twisted and made the blood squeeze

“You said you’d be there for me! You said you’d help me breathe! I need to breathe! Mr.
Sharp! Mr. Sharp, please don’t leave me!”

“You have to stop,” he whispered hoarsely.
“You have to stop,” he repeated.
“I can’t! I can’t breathe. The ball keeps turning, and it’s hard for me to breathe.”

Mr. Sharp turned away from me and, without opening the door, he stepped outside into the
pouring rain. He started walking towards thebridge that led to the highway. I began to open
the driver’s side door when Mom’s cell phone rang. I looked down and saw that Mom was
calling from her office. The phone rang continuously. She was calling because it was
after 3:00pm, and Nick had promised he would call her if I wasn’t there on time. I looked at the
phone, and then out the window that had begun to fog. Mr. Sharp was still on the path to the

I slammed the door shut when I was out of the car, and I ran as fast as I could in the pouring
rain to get to him. When I caught up with him, he was at the top of the bridge, looking down
from the overpass.

Mr. Sharp kept his head low as he yelled over the noise of the traffic. “Jack was right!”

“No! He was never right!”“Yes, he was! You got what you deserved, Kristen, because you failed! He’s going to come back and he’s going to show you! You’ll see! She’s going to take him back!”
“She wouldn’t do that!”
“Yes, she would, if she knew that it would get rid of you! You are useless! You are ugly! You
are a loser!”
“Why?” I screamed out to him.
A car horn honked loud enough to make me jump. I had somehow walked out into traffic.
The car swerved and passed me.

Excerpt #3:

My father would probably have killed my
mother. Theresa probably would have still killed
herself, and I probably would have done it, too.”
“Were you scared?”
“At first I was. When I first got here, I thought I
was being punished. Now I see what being a
survivor really is. It’s not giving up. It’s not
running away. It’s getting through whatever it is
you have to get through to make it. It is allowing
you to grow stronger for whatever is coming
next. It is being brave and choosing to live
through it all so that you can share your story
and help others. That’s what a survivor does. I
don’t want to run away anymore. I just want to
live and make things better. My mom wants to
do the same. I tell you, Kristen, Bent Creek may
seem like the worst place to be right now, but
you’ll see. It’s not.”
He looked straight into my eyes and said, “I’ve
watched you.”
My heart started beating fast. He grabbed my
hand gently and looked down at my bandaged
wrists. His fingers traced the fresh tape that Ms.
Mosley had used for the bandages when she’d
changed them this morning. I closed my eyes
and let myself feel this moment between us.
“You seem so sad and regretful. You can’t just
let it out, can you?”
I shook my head. My eyes were still closed. I
felt tears begin to well up in them. There were
no words to describe that moment. His words
and the feelings inside of me were just too
much. The tears poured out from underneath my
eyelids. He squeezed my hands. I jolted, not
afraid, just feeling too much.“Open your eyes,” he said.
I did open my eyes, and his large, beautiful eyes
stared into mine.
“You know how the old people in here always
have something to say to us? And when they
talk, they think they know everything. You
know?” He chuckled a little. Then his smile
“There are things I keep hearing over and over
that I do believe, though. They sound old–
fashioned, and they are definitely cliché. But
remember this, Kristen,” he told me with his
seriously passionate stare. “This too shall pass,
and what doesn’t kill you will make you
stronger.” He paused. “If you let it. Keep your
head up and your eyes open. That’s how you
will survive. If what you go through doesn’t kill
you, let it make you stronger.”

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