Outside the Lines by Amy Hatvany (Feb., 2012)

Amy Hatvany has done it again: really succeeded in fleshing out a pathology without obfuscating the humanity and ultimate lovability of the person embodying the pathology. We walk away caring deeply about, and respecting, characters who could easily have earned our contempt. In her first book, “Best Kept Secret”, Hatvany brought us a mother who descends into alcoholism. In “Outside the Lines”, she brings us into the world of a daughter who struggles with her bipolar father. The struggle is heart-wrenching, yet hopeful in its own way. As in, a rather Buddhist acceptance of the way all human beings are flawed. Yes, that is it: Hatvany is a master of portraying humanity realistically, yet in a balance of flaw and quiet glory. Her writing is remarkable for how it brings us to the depths, and yet we can walk away content and at peace. This is not a narrow book that only those touched closely by bipolar would be interested in. It’s very much a book of broad appeal, in that the main character has a full life of growing up, finding a rewarding career, developing a strong ethical sense of her place in the world, falling in love . . . there is something for every reader to latch onto. Hatvany’s writing is fluid and easy on the mind, in spite of its often heavy subject matter. And you know what? I respect Hatvany for dealing with subjects that few people want to talk about. First it was women and alcohol, and now it’s mental illness: two subjects I’ll bet you and your friends have a hard time talking honestly about. The harm that silence does was brought into focus this month for me. Ironically, I was reading this book at exactly the same time that a colleague’s bipolar son committed suicide. Smart, beautiful, giving to his community, from a great family, loved, 19 years old. Dead. The day before he took his life, his family brought him to the hospital. His doctor literally sent him, clearly suicidal, to the curb outside because they didn’t have enough beds for males. When he went to a second hospital, his insurance denied coverage — something that had happened multiple times before. And now a beautiful young man is dead, and a family is struggling to survive the devastation. The more we talk and write about these difficult subjects, the less likely it will be that in our children’s futures such injustices will be tolerated or fly under the radar. It matters that my grieving colleague is now speaking to legislators about mental illness and health insurance. And it matters that Hatvany has written this special book. Pick it up and make it matter even more.

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About Cheryl McNeil
I am the User Services Librarian at the Orangeburg Library in Orangeburg, NY

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