Ab(Solutely) Normal: Short Stories That Smash Mental Health Stereotypes
edited by Nora Shalaway Carpenter and Rocky Callen
Young Adult Fiction
A vampire learns that he alone can save his town from destruction, but is not sure he can do so, because this act would involve being “seen,” and he suffers from social anxiety. A girl pours her heart out in letters to the ex-boyfriend she still loves, explaining that their breakup stemmed from her struggle with PMDD. A boy teased for his uncontrollable crying is befriended by a strong girl who is the victim of bullying in her own right. These are just a few of the memorable and lovely stories from the anthology Ab(Solutely) Normal: Short Stories That Smash Mental Health Stereotypes.
The sixteen short stories (there is also poetry and a story in graphic form for good measure) are tied together by the fact that, in each, the protagonist struggles with some aspect of mental health. And in each, there is hope when that person reveals their struggles to a person close to them. Some of these stories will break your heart. Some will make you laugh. All of them will teach you something about what it means to struggle with mental health. All of them attempt to normalize talking about these struggles.
The best part for me was the personal notes from the authors at the end of each story. Often final words of empathy and encouragement, they are reminders that these stories are written by individuals who have grappled with (or are still grappling with) these issues firsthand and have lived to talk about it. Also, I love that the book concludes with ten pages of resources for those needing help with a range of mental health issues.
It's hard to imagine a collection that could be more important in the hands of young people today, especially since the US Surgeon General has recently issued a warning about a national youth mental health crisis. For those suffering from a mental health issue, there is much compassion and hope to be found in the pages of this book. For everyone, there is much to be learned.
Reviewed by Bryan Latimer