Monday, 16 July 2018

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Mental Illness in YA Month Review: The Lost & Found by Katrina Leno

The Lost & Found by Katrina LenoThe Lost & Found by Katrina Leno (Bought) - Sometimes you have to get lost before you can be found.

Lost: Frannie and Louis met in an online support group for trauma survivors when they were both little and have been pen pals ever since. They have never met face-to-face. They don’t even know each other’s real names. All they know is that they understand each other better than anyone else. And they both have a tendency to lose things. Well, not lose them, exactly. Things just seem to…disappear.

Found: In Louis’s mailbox is a letter, offering him a tennis scholarship—farther from home than he’s ever allowed himself to think of going.

In Frannie’s mailbox is a letter, informing her of her mother’s death—and one last wish.

Setting off from opposite coasts, Frannie and Louis each embark on a road trip to Austin, Texas, looking for answers—and each other. Along the way, each one begins to find important things the other has lost. And by the time they finally meet in person, they realize that the things you lose might be things you weren’t meant to have at all, and that you never know what you might find if you just take a chance.
From Goodreads.

Trigger Warning: This book discusses suicide and self-harm, but neither happen on page. Also features ableist language that is challenged, and outdated language (which is quoted as it's used in a good point about ableism).

The Lost & Found by Katrina Leno is such a beautiful, gorgeous book, and I absolutely loved it.

When Frannie was younger, during an argument between her parents, her father stabbed her in the stomach with a fountain pen. When Louis was younger, he watched his twin sister, Willa, fall from the fire escape, land half on the pavement and half in the road, where a car then ran over her legs, and had to be amputated. Because of these events, both Frannie and Louis were recommended joining TILTgroup, an online group therapy forum, and found each other - one in Maryland, the other in LA. They've been best friends ever since. For the both of them, things in their possession just disappear - gone, never to be found, and only in each other do they find understanding, as no-one else believes them.

Fast forward to today, and both have discovered letters that will change their lives. Frannie finds out that her mother has died by suicide - and that her grandparents, who she has been living with for the past five years, have been lying to her. Her mother wasn't living in Florida, she was in a wellness centre for those with mental illnesses. She had schizophrenia, had written to Frannie for the past five years, letters her grandparents kept from her, about how her real father is the famous actor Wallace Green. Her last letter to Frannie, before she hanged herself, asks her to go find him - where he lives in Austin. Louis' letter is from the University of Austin, offering a full scholarship for his skills with a tennis racket. But Louis has had anxiety since Willa's accident, and the thought of leaving his parents, leaving Willa, moving so many miles away terrifies him. When Frannie tells Louis she's going to carry out her mother's final wish and seek out Wallace Green in Austin - even though it seems more likely her mother made it up - Louis decides to take up the University of Austin's offer on a tour of the university. As they travel towards Austin, Frannie with her cousin Arrow, and Louis with Willa, they embark on a journey that will lead them to finding themselves, and finding each other.

Oh my god, this book was just amazing! It's got a quietness to it, but it's also so full of warmth and love! I knew from the very beginning that this was a book I was going to love, because Leno's voice is right up my street! Even when discussing serious topics - like Frannie discovering her grandparents had lied to her for years, that her mother was schizophrenic, and that her mother had died by suicide - there's still this level of humour that comes through in the way the characters talk and think about things. The Lost & Found does have some hard-hitting themes, but they're dealt with in such a way that the book doesn't feel at all heavy or overly upsetting.

I absolutely loved the characters; Arrow and Willa as well as Frannie and Louis. I loved the relationships between Frannie and Arrow, and Louis and Willa. They rib each other, but there is still so much love between them, and they're so supportive of each other. They're friends as well as family and it was just so, so beautiful to see. In three of them we also have a diverse cast of characters; Louis and Willa are biracial - half-Indian, and half-White American; Louis has anxiety; Willa is disabled due to her legs being amputated when she was younger, and uses both prostheses and a wheelchair; and Arrow is Vietnamese, who was adopted at three by her parents.

The romance is sweet and slow-burning, but it's not the main focus of the story. The story is really about Frannie and Louis as individuals, and their friendship. Frannie is having to deal with so much all at once; five years of lying, that her mother had schizophrenia, that her mother is now dead, and that maybe, possibly, her father isn't the person she thought was her father - it's unlikely, but what if it's true? But finding Wallace Green isn't really about finding the man who may be her father, it's about doing this one thing her mother asked her to, the only thing she can do for her now. And while all this is going on, she's worried about herself and her own mind. The man she's always believed is her father (but perhaps fake father?) stabbed her with a fountain pen, and there are questions over his mental state, and now she's discovered her mother had schizophrenia, so what does this mean for her? Is she "crazy"* too? It's just heartbreaking seeing her trying to deal with the fact that everything she knew has been snatched out from under her feet, and trying to figure out what this means for her and who she is now she knows the truth.

It's also heartbreaking watching Louis struggle with his own mental health. He's always blamed himself for what happened to Willa when they were eight. It was he who was bugging her by "flying" his toy helicopter around her face on the fire escape, which, when she tried batting it away, caused her to lose her balance and fall. As they are twins, they also have that twin sixth-sense, and he felt what happened to her legs, he felt them being amputated. And with witnessing the accident and with the guilt he's carried around, he's really struggled with his anxiety ever since. He got to a point where he was able to hide his struggle, but he's finding it difficult to do so now, what with all the spiralling thoughts his acceptance into the University of Austin has brought up. Willa notices and thinks he's relapsing, but the truth is he's never really got a handle on his anxiety in the first place.

What I loved about the representation of anxiety in The Lost & Found is that it showed a panic attack that looks different from what most people would expect. Louis felt the tightness in his chest, and he struggled to breathe, but he also experienced the feeling that his body was not his own, that he had stolen it, that it wasn't his and he desperately wanted to get out of it. He is experiencing depersonalisation, which is a symptom, for some, of anxiety. I, myself, have experienced depersonalisation during a panic attack, but for me, it felt like I was dreaming, that I was walking through water. We rarely see the other ways a panic attack can manifest, so it was so awesome to see Louis experience depersonalisation. I think it's really important that representation like this is shown, to further normalise mental illness.

There's something I else I want to touch on, and it's Willa discussing ableism. For context, Willa's legs were amputated above the knee. With her prostheses, it can be difficult for her to wear trousers, so she only wears skirts, dresses and shorts - so her prosthetic limbs are always on show. Willa really doesn't have a problem with being disabled, or with people looking at her legs. It's not even that she wears what she wears to despite the fact people may look at her. She simply doesn't care. In the quote below, she's specifically talking about her prosthetic limbs, but is something I related to in regards to my anxiety.
'"Michael wanted to know what my legs were made of, so he asked. But his mother . . . that requires thinking. She had a conscious thought: I should be embarrassed. I am embarrassed. I must vocalize my embarrassment. But the thing that bothers me, you know, is that she wasn't embarrassed by her son. He was just a kid. She must have known he hadn't really done anything wrong. She was embarrassed by me. She was embarrassed that I chose to wear clothing that did not cover my prostheses."' (p200)
Obviously our experiences are very, very different, but I have experienced a similar kind of ableism. I have anxiety, and, probably because have grown up with parents who have mental illnesses, I have never felt ashamed of having anxiety. I have had other negative thoughts towards my mental health, but they were never based around shame. So I have never had a problem talking about my anxiety, and when I'm having a conversation about something, and my anxiety relates to it, I do bring it up. But the reaction from other people is instantaneous. The embarrassment, the awkwardness, the obvious desire to change the subject and talk about something else. And most of the time, these conversations are with people who already know I have anxiety, so it's not a surprise. I did think this was because the people I were talking to just didn't know what to say, and maybe for some this is the case, but after reading the above quote, thinking about it, with the same people repeatedly want to not talk about my anxiety, I think it is embarrassment over the fact that I brought it up. That they feel I shouldn't be talking about my mental illness. The above quote really opened my eyes and made me angry. Just a page later, Willa says something else that really struck a chord with me, too.
'"...instead of teaching boys to respect girls, we tell girls not to wear tank tops or low-cut shirts. And instead of disciplining the shitheads who called me stumpy, we ask handicapped people to cover up their handicap. To pretend they aren't handicapped. To pretend their whole."' (p201)
Or we ask those who are mentally ill to never mention their mental illness. To pretend their mind works "normally". To not act "crazy" in public and force people to have to witness them falling apart. But this is about physical disability rather than mental illness, and Willa really is awesome, and is quite a character to see. She's not inspiration porn, but she does want to inspire those who are in a similar situation as her.
'"You know why I wear skirts right?" she asked after a minute.
"Because it's easier for you to walk."
"Yeah. It's easier for me to walk. Pants are too hard to get on. And also, there's this part of me . . . Well, I just think it's nice to think that maybe sometime in the past nine years, I passed someone who needed a boost. Like maybe another kid who had an accident or who was born with a handicap or who just felt different for whatever reason, right? And then they pass me and they're like--oh. Look at her. She's not ashamed to show of her fake legs. So I shouldn't be ashamed either. Because there's nothing to be ashamed about. We're all just bodies, right? We're all just fucking bodies trying to move around and work stuff out on our own."'
 (p201-202)
I just really, really love Willa. She's just brilliant.

The Lost & Found is such an incredible, beautiful story. I absolutely loved it, and I am so excited to read Katrina Leno's other novels. I really can't recommend this book enough.

*Frannie's word, not mine. She also keeps referring to her mother, through her narration, as "insane". This isn't challenged because it's through her thoughts, but whenever she mentions to someone about her mother being in an insane asylum, Arrow always corrects her. Every single time. Which is great to see, when a lot of the time, these things aren't challenged.

Mental Illness in YA Month

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Published: 5th July 2016
Publisher: HarperTeen
Katrina Leno's Website

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