annalise grey · book reviews · i, girl x · ya · young adult

I, Girl X by Annalise Grey

grrlx

My heart is a ship and I
have set sail
under a banner of hope and
wonder.
Thank you very much to Annalise Grey for providing a copy of her novel in exchange for an honest review.

There are novels that touch you and stay with you for a long time. I, Girl X by Annalise Grey is that novel for me. The book is so beautiful and heartbreaking, I couldn’t put it down until I had completed it.

I, Girl X is written entirely in verse and follows fourteen-year-old Carleigh whose brother’s mental illness is gradually taking over every aspect of her life as well as her family’s. Over the course of a year, Carleigh undertakes a deep personal journey where she makes new friends, experiences the rush of new love, and contends with her brother’s violent episodes. But one night changes everything and Carleigh must make life-altering decisions that will transform her life for forever.

From the moment I started reading this book, I knew it was different from all others. Mental illness is a painful and, sometimes, uncomfortable topic that is regularly written about, but not in the same unique manner that Annalise Grey approached it. I have read many novels with mentally ill protagonists, but I, Girl X is the first where the sufferer is not the central character. I am pleased that Grey made this decision as it accurately depicts how mental illness affects everyone, not just the inflicted person.

“You see the world, Carleigh,”
she sighs, a

hand
on my shoulder
“When everyone else sees nothing but a 
blur.” 

Mental illness is a complicated topic to write about especially in such a politically correct society. Those young adult authors that address the issue in their novels occasionally do so in an offensive manner, although unknowingly.* I can safely say that Grey will not be included in the same category as these authors. Grey approached mental illness from the perspective of a loved one which added a poignancy to the novel which was perfectly paired with the melancholy tone.

Carleigh was an exceptional protagonist and, right from the very first page, I formed an immediate emotional bond with her. The strain of living with a mentally ill sibling, and being all but ignored by her parents, resulted in Carleigh suffering through depression in silence. Carleigh struggleed through the daily motions of life: being betrayed and then losing a close friend, finding new friends, and experiencing romance for the first time. She was able to explore all the things life has to offer a young girl, but behind the pretence that Carleigh presented to the world, the threat of her brother’s violent and unknown illness hovered over everything. Her struggles were detailed with finesse and experience, which only served to make me empathise with Carleigh as she was forced to face things no fourteen-year-old should.

At the beginning of the novel, I was not fond Carson and was even a little frightened of him. As his illness is not described until the conclusion of the novel, I had several little theories of mine as to what he could possibly be suffering from. As the novel progressed, I found myself feeling deeply for him and wanting only to wrap him in my arms and hug him. The complete 180 of my feelings can certainly be attributed to Grey’s flawless writing skills. A scene that especially touched my heart was when Carson called his sister beautiful when she went to a school dance. Although Carson was suffering terribly from this nameless disease, he was still a human being capable of love and Grey always reminded us of that.

We
imagining ourselves as giants

                loved and lauded
Masters of everything
                rulers of all we see
are scared to find out
                if giants
can be made
                small

While I absolutely detested Carleigh’s selfish parents, it is also imperative that they were written in this manner. I, Girl X shows the ways in which people respond to mental illness and how it affects everyone, and Carleigh’s parents were simply not cut out to care for a sick child. In many YA novels surrounding mental illness, the parents are often incredibly supportive – which is as it should be – but that does not always depict the reality. Although I hate to say it, it was refreshing to see parents portrayed in this appalling way: those who can’t handle the stress and leave, and those who refuse to acknowledge the problem and live in a bubble of self-denial. It broke my heart to see how Carleigh’s parents treated both her and her brother – it is so unfair when parents fail their children, but pretending that they don’t act this way doesn’t help anyone and it is important to shed light on this, too.

This is the first novel I have ever read in verse and I’m overjoyed that was the case. The lyrical sense of the book added another layer to the beautiful prose and allowed the message to be easily perceived by the reader. Although the novel could have also been written in narrative form, I don’t believe the meaning would have been as compelling if it were. By stripping the novel of unimportant descriptions and excessive exposition, you are left with vital text and exquisitely written prose that, despite the short length of the novel, still manages to tug on your heartstrings and stay with you for a very long time.

The plot was straightforward and especially engaging. There were many times I was on the verge of tears, and I was grateful for the few moments of humour and sweetness. The storyline opened my eyes to a whole new side of mental illness that I never knew existed. It was supremely impactful and made me rethink everything I thought I knew about Carson’s disorder and what it means for the sufferer’s family.

We
have nothing

to fear
And yet
we have everything
to be afraid of

I think I, Girl X is the type of novel everyone needs to read. Although the book is about a fourteen-year-old girl, the message can be translated to readers of all ages and lifestyles; after all, mental illness does not discriminate. The writing style was elegant and mature and makes for a very easy read. Just because this novel can be read in one sitting does not eliminate the importance and the impact of the text and message. If anything, it enhances it.

download
5 stars
*(I can already think of at least five different books at the top of my head, one of which is circulating right now).
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