Richard Dawson Doesn’t Host This Version of Family Feud

I believe there are thin places in this world. The term ‘thin places’ refers to areas in the world where the veil between heaven and earth is particularly thin but I think the term applies to other dimensions, other worlds. There are stories about people out for a stroll who blink and suddenly they’re in a place that looks like the road they were walking on but it’s different. Or there’s the story of a man out walking his dog when his dog takes off and the man chases after him. The man soon finds himself in a slightly different world, a world where John Lennon is still alive, the Twin Towers never fell. The McRib is always available.

In A Million Junes by Emily Henry, Jack “June” O’Donnell (all the offspring share the name Jack, even if a daughter is born) has one rule to follow: stay away from the Angert family. There’s been a deep feud between the O’Donnells and the Angerts for a century even though no one can remember exactly why. June lives with her mother, stepfather and two brothers in Five Fingers, Michigan in a house in a powerful thin place.

If you leave shoes on the porch, coywolves (a mix between coyotes and wolves) will come and steal them away. Window Whites, soft floating orbs, travel throughout the house and bonk against windows. Feathers is a ghost with a pink sheen who is always there, drifting in corners, shimmering where June can see her. Another ghost, a black shadow June calls Nameless, hovers nearby and unlike Feathers, who gives off a comforting vibe, Nameless oozes malevolence.

June’s father, Jack the III, died ten years ago and June still lives in the bubble of him: of his tall tales about the O’Donnell family, how both his family and the Angerts are cursed. If something good happens to the Angerts, something terrible befalls the O’Donnell’s and vice versa. Even though June has set her father up on a pedestal she doesn’t know why there’s hatred between the families.

One evening in the fall, Saul Angert returns home after being away for three years. He’s come back to take care of his father who has dementia. Of course they run into each other (literally, she almost knocks him down and somehow manages to bite him in the shoulder) and don’t you know, there is an instant chemistry. They do their best to stay away from each other but both know it is a losing battle.

June has no plans to go to college and puts little effort into school. Until she takes a creative writing class and puts to paper all the stories her father told her. A new world opens up to her. But one evening, one of the Window Whites lands on her skin and she’s thrown into a memory of when she was a child and her father was telling one of his stories. June craves more memories but what she finds at the other end is more than she bargained for.

Soon she and Saul are both given the Window White treatment and both see memories of not only their pasts but the pasts of their relatives. June finds out her father might not be everything she once thought he was. But she’s determined to go into the thin place to find him. And Saul is right there ready to go with her to find out what happened all those years ago to make their families despise one another. They want to break the curse. They want to love.

You guys, I couldn’t put this books down. I know I say that about every book I read but for this one I set my alarm clock an hour earlier than usual just so I could read it. I’m not into woo-woo magic and otherworldly love stories. This novel isn’t like that. The magic and wonder and terror in this story is subtle. It’s a story not only about falling in love but also about realizing the people you love aren’t who you thought they were. But finding that out doesn’t change the fact that you were beyond loved.

If you want a tale about falling in love with someone you’re meant to be with, the wonder of a place that sits between two worlds, and the unbreakable bond of family, get this book. Really. I mean, like, yesterday.

I gotta go. I just found a thin place in the woods behind my house and I swear I can hear Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison tuning their guitars.

Night Terrors

The internet ruins everything. Sometimes the kinder sites about movies, television shows and books will state in bold letters SPOILERS, meaning if you read ahead be prepared for something to be ruined. Those are the polite ones. Other sites seem to revel in spoiling books and movies for people so that you’re half way through an article and then: boom! You find out one of your favorite TV characters died in last night’s episode that you haven’t even watched yet. The only thing the internet is good for is for looking at pictures of puppies and kittens and dads getting hit in the nards by four-year-olds armed with whiffle bats.

I had heard the hype surrounding Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes: that the book was one hell of a trip and that once you think you have it figured out you’ll find out you don’t. At all. I purposefully ignored reviews about the book because I knew someone would let something slip and that would be it. That’s why my book blogs are frustrating to write because I want to write about everything that happens but without giving anything away. I can write about Behind Her Eyes without giving anything away. Readers, you have GOT to read this book. What? I have to write more about it? I can’t just say “Read this book. You won’t be sorry?” Geez. Okay.

Louise is a single mom to six-year-old Adam. She’s divorced (her husband left her for a younger woman) and works as a secretary in a psychologist’s office. Most nights she drinks wine at home while watching television but one night she decides to go out and meets a man in a bar and they have an instant connection. Or their bodies do. They have a fumbled kiss or two and that’s it. She fully expects to never see him again.

One of the psychologists in her office retires and a new doctor gets hired. You guessed it. The new doctor is the man she met at the bar and made out with. She’s mortified because he’s married. He and his wife come into the office for a tour and Louise hides in the bathroom. Sounds like something I would do. Then again, I often hide in the bathroom for various reasons so there’s that.

David, the new doctor, tells Louise that he made a mistake, that he’s a married man and he and Louise do the adult thing where they decide to just be co-workers. There’s still an undeniable attraction between the two but Louise has talked herself into being okay spending her nights tucking her son in, drinking a bottle of wine, and then falling asleep only to be woken by night terrors.

In case you don’t know what a night terror is, it’s this: extreme fear while still asleep. People scream, throw their arms around, sometimes they feel as if they can’t move but are still aware of everything happening around them. For Louise, night terrors mean waking up in odd places like beside her sleeping son’s bed staring down at him and not knowing how she got there. The terrors exhaust her and the broken sleep (and bottles of wine) are taking a toll on her.

One day after walking her kid to school, Louise runs into a woman and knocks her down. It’s David’s wife Adele whom Louise recognizes from pictures on David’s desk. Adele is an ethereally beautiful woman with a fragile air about her. She and Louise become tight friends although Louise feels guilty, especially when David comes over one night and yep, they both give in and become lovers.

Adele and Louise meet up constantly for lunch or for a workout at the gym. There’s a lot of wine drinking. I mean A LOT. I don’t drink wine but after reading this book I felt like going out and buying a giant bottle and drinking the whole thing. Then again, the people in this book drink good wine whereas I would feel like I’m splurging on Boone’s Farm.

Adele doesn’t want Louise to tell David they’ve become friends and Louise knows there’s no danger of that. Louise confides in Adele about her night terrors and Adele says she has them too and has had them since she was a little girl. 15 years ago when she was 17 a fire destroyed half of her family’s estate house and killed both her parents. David saved her, burning his arm badly in the rescue. Adele had a breakdown after that and was committed to a ritzy mental institution for a month where she met a young boy named Rob who was in for heroin use. They become closer than close and Adele taught him a technique she learned from a dream book about how to control dreams. He can go anywhere his brain tells him to go in his dreams, she says.

Fast forward almost 15 years and Louise is learning how to control her night terrors thanks to Adele. Her affair with David, meanwhile, is still ongoing and both of them are falling in love with each other. But there’s a coldness to David that scares Louise. One day she sees that Adele has a large bruise on her face. She says that she opened a cupboard door and it smacked her. Louise is suspicious of this. It’s obvious it wasn’t a cupboard door. Did David hit Adele? He can be so cold and he has a drinking problem.

And then there’s the weirdness with Adele always having to have the phone nearby when David calls to check up on her. There’s a cupboard in the kitchen full of pills prescribed by David (antipsychotics, antidepressants, anxiety medication). Enough to make Keith Richard’s heart soar. Or stop. Louise is starting to put together a picture of fragile Adele bullied and medicated by David. She berates herself for falling in love with such a man and still being attracted to him.

Louise has managed to direct her dreams to where she wants them and is no longer having night terrors. It gives her an odd boost of confidence. She breaks things off with David deciding to focus on her friendship with Adele but there are times she wishes she could just dump both of them and have that mess out of her life.

Oh you guys, just when you think you can see which direction this story is going and feel disappointed that the rave reviews were all wrong, the novel takes such a sharp turn you feel like you’ve slipped down a muddy embankment into a pool of murky water filled with bobbing skeletons. Sorry. I just watched Poltergeist the other day and that scene is on my mind. I felt a pang of disappointment reading along and thinking “So this book’s about a lonely single mother who gets it on with a married man but befriends his wife and she has no idea which one is insane? That’s the story?” No. That is so NOT the story. One blurb I read about Behind Her Eyes was right: You will not see the ending coming.

Read this book if you want to wake up at 3 AM, haunted by the ending. I haven’t slept in three days and I’m hiding out in a bathroom.

Hard to Hide Crazy

I’m crazy. I can say that. I’ve been tested and found insane. I mean, it wasn’t an inkblot test where I see a cloudy black splotch and say it’s obviously Charles Manson teaching a fish how to fold fitted sheets. The test was more like a doctor asking me “How long have you felt this way (this way being medical talk for “depressed)?” I answered “All my life. And whatever lives I’ve lived before if reincarnation is actually a thing.” I know people will frown on me for equating depression with the term ‘crazy’ because when people hear the word ‘crazy’ they think of toothless people who smell like urine yelling at a wall while addressing it as Mr. Stalin.

I call myself crazy because it’s oddly more acceptable than admitting I’m in a decades long battle with mental illness and all I’m armed with is a spork and a smart mouth. And for a VERY long time I hid my anxiety/depression from a lot of people, even some members of my family not only because I was (am?) ashamed of it, but because I didn’t want to get the ‘look.’ You know the one I’m talking about. A couple people, friends or co-workers, find out you struggle with a mental illness and they raise an eyebrow in a way that says “That explains A LOT.”

Along with the look is the way some people will treat you, like you’re fragile: stumbling on the edge of something horrible and the next thing they say will send you right over the edge so they speak to you like you’re a freaked out cat hiding under the bed with a rubber band wrapped around its tail. I’m not fragile. Not outwardly. I’m funny and an extrovert while I’m at work. Well, at least I think I’m funny. I can sometimes hear my boss sigh like ‘Oh my God, dial it down a notch, Jennifer.’ I’m not totally out of the depression closet but I don’t go up to strangers and say “I get sad for reasons I will probably never understand.” I don’t let my crazy show too soon. You gotta dole that stuff out bit by bit.

When I started reading Eric Lindstrom’s A Tragic Kind of Wonderful, I recognized and fell in love with Mel Hannigan, a 16-year-old girl with bipolar depression. I’m not bipolar but I empathized with everything Mel was going through. She had an older brother named Nolan who was also bipolar. She never comes out and says he died, but I don’t think me writing that fact is a spoiler alert. She and her mother have moved to a house left to them by Mel’s grandma shortly after Nolan’s death.

Mel’s Aunt Joan has moved in with them. Mel calls her HJ (Hurricane Joan) because she suffers from bipolar depression as well. I’m no expert but here’s the low-down on bipolar depression: not all people experience it in the same way. Some people get bitchin’ highs, the manic side of bipolar, and they’re so full of energy they don’t sleep for days. They have all of these ideas and plans and they’re going going going. And then they crash into a deep depression. Mel keeps track of her moods in a clever way (that I think I might steal): She refers to her moods by referring to them as animals:

Hamster is Active

Hummingbird is Hovering

Hammerhead is Cruising

Hanniganimal is UP!

The Hamster is her head, her pattern and speed of thinking. The Hummingbird is her heart, how fast it’s beating or ‘speeding.’ The Hammerhead is her physical health: “Cruising when I’m fine, slogging or thrashing if I’m sick.”

Mel works in a retirement home and has a special knack with older people. There’s Dr. Jordan, a retired psychiatrist who is the only person outside her family who knows about her mental illness. He checks in on her without pressuring her and she’s comfortable talking with him. There’s a new resident who just moved in, Ms. Li, who has a grandson named David who seems like a jerk at first. But there’s a definite attraction between him and Mel.

That’s another thing that worries her: relationships and her mental illness. It’s not an exaggeration to say that some people will head for the hills as soon as they find out you have depression/or are bipolar. Or even if a relationship is working out, the fear is very real that your significant other will get bored or fed up with your brain and will leave. Mel’s not even sure a relationship would work with anyone.

And friendships are also a problem. Someone you thought of as your best friend can call you a bummer and say adios. It’s a risk. A year ago Mel had a group of friends she was joined at the hip with. Annie, Connor, and Zumi. Annie was the alpha of the group and I’ll go ahead and say it: she was a real manipulative bitch. If something didn’t interest her or had nothing to do with her, she’d ignore it, even if it’s something that mattered to a friend. Mel’s not really fond of her but Zumi is in love with Annie even though her love is egged on by Annie but unrequited. Zumi is Mel’s best friend along with Connor who seems to play the role of the only dude in a trio of girls.

Mel never tells them that she had a brother named Nolan. She also doesn’t tell them about her bipolar depression because she is a little ashamed of it and she doesn’t know how they would react. Then something happens that ends the friendships, leaving Mel out in the cold. A year later Mel makes two new friends, Declan and Holly. She doesn’t tell them either. I get it. When you keep something that big from friends or family members, you feel like you’re protecting them. And at the same time, you feel like you’re protecting yourself.

But Mel’s past makes an unwanted appearance when she thinks she’s coping pretty well and doing everything she can to deal with her mental illness. She begins to amp up, the illness taking over her mind, to the point of no return for her.

Eric Lindstrom’s beautifully written book about mental illness is a must read for anyone struggling with depression and for loved ones who want to help and understand the illness better. Not only is it a good story in itself, but it’s also a way to help others open up and ask for help.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my medication.

My Raccoon is half asleep

Otter is swimming

Squirrel is snacking.

No seriously, there’s a damn squirrel in the bird feeder again.

Groundhog Day, Teenage Style

When I was young, I would hear my mother and her friends recounting their high school days. And not in a ‘remember the good old days of high school’ kind of way. Anybody who says high school was the best four years of their lives is obviously drug addled and should not be trusted. But the one thing I would hear over and over was “If I could go back knowing what I know now…..”

A few years after high school I would start saying the same thing. 22 years after graduating high school, I still have nightmares that I’m back in school but I’m 39. I can’t remember my locker combination, I haven’t done any homework for three months, and I’m starting to get that ‘I’m not going to graduate’ panic. Then I realize “I’m 39 years old. I don’t need my algebra book. These people can’t tell me when or if I’m going to graduate.” And then I wake up relieved and go to work where it’s a different kind of high school experience, but this time I get paid for it.

I love YA books and I don’t really know how to explain it. If anything, I’d rather have credit card debt than be 17 again. But there are times while reading a young adult novel that I’ll think: If I had to do it all over again, go back knowing what I know now, I could really incite a riot. I’d tell that smug AP English teacher who didn’t think I was a good writer to shove it. I’d tell the misogynistic vice principal that he wasn’t General Patton. I’d tell that one girl….well, I’d tell her everything she needed to know.

In Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall Samantha Kingston gets a do-over but not in a good way.

Samantha is a part of the most popular girls clique in high school. She’s gorgeous, has a beautiful boyfriend, and is in the prime of her life. Samantha used to be a nerd who loved to ride horses (which I don’t really understand how that makes her a nerd but whatever) but then focused on becoming popular. Her group of friends aren’t the nicest people but they’re her best friends and she would do anything for them. On Friday, February 12th, Samantha and her gang go to a house party and Samantha plans to go all the way with her boyfriend for the first time. Do people still say ‘all the way?’ Losing your virginity sounds kind of like you set it down on a shelf at Target and then walked away only to go try and find it an hour later.

Anyway, everyone is at this party and they are so drunk my own liver was starting to ache. Samantha and her friends have been drinking for hours and they decide it’s time to motor. The four of them get into a car (I know. How stupid can they be? They’ve been drinking and they get behind the wheel.) It’s icy out, they’re all feeling pretty good, the radio’s blasting and then they get into a car crash. Samantha, sitting in the passenger seat, is supposed to die.

She wakes up the next morning thinking the entire thing was a nightmare. Until the day starts playing out exactly as it did the day before, people say the same things they said before, and her classes are exactly the same as the day before. Samantha’s feeling really off but decides to go with it. She goes to the same party that night and everything happens again. She wakes up the next morning to the same day. She’s officially freaked out.

And this keeps happening.

Until she figures out she needs to start making changes. She starts off with little things and they don’t make a difference. And then she realizes she’s going to have to go big and make changes that will affect everyone.

What starts off as a seemingly regular YA book turns out to be a look inside (and you guys know how much I hate delving inside and inspecting my feelings too much) to see what we’d do not only to save others but also the sacrifices we thought we’d never have to face.

You Call Me Crazy Like It’s a Bad Thing

When you’re a kid, making friends is effortless. You’d eyeball one another on the playground for exactly 3 seconds and then say “Hey, I like that you can spin 12 times on the tire swing without hurling” and they would say back “I like your side ponytail even though Melissa said it looked stupid.”

“Melissa smells like onions.”

“Yeah, I heard her mom tried to give her up for adoption like, five times but there were no takers.”

“Explains a lot.”

Sigh. It was so much easier back then. I bet Melissa still smells like onions. She just seemed the type.

But when you get older it’s harder to make friends. It’s like something happens between the ages of 10 and 25. Some kind of guard goes up. I’ve been at the library almost twenty years and I work with my best friend Kathy. We actually never formally met. Seventeen years ago she would see me writing at a table before I started my shift and we’d do that “I want to talk to you but we’re at that point where we only know each other’s first name and have spent three months vaguely smiling at one another when we passed each other.” And then she saw me reading a book or I saw her reading a book and the rest is history. Now I can text her without any self-doubt (or evidently self-control): “Hey, is it normal that I want to throat-punch the kid in that book you recommended to me?”

furiouslyhappyI want to be best friends with Jenny Lawson. I probably said that when I wrote a post about her first book but it bears repeating. It goes double now that I’ve read her second memoir Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things.

This is Jenny’s disclaimer on her own book:

“This is a funny book about living with mental illness. It sounds like a terrible combination, but personally I’m mentally ill and some of the most hysterical people I know are as well. So if you didn’t like the book then maybe you’re just not crazy enough to enjoy it. Either way, you win.”

How could I not fall a little in love with her and want to go to her house and raid her kitchen and watch stupid TV shows or just spend hours texting back and forth because we both have this thing where we don’t like to leave the house and even if we like people we’d rather not be around them sometimes?

In Furiously Happy, she divulges things people like me want to know (because I’m going through them too.) Here are some of my favorite chapter titles:

“I Found a Kindred Soul and He Has a Very Healthy Coat.”

Jenny goes to pick up a prescription through a drug store drive-through. While waiting for the pharmacist to ring up her prescription she notices a box of dog biscuits sitting next to the register. This sends her on a mental quest to find out what the hell that box of dog biscuits is doing there, opened. Maybe someone returned them because they were stale? And then she realizes dogs wouldn’t really care if they were stale biscuits. Spoiler alert: she watches as the pharmacist reaches into the box and eats a handful. While she questions whether she’s high right that moment and seeing things, she debates whether or not to say anything. “But I didn’t, because I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to accuse the man giving you drugs of eating dog food.”

Good call.

“How Many Carbs Are in a Foot?”

Jenny thinks she must be one of the last people on Earth who hasn’t tried kale or quinoa but she’s still gun-shy from the time Victor made what she thought was rice that had gone bad. Victor explains to her that it’s risotto and Jenny says “The stuff Gordon Ramsay is always yelling about? This is very disappointing.” She argues that she would eat a human foot if it was smothered in enough cheese and butter but Victor argues she wouldn’t because she can’t even finish the damn risotto. She can’t tell if that was a dare from him but she’s lactose intolerant anyway. “Everyone else at the dinner party would be tucking into their cheesy-butter foot, and I’d have to eat my foot parboiled and plain.  That’s my struggle. And it’s very real.”

“The Fear”

Jenny can make just about anything funny (see cheesy foot) and still get a serious thought out there. She’s no stranger to self-harm and even prefaces this chapter with a  trigger-warning for those who might read it and have their own dark thoughts start flooding in. Jenny has engaged in self-harm for years, from picking at her cuticles until they bleed freely to pulling her hair out by the roots. She writes about being labeled as broken when she is diagnosed with a ‘personality disorder.’ She tells her psychiatrist that she isn’t broken. “I just…I just hurt…inside. And when I tear at the outside it makes me feel less torn up on the inside. I don’t want to die. Really, I don’t. It’s not a lie. I’m not suicidal. I just feel like sometimes I can’t keep myself from hurting me. It’s like there’s someone else inside of me who needs to physically peel those bad thoughts out of my head and there’s no other way to get in there. The physical pain distracts me from the mental pain.” I want to give Jenny Lawson an award for this, the biggest YES! SOMEBODY GETS IT award for saying all of this out loud and at the same time acknowledging self-harm (in any form) is not a teenager’s domain.

“It’s Like Your Pants Are Bragging at Me.”

I don’t know why, but a lot of women’s clothing does not have pockets. This might explain why I buy my jeans in the men’s section. Either that or there’s a whole underlying issue I should talk to someone about. But I NEED pockets. Jenny’s husband Victor says women don’t need pockets because they have purses. Jenny has to explain to him “No. We are forced into purses because we don’t have pockets. Imagine if I ripped all of your pockets off of your sweet pocket-pants right now and you had to carry them around with you everywhere. You have like…seven pockets in those pants. Imagine carrying seven pockets with you at the carnival. You can’t. You’d need a purse. Then you’d get on the Zipper and it’d be fine for a minute until your purse popped open and all your stuff was being poltergeisted around the cage at you like you were a kitten in a dryer full of batteries, and then your phone gave you a black eye. This is all based on real life, by the way.” All I can say is I started slow clapping when she used poltergeisted as a verb. Victor, as usual, is flabbergasted and says “Pocket-pants don’t exist. They’re called cargo pants.” Potato tomato, dude.

“Voodoo Vagina.”

What book wouldn’t be complete without a vagina in there somewhere? Jenny’s friend Kim mailed her a home-made, educational (well, thank God it was educational) felted vagina. Kim makes them with babies inside them (felted ones, not real ones although that would be fascinating to see) to teach her children about where babies come from. Jenny studies the felted vagina and starts to wonder if the pubic hair on it is real and if it is, she needs to scour her hands immediately. She starts to think yeah, this is how voodoo dolls are made, adding human hair makes it become a voodoo doll. So technically the felt vagina with the seemingly real pubic hair is a voodoo vagina. Jenny left the vagina on her desk to go get her camera to take a picture and when she returned the vagina was gone. The cat was happily ripping it to pieces. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t real pubic hair but doll hair you can buy from a hobby shop.

What a time to be alive.

So, Jenny Lawson calls herself crazy repeatedly through the book and I’ve taken up the call as well. She explains that calling yourself crazy isn’t a demeaning mental illness or making fun of other people with mental illness. We ARE mentally ill and technically we ARE crazy. Just take a look at my therapist’s notes. She probably wrote CRAY CRAY with a bunch of arrows pointing at it the first time I talked to her. So embrace mental illness. Don’t let anyone make you feel less because you know your brain is sometimes like a test pattern at three in the morning on that one TV channel that comes in clear for 45 minutes a day. And if anyone throws you the side eye for calling yourself crazy, just tell them it’s okay. Jenny Lawson said you could.

How it Ends

I can’t imagine being 15 and waking up one morning to find my parents descending on me a with rope in their hands, tying me up, throwing me into a car and driving me to a mental institution. I remember my mom sneaking into my room to check that I was still breathing (this seems to be a thing moms do) and being a little brat and holding my breath to freak her out. But she was checking on me because she was (is) my protector. For Cassie O’Malley there is no one but herself to look to for protection, both physically and mentally.

firsttimeTold in an alternating Now and Then voice, Kerry Kletter’s The First Time She Drowned introduces us to Cassie who has spent the past 2 1/2 years in a mental institution against her will. When she was 15 she woke up to her parents tying her hands and putting her into a car to involuntarily take her to a mental institution. Now at 18 Cassie is a legal adult and wants a normal life. She’s made friends during those 2 1/2 years, especial with James who is her best friend and whom she doesn’t want to leave behind. But she believes she’s prepared for the real world.

In an odd twist, Cassie’s mother has paid for a year of college. Her mother, her father, and her two brothers barely visited her while she was institutionalized and before you start thinking “Oh God, not another crazy teen in a mental ward that is going to teach me about love, heartbreak, and how to hang myself with that package of gummy worms that the kid down the hall gets in a care package every month from his mother” this is not that kind of book. Not too far into the novel you start to figure out that it’s Cassie’s mother who is at the heart of the abuse and the accusations of mental instability. Think of a mother character from a Gillian Flynn book, just with only one or two attempts at killing a child.

Cassie begins her first week at college in her solitary room, unsure how to make friends. She has pneumonia and spends the week drifting in and out of consciousness. Finally, she drags herself out of her room and to the door of a girl she noticed on her first day and collapses. Of course, they become best friends. Someone passing out in your doorway kind of bonds them to you. Or you get a restraining order. But Cassie sometimes overthinks the friendship and the things Zoey does are alien to her.

Thinking she’s going to experience a normal college life, Cassie dives right in and quickly realizes she is so not ready. Her mother, who she hasn’t really seen in the 2 1/2 years she was in the institution, pops in and out of her life, confiding the weirdest and most inappropriate things to her daughter. Not inappropriate like “When your father and I went to Hawaii and he wanted to scuba diving I was all for it. Then that morning he had diarrhea like you wouldn’t believe. I’ve never seen so many panicked fish. Our instructor got a few pictures of it and I’m thinking about using it as our Christmas card this year.” Reading further, there are many “aha!” moments where you discover the mother should have been put away for a couple of years.

If you like novels about crazy families (and I don’t mean kooky families but families that become a legend down the bloodline) read The First Time She Drowned. I never felt so normal and sane. Most terrifying five minutes of my life.

Somebody Told me You Had a Boyfriend Who Looked Like a Girlfriend

I’m slowly being educated about all the genders out there and my first teacher was Ruby Rose. I saw her picture on Facebook and didn’t think much more than “She’s a stunning looking woman.” Ruby Rose is an Australian model/actress, covered in tattoos, with the kind of “in your face” attitude that doesn’t repel but makes you want to pull a chair closer. I read an article where she described herself as “gender fluid” a term I had not come across. The word fluid is right up there with moist for me. I’ve been known to almost roll out of a moving car when someone uses the word moist. And they were just describing a cupcake. Damn it. Now I want a cupcake.

5 minutes later. Now I have frosting halfway up my nose. I’m a pretty girl.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Ruby Rose.

This is how she describes gender fluidity:

“Gender fluidity is not really feeling like you’re at one end of the spectrum or the other. For the most part, I don’t identify as any gender. I’m not a guy; I don’t really feel like a woman, but obviously I was born one. So, I’m somewhere in the middle, which-in my perfect imagination-is like having the best of both sexes.”

When I read her quote, a light bulb didn’t just go off in my head. The bulb burst and I’m still picking up pieces of glass. I’m not sure how many people understand this but I don’t wake up and think “I am Jennifer. I am female.” Most of the time I wake up and think “Didn’t I just fall asleep five minutes ago?” closely followed by something that sounds awfully close to a solemn prayer: “Please let me be a half-way decent human being today.” Not female. Not male. Just human.

jessKristin Elizabeth Clark’s Jess, Chunk, and The Road Trip to Infinity isn’t a book about gender fluidity but about a young man’s transition into womanhood. Jess and Chunk are starting their summer after high school graduation with a road trip from California to Chicago. The last time Jess saw her father her name was Jeremy. Her mother and father went through a nasty divorce after her father started an affair with his wife’s best friend. Not only was the divorce painful for Jess but she lost a friend and a mentor in Jan, her mom’s now ex-best friend, who encouraged her artistic dreams. When Jess finally came out to her father and said she wanted to transition, he told her she was going through a phase and asked her if maybe she was just gay and not wanting to become a woman. Last I checked there was a pretty big difference between being gay and feeling like you were born into the wrong body.

At 17 when she wanted to begin taking hormones she needed both parent’s signatures. Her father refused. She stopped speaking to him. Now at 18, she’s been taking hormones for a couple of months and she’s beginning to look on the outside like she feels on the inside. She got an invitation to her father’s wedding to Jan and replied she wasn’t interested in going. But then she begins to think. About revenge. She decides she’s going to show up at the wedding in a gorgeous dress. Her presence will say “This is not a phase. This is who I am. I didn’t need your support or approval to get where I am.” But of course, you know deep down she wants her father’s love, support and approval. Who wouldn’t when going through something so huge? I lost my mom at the grocery store last week and nearly had a panic attack. (Not the same thing, I know. But we all need our parents at some point in our lives no matter how old we get.)

Chunk (real name Christophe) has been Jess’s best friend forever and has been pretty damn supportive of his friend’s journey. His mother is a smothering but well-intentioned psychiatrist who oozed love and understanding when Jess came out as gay, but she doesn’t know about Jess transitioning. Chunk is…well, he’s overweight. He’s a hefty dude. And he’s kind of a geek who was picked on a lot in high school. He’s looking forward to the road trip for different reasons, mainly because he’s been chatting up a girl online and wants to meet with her. The road trip doesn’t get a magical start. It’s hot out, Chunk keeps getting texts from someone, and Jess is worried if she’s at a point where she passes all the way as a girl or if she’ll still get questioning glances when they stop to gas up. She spends a lot of time with her hood pulled up over her head.

During the long drive, she has plenty of time to think about how angry her mother had been during the divorce and how she now seems to have found peace, a peace that Jess doesn’t feel. The texts to Chunk’s phone keep coming and Jess is confused by her feelings of jealousy. Chunk’s her best friend. Why should she be mad at him or the girl texting him? And what’s with him not chowing down on gas station junk food like they planned? He stocked up on granola bars at their last pit stop. The car is filled with more silence than talking and time and again they snap at each other. The closer they get to Chicago, the more nervous Jess gets and she starts to think twice about just showing up and crashing the wedding as a girl.

The tipping point comes in a Podunk Midwestern town when they pick up a hitchhiker named Annabelle, a girl who’s a couple years older than them and is in college, on her way to her grandma’s. She smokes, is super smart, and Jess wants her boots. Chunk is acting weird and Jess is feeling insecure about her femininity. But Annabelle ends up teaching them a couple of pretty good eye-opening lessons.

But the road trip is far from over and Jess and Chunk have to face what they really mean to each other. And Jess has to face the idea that she may have been a terrible friend during a time when Chunk needed her most.

Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity made me want to go on a road trip with my best friend, even though I’m more interested in gas station junk food than the journey itself. It’s hard enough being a teenager, hard enough being a gay teenager but try being a teenager trying to get to a place you want to be with an outside that matches your insides. This was a great buddy road trip book that taught me even if you think you know yourself and your best friend, there’s always something new to learn and to accept.