This book is part of a reading project, in which I am seeking to read only books written by women and minorities–and falling into a specific set of categories established by the popular book blog Book Riot in its 2016 Read Harder Challenge. You can see the full list of books I’ll be reading and reviewing here.
Assignment: Read a book with a main character that has a mental illness
Mental illness abounds in this second book of the Zoe Goldman series. I read the first book, Little Black Lies, early last year and was initially introduced to the heroine then–a psychiatrist-in-training who also happens to suffer from ADHD. As she juggles her time between therapy sessions, relationships, work, and a particular patient to who she becomes attached, Zoe finds it increasingly more difficult to maintain focus.
I thought it would be interesting to read a book focusing on ADHD, because I think too many people see it as a condition exclusive to rowdy little boys. It doesn’t quite get the same attention as a legitimate mental condition for adults as, for example, Schozophrenia does. Zoe’s ADHD manifests itself in a number of ways–from hyperactivity to memory problems to the temptation to interrupt people when they’re talking. As her symptoms become more evident, she struggles to maintain the integrity of her relationships and the security of her job.
But ADHD isn’t the only mental illness we come across in this book. Through various characters–both doctors and patients–we encounter Bipolar Disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder, Catatonia, Pedophilia, Depression, Anorexia, and more. And, as the author is an actual neurologist with extensive medical training, there’s an aura of credibility to the references of conditions, symptoms, and treatments.
Thematically, I would say that the novel is about the idea that we’re all a little crazy, all a little cracked, all works-in-progress. Zoe’s patients struggle, but so does she. So does her boss. So does everyone with whom she interacts. The notion is best summed up in this snippet (that makes another entry during the climax of the story) from a conversation between Zoe and her boss, Dr. Berringer:
“You ever hear of Leonsrd Cohen,” he asks, putting his elbows on his knees.
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Let me tell you. He’s one of my favorite songwriters. A poet, really.”
“He has a song where he says: ‘There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.'” He pauses to let that sink in. “Like no ones perfect; we all have our demons. But that’s what makes us who we are.”
As far as the plot goes, though, this book is an exceptionally entertaining mystery. The central plot line involves Zoe’s research into the identity of a new catatonic patient she’s begun treating. As the patient–a young African American girl whom she initially calls Jane–slowly opens up and begins to speak, Zoe uses each new bit of information to seek out the truth about who Jane is and how she ended up wondering aimlessly through the streets of Buffalo.
There’s something about the way the author writes that is perfectly conducive to a mystery. She ends many of her chapters with a big reveal. Also, she opens up her chapters with sentences that make the reader ask questions–and they feel compelled to keep reading in order to find answers to them. Here are some examples of what I mean:
THE GIRL WITHOUR A NAME: “It takes me a second to place him.”
READER: “Place who?”
THE GIRL WITHOUR A NAME: “I’m finishing my coffee, about to run out the door, when she calls.”
READER: “Who’s calling?”
THE GIRL WITHOUR A NAME: “We call her Jane, because she can’t tell us her name.”
READER: “Why can’t she tell you her name?”
You could call the story a psychological thriller, but it doesn’t quite have the eerie and disturbing tone that many such books do. Instead, laced with cheeky internal dialogue and conversational wit, the tone is upbeat and fun despite dealing with dark subject matter. Regardless, there are lots of twists, turns, and surprises. If you enjoy a good mystery, you will not be disappointed with The Girl Without a Name.