CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 36. . . .May 16, 2014
Fast for My Feet.
Ann E. Loewen.
Victoria, BC: Friesen Press, 2013.
166 pp., trade pbk., hc. & eBook, $10.99 (pbk.), $20.99 (hc.), $4.99 (eBook).
ISBN 978-1-4602-3385-6 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4602-3384-9 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-4602-3386-3 (eBook).
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
“Think of it this way, Lena,” Andy sat forward on the couch. He had the kind of bright look on his face that he got when he had the winning argument in a debate. “Remember when we were learning about the Greeks? And the teacher taught us that word, hubris? You were probably in la-la land like everyone else at that point, but let me tell you that it was another one of those life-altering moments for me. Hubris is kind of a false pride, when humans think themselves as good as or better than the gods. It was the worst thing you could do, if you were an ancient Greek, and it pretty much guaranteed your downfall. Well, that’s what all this being over-sensitive is: hubris. If you think you’re so exclusively important that anything I do that doesn’t involve you is going to leave you crushed, then crushed you will be. If you let go of that illusion, and accept that other people and events can be important to me without destroying your self-worth, then you’ll be okay with me doing things like escorting Sylvie Frenette to grad.”
“And you’re saying that, logically, I have to stop feeling like I have to fix everything that’s gone wrong in our family since Jordan was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Including curing him.” Lena was amazed at how relieved she was to say this. It had never occurred to her just how heavy, how ridiculously heavy, that responsibility was.
“Right. I’m glad you said it, because I wasn’t sure how you’d take it if I did. But it’s obvious to anyone who hangs out with you, Lena, that you’re fixated not just on what’s wrong, but how you’re going to right it.”
“Some people aren’t so accepting,” Lena said, feeling that pang of shame in spite of herself.
“Oh, yeah, people are cruel alright. You should have heard some of the things that were said about my mom after she left. If you’re sure of your own feelings, though, then other people’s opinions don’t matter that much. Easier said than done, I admit.” Andy looked right at Lena, with sympathy in his eyes now replacing the angry look of a few minutes ago. But more than just a hint of humour was there too.
Lena is a 15-year-old Manitoba girl whose older brother, Jordan, has just been diagnosed with schizophrenia. She has trouble understanding this new sibling, yet she also becomes annoyed when her peers and even many adults cannot understand his behaviour. Lena loves her brother, yet is also angry and rather jealous that he now commands most of their parents’ attention. She wonders if the best alternative for her is to distance herself from her family if she cannot find the compassion and coping skills she needs in order to deal with her brother.
Loewen’s coming-of age novel gives her young adult readers a remarkable character in Lena. Although she does her best to try and understand her brother and to support both him and the other members of her family, she is also often frustrated. She suddenly needs a maturity that she has never needed before. Lena is an excellent student and an introvert who spends any free time running. In this novel, she runs both physically and metaphorically as she tries to understand and cope with the many changes in her family life. She has no girlfriends in whom she can confide, but she is close to Andy, a friend in the same grade who always seems to be able to find the right things to say and somehow is able to lighten up difficult situations. Adding to Lena’s problems, she learns that Andy has offered to escort another girl to grad. This isolates her even further when it seems that the only person she can truly count on has also abandoned her.
Lena’s parents and younger brother are all believable and interesting characters. Mike is only 10-years-old, and, understandably, his reaction to his brother’s illness is often immature. Lena is impressed by the strength of both of her parents and the strength of their marriage. They deal with their son’s mental illness in a way that shows both caring and compassion. The entire situation allows Lena to see them in a new light and to appreciate them in an entirely new way.
Jordan is central to the novel, of course, while remaining mostly a shadowy uncommunicative boy whom no one understands. The family is unsure how to deal with him. Does he need supervision? Are his medications appropriate? Is there something more they should be doing in order to help him? Loewen uses fiction to help readers see the challenges facing both the patient suffering from a mental illness and those caregivers closest to him. Never does the author offer an easy or simple solution in order to “fix” the mentally ill patient. She emphasizes the difficulties, and she helps readers realize that patients require understanding, support and love from those closest to them. Some characters in the novel personify the misunderstandings and misguided information that so many have about mental illness. Loewen illustrates this, but she is more focussed on acknowledging the burden which mental illness places both on patient and caregivers.
The plot moves quickly on several levels. Lena continues her running despite asthma attacks as well as trying to deal with continuous stress and even occasional panic attacks. There is a romantic undercurrent as Lena and Andy figure out just what their relationship is and what their respective roles are. Throughout the novel, Jordan remains almost secondary, leaving readers in suspense as to whether or not he will have some sort of schizophrenic episode, what will cause it, and where it might occur. The title apparently refers to Lena’s athletic ability but also could be metaphorically understood as Lena’s world changing too quickly for her to keep up with events and with her own feelings. Interestingly, the author continues the running and foot metaphor throughout the novel, referring to Olympians who prefer to run barefoot and also having Jordan abandon his shoes when he attempts to run away from the voices which pursue him.
Mental illness is a topic which is misunderstood and maligned, and this young adult novel is a wonderful step forward, helping readers be more comfortable with, and less judgmental about, the area of mental health. Loewen paints a compassionate and sympathetic picture while remaining realistic. I strongly recommend this first novel for classrooms and libraries, and sincerely hope that in the future I will have the opportunity to read more from this gifted author.
Ann Ketcheson is a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French who lives in Ottawa, ON.
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