Title: A Danger to Herself and Others
Author: Alyssa B. Sheinmel
Release Date: February 5, 2018
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Goodreads Rating: 4 (of 52 ratings)
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Four walls. One window. No way to escape. Hannah knows there’s been a mistake. She didn’t need to be institutionalized. What happened to her roommate at her summer program was an accident. As soon as the doctors and judge figure out that she isn’t a danger to herself or others, she can go home to start her senior year. In the meantime, she is going to use her persuasive skills to get the staff on her side.
Then Lucy arrives. Lucy has her own baggage. And she may be the only person who can get Hannah to confront the dangerous games and secrets that landed her in confinement in the first place.
Disclaimer: I received this ARC courtesy of Sourcebooks Fire through Netgalley. I am grateful for the opportunity to review an ARC for my readers, but this will not influence my final rating. All opinions expressed in this review are my own and based solely on the book.
This review will contain both a spoiler-free and a with-spoiler section. I do not recommend looking at the latter if you plan on reading A Danger to Herself and Others because a major plot point in the book would be ruined.
<><> SPOILER-FREE REVIEW <><>
The beginning of A Danger to Herself and Others didn’t draw me in right away. The narrator and our main character, Hannah, describes her arrival at the psychiatric hospital from processing to placement in her room. The action happening in front of her (which would help physically situate the reader, things like a man asking her name, or her walking down a hall) was drowned out by her very scattered, seemingly random thoughts. I quickly realized this is how Hannah likes to be, that she processes what is in front of her and thinks deeply about everything before reacting. Getting used to her character took a moment, but once I knew that she was a studious and serious girl, I began to dig deeper into the book.
Hannah accepts her term at the psychiatric hospital with grace: she’s not supposed to be there, so of course her time will be short since soon it will be discovered that she was placed by accident. Hannah knows why she was accidentally placed: it’s left to the reader to uncover this information and if the decision was truly an accident over the course of the novel. Even though Hannah is calm about being placed, she still shows her dislike of being confined, of being told when to shower, of having someone else choose when and where she eats. Her bursts of panic washed over me when she walked into her room — eight feet by seven as she had measured by pacing back and forth — to see the small space she inhabited and could not leave.
Hannah’s days follow a close routine: meals and talk-therapy with “Dr. Lightfoot.” (Hannah nicknamed the doctor based on ballet shoes the woman would wear.) Dr. Lightfoot’s portrayal in the book is what truly made this reading both thought-provoking and unforgettable. (Not that Hannah’s journey is anything to dismiss.) The doctor does not come to each session ready to crack open Hannah’s secrets. She is not a wealth of happiness and joy, promising Hannah everything is going to be sunshine and rainbows. Dr. Lightfoot works steadily to see why Hannah is at the psychiatric hospital, becoming neither a friend nor an enemy. Just a doctor. Which was exactly what Hannah needed.
I don’t know what I can say about Lucy other than her friendship with Hannah truly ruined me.
<><> SPOILER-(ish) REVIEW <><>
If you are reading this, I really hope you have either already read A Danger to Herself and Others because going into this book already spoiled will ruin a lot of the climax.
I want to touch on one great and grand thing that I find Sheinmel did very well with this book. A hands down reason that I believe this book needs to be shared with friends, with libraries, with teens suffering from mental illness.
Alyssa B. Sheinmel depicted a mental health institution positively. Out of context this does not make sense, so allow me to explain. I have never visited a MHI nor have I researched them. I have no knowledge on how they are run. The most information I do have comes from, surprisingly, YA fiction. And none of those depictions are positive whatsoever. I have read a book where an underage teenager is committed against her will without any medical reasons and immediately force-fed unnamed medication by the staff until she breaks out days later. I read a book where a character recalls a past trip “in the loony bin” where she lived strapped to a table. These representations tie together to create a fear of mental health institutions, places where you will be mistreated, misdiagnosed, and abused.
I do not want to deny these things can happen. But when YA books are written for teenagers who suffer so very often from mental health issues, and then mental health institutions are depicted so terribly when for many, it’s actually a life support, well, it’s maybe more than disconcerting?
In A Danger to Herself and Others, Sheinmel showed Dr. Lightfoot and the mental health institution as a place Hannah needed to be. At the beginning of the book, Hannah is confused but certain she should not be at the facility — in response, Dr. Lightfoot gives her space. Hannah begins to talk more, and Dr. Lightfoot listens. Hannah is given medication when the doctor knows what medication is required. Hannah is informed what the medication is for (though she does not have a choice in taking it, because she is underage).
I am not going to say Sheinmel’s representation of a MHI is positive as in “happy”, because that is not the case. Hannah suffers. She is uncomfortable with her lack of privacy and she loses rights she had “on the outside.” But Sheinmel shows how a MHI can help someone with a mental illness.
This book made me shocked. This book made me sad. This book made me think more on things that I already think about, and didn’t think I could think more on.
I do want to throw in Sheinmel’s disclaimer that she did not write this book to educate anyone on mental health/illness. As I said before, I myself do not know how accurate her depiction is to the current state of psychiatric hospitals today. All I do know is I think teenagers need more healthy representations of mental health and this book does that.
I could go on about this book for sooo much longer. I could talk about Hannah’s recovery process, and how the way she longs for Jonah and Lucy (particularly in the bathroom scene) really got to me. The way her parents dismissed Hannah’s way of viewing the world as “just imaginary friends.”
My only true gripe with this book is how rare Hannah’s form of mental illness is. Not only is she in the twenty percent for having it, she’s in the one percent of the form she has. (*Forgive me if my percentages are off, I forgot to bookmark the page.) But this, of course, just goes to Sheinmel’s disclaimer that she is not writing to educate and not once in reading this did I feel like she used mental illness as a plot device or hook. YES, Hannah’s discovery is a turning point in the book, but Sheinmel doesn’t use this for shock value. Sheinmel instead shows how it can be surprising to learn you have a mental illness, and to see how much it affects your daily life.
I rate this book at 4.5 with a hiiiiigh recommendation rating. On any websites that don’t allow .5 expect to see this as a 5. I knocked off a point because I do find that with some of the topics covered in this book, personal experience or intensive research is required. But this is a personal opinion! (And maybe there is/was, it just wasn’t mentioned.)
Has the representation of mental health professionals and institutions in the YA books you have read been positive or negative?
6 thoughts on “ARC REVIEW: “A Danger to Herself and Others” by Alyssa B. Sheinmel 💭”
I’ve never read any books that have mental health institutions in them. I think Replica by Lauren Oliver takes place in an institution but I haven’t read that book yet.
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Hmm, I’ve not read Replica either. The few YA books that I’ve read with mental health institution mentions haven’t been great. That’s why this one stood out so much to me.
Wow, great review, Sha! From what I’ve heard, most YA books don’t represent mental institutions well, or it’s just very inaccurate. I also received an ARC for this, and now I’m excited to read and review it next!
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Thank you Xandra! Enjoy your read, as I said, I think Sheinmel does a great job with representation in this book! 🙂
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I also enjoyed this one. I thought Sheinmel did a great job taking us on this journey with Lucy. She painted an interesting and realistic pictures, while also throwing in a few nice twists.
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The relationship between Hannah and Lucy was soooo emotional. Just how Lucy was the only person who understood Hannah, and then the twists in the book happen, and we find out Lucy can’t *actually* understand Hannah. And the way Hannah’s parents reacted to the friendship? It was very well-written.
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