Saturday, September 16, 2017

Book Review: 'Painting Sage' by Rachael K. Hannah

New York author Rachael K. Hannah earned her BA from the College of the Holy Cross, a MSEd from Manhattan College and another master’s degree in autism studies from CUNY Hunter. She has been a teacher for over ten years, working in both public and private schools. It is difficult to believe that this is her debut published novel, so polished in prose sculpting and intuitive into mental health issues phrased as well as any author with more experienced has accomplished. Perhaps her long interest in writing short stories and articles about civil rights, mental health issues, women’s rights, and animal rights have paved the way for the success of this impressive debut.

Rachael opens her touching story quite simply – ‘I never pictured myself as someone who could be responsible for the life of another person. As self-interested as that may sound, there had always been a part of me that was primarily concerned with my own self-preservation. I’m not proud to admit this. I’d been told before that this need I had for independence— for control— had the power to wear others down to a fraction of what they once had been. They’d become withered and drained, until they could no longer provide whatever it was I was looking for in the first place. Whenever I did seek that basic need for human connection— no matter who it was with— I, too, usually ended up feeling exhausted, defeated. Always focused on the outcome, never the process. Always looking for external answers and definitive solutions, but never reflecting deep within myself. Until Sage. They say when a parent looks at their child for the first time, something so powerful, so instinctual and beyond the self takes over. Sadly, before Sage came to be, I never believed I’d ever experience this overwhelming instinct of self-sacrifice for another. That image persisted in my mind— that cautionary tale of the kind of woman who never quite comes to experience the gift of unconditional love. You may have met her before. She is emotionally unavailable, void of intrinsic warmth and devotion. Empty, hollow, altogether broken. I feared that I might be her. If I was, how then would I possibly be able to give to another person without wanting anything in return? Until Sage.’

The author’s synopsis gels the profound story well – ‘She almost didn’t make it. Fifteen-year-old Sage was close to death, and now she’s been confined to a rehab facility in the woods of Connecticut, far from her old life. But the problems she faces have come with her—and now her mother, Julia, must decide what to do next. As Sage begins treatment for bipolar disorder, Julia continues an exhausting internal debate about how they reached such a low point. Are Sage’s depressive episodes due to genetics, or is her parenting to blame? The increasing unreliability of Sage’s father, Mike, hasn’t helped either. Sage can tell his focus is elsewhere. After her release back to high school, Sage still struggles to overcome the adversity she faces. Her unfair expulsion from the school adds further frustration for both mother and daughter—so much so that Sage is tempted to run away. A profound tale of what it means to live with mental illness, Painting Sage illustrates the whole person behind the struggle. Sage’s challenges will continue—and she must learn how to build a life she loves in spite of them.’

This is an important book on many levels – the understanding of mental illness and the permutations of suicide attempts, family commitment, the rights of the mentally ill – as well as an emotionally satisfying story. PAINTING SAGE is one impressive debut! Grady Harp, June 17

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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