Kara is 12 years old. Her father left two months ago, her mother is clinically depressed and her condition has been worsening significantly since her father moved out. Kara has seen her mother ride the wave that is clinically-diagnosed depression her whole life. She is convinced if she can just hold things together until her mom hits the “upswing” again, they’ll be okay. She is afraid that if someone outside the house finds out her mother is on the downside of the spectrum then everything will fall apart.
Of course, for Kara, it already feels like everything is falling apart. She loves her mother and yet resents feeling the need to take care of her. She loves her father, but is furious with him for leaving her and her mother in this situation. She is feeling like she’s watching herself walk and talk without actually being connected to herself in a way that would make her feel REAL–like everyone else.
The majority of the narrative happens over the course of a single day. In the day we see the machinations Kara goes through to keep the secret that her security, her very sense of self is crumbling. Kara’s desperation and longing radiate from the pages and, to the author’s credit, everything does not suddenly “get better” when her father, a teacher and a friend do intervene in her circumstances. I particularly like Kara’s insights into her own behavior when she is able to step away and look at it. Her observations about how her own behavior became somewhat irrational when in the midst of such a hugely unreasonable situation are an important piece of her ability to look forward with hope and confidence in herself and her own reality.
This is a compassionate and insightful look into the mind of a young person in a situation that is probably not as uncommon as it may seem at first–given the large number of individuals (particularly women) who deal with medically diagnosed depression on a daily basis. This story gives voice to the frustration and confusion of a child caught in these circumstances. For a child (or adult) living a similar situation–or having lived in one–Kara’s story provides a great opporunity to speak about their own feelings and questions. For an adult Kara’s observations offer insight into topics that may often be overlooked when a child appears to be “handling things well” on the outside. For those who have not experienced mental illness within their immediate family, Kara’s perspective offers the opportunity to have empathy and understanding for those who you will encounter in your life who ARE dealing with these types of circumstances and issues.
How to Be a Real Person is one of those books that offers each reader the chance to grow in compassion and understanding for others as well as gain inspiration and strength to live our own lives in a more generous and empathetic way.