28 June 2020

'The Existence of Amy' book review

A plain teal book cover for 'The Existence of Amy' on a brown chopping board on top of a grey cardigan, with baby's breath flowers

I very rarely read books about mental health, or with it as a key theme, despite being very passionate about opening up conversations (and the government's wallet for more treatment availability) because I feel like it's so often poorly done and it can be triggering for me, so I usually wait until I'm in a very good headspace to do so. This isn't because authors who want to write about mental health issues are innately worse authors, but more because there can be very triggering language used, especially if the author is very specific with details (e.g. how a character self harms or weights involved with an ED). I often come across it in thrillers being used as an excuse to explain why the culprit did what he did, and used more as a plot device than delving into things. Or there's the other end of the spectrum where it can be romanticised in YA books, which can be damaging for teens to read.

However, I think Lana Grace Riva did a really great job of discussing OCD and depression in The Existence of Amy. Amy is doing her best to live a normal adult life whilst struggling with severe OCD and really not receiving much help for it. Her work colleagues try to be understanding, but get frustrated when she misses events because her routines mean that she cannot leave the house on time or eat out or socialise 'normally'. 

It all really comes to a head when Amy goes to Australia with her work colleagues as part of a work trip. She's very proud of getting herself there despite struggling a lot as the plane journey made her very concerned about her personal hygiene. When she's there it becomes obvious to her that she's missing out on a lot because of her mental health struggles, including the potential for a relationship.

The book was really great at showing an accurate portrait of struggling with mental illness. At no point in the Australia trip did Amy's patterns and anxiety disappear because there was something exciting she wanted to do. The author was really great at highlighting the kind of oxymoronic feelings you get when struggling: Amy really wanted to do the activities she missed out on, but at the same time really didn't want to and couldn't do them. 

There was no 'easy fix' in the book - she didn't start a relationship and everything ended, or start therapy and things were fixed instantly. Instead, we saw Amy really hit rock bottom with her depression and be very very slowly slightly lifted out of it. There were a few points in the book that I think could have done with some stricter editing, where it became clear that the book was self published, however it really did surpass my expectations.

This book was gifted to me, but with no obligation to post this. I gave this 4/5 stars

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