Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos

Summary from Goodreads:

“I hate myself but I love Walt Whitman, the kook. Always positive. I need to be more positive, so I wake myself up every morning with a song of myself.”

Sixteen-year-old James Whitman has been yawping (à la Whitman) at his abusive father ever since he kicked his beloved older sister, Jorie, out of the house. James’s painful struggle with anxiety and depression—along with his ongoing quest to understand what led to his self-destructive sister’s exile—make for a heart-rending read, but his wild, exuberant Whitmanization of the world and keen sense of humor keep this emotionally charged debut novel buoyant. 

I have always gravitated towards long and kooky titles, the likes of these. I mean, how could you not give a book, entitled such, a second look? And its contents matches, or even exceeds the title in humor and wit and heart. 

The thing that really stood out for me, with this book is the humor. It is never dismissive of the seriousness of mental illness, specifically depression and anxiety. What James Whitman's self-deprecating jokes does is to affirm, all of who he is. He acknowledges that he has mental illness and he accepts whatever rollicking emotions that comes with it, the ups and the downs. He rides the waves, even though he is afraid and doesn't have a clue about whether he will wipe out and fall flat on his face. He talks to an imaginary bird therapist, he hugs trees, he is a Walt Whitman fanboy, he saves a bird from an coming bus only to realize that it was a tastykake wrapper. This all sounds horribly ridiculous. You know, your usually cliched "quirky-ness" that can be extremely irritating. But no. Everything about James and his story felt very earnest and real. 

I will remember this book not only for it's comedy. But also for it's very insightful and honest look at the lives of teens with depression. I mean depression is one of those mental illnesses that is usually being dismissed as mood swings. Or some boutique illness, if that makes sense. I guess sometimes we are used to saying: "I'm depressed." when we are having a bad day, which seems to infer that depression is just a phase. But it's not. It's not about having a bad hair day. It's a serious condition that is quite tricky and difficult to manage. And I feel for James because his parents are not only clueless, but refuse to make an effort to understand what he is going through, even when he explicitly tells them: "I need help." This is another thing about James Whitman, his bravery is quite inspiring. 


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