January 22, 2015

Twisted

by Lisa Harrington
Dancing Cat Books
978-1-77086-413-9
240 pp.
Ages 13+
September 2014

On the day Lyssa Thomson, 18, buries her mother, she's on a bus, leaving her drunken, step-father Vince–who used to lock her in her room–in River John and heading to Halifax to move in with her boyfriend, Kyle, hopeful of starting at Dalhousie in the new year.  Finding Kyle with another girl, Lyssa wanders in the rain until she finds some shelter at a coffee shop where an employee, university student Liam Stewart, helps her contact Vince's son–Lyssa's step-brother–Aidan with whom she'd always been close before he left without telling her two years earlier.

Though still hurt about Aidan's departure, Lyssa accepts his offer to stay at his house, which is near campus and the coffee shop where she gets a part-time job.  Aidan is still not forthcoming about anything though she learns through his girlfriend, Marla, that he manages a bar and they'd met in a psych ward when Marla had attempted suicide. Not knowing that Marla and Lyssa had already met, Aidan continues to tell his step-sister half-truths about Vince accusing him of trying to kill him and having him sent to Halifax for a psych evaluation.  

But, Lyssa is starting to see discrepancies in what Aidan says and does, and turns to Liam for some advice and perspective.  Liam, a pre-med student, does all he can to help Lyssa out, though his own relationship with his girlfriend, Lynnie, is becoming complicated.  Everything must seem complicated to Lyssa: her much-adored step-brother is thinking about returning home and wants her to go too; the boy she's crushing on seems into her but still has a girlfriend; Kyle is coming around asking for a second chance; and Vince is looking to track Lyssa down. But Lyssa has a good head on her shoulders and, with her helpfulness and work ethic, she establishes a good support system at work, something she's going to need if she is to endure (survive?) some harrowing situations.

Mental illness can be debilitating but imagine if you are teen who has never been privy to discussions about a family member's illness.  While being unaware of triggers or symptoms, you may also feel that others are being unfair to that family member when labeling him as insane or crazy or irrational. Lyssa shows incredible fortitude in the face of extraordinary circumstances like her mother's death and boyfriend's unfaithfulness.  But, with Aidan being the only one she still considers family, she is reluctant to castigate him for his reactions, until she accepts that his thinking is twisting his perceptions, the truth and their lives.  Lisa Harrington brings the issue of mental illness out of the closet and into the danger zone, where secretive discussions and ignorance are preventing effective treatment and establishment of a supportive family.  By not speaking about it, everything goes from bad to worse.  And Lisa Harrington's writing is oppressive with the tension of Lyssa's tenuous relationship with Aidan. If Twisted is anything beyond a young adult story of finding love and support under difficult circumstances, it's a cautionary tale of the dangers of refusing to talk about mental illness and shaming those dealing with it.

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