All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Everything Here Is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee

on January 25, 2019

Everything Here Is Beautiful
Mira T. Lee
Viking
2018, 358p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Two Chinese-American sisters—Miranda, the older, responsible one, always her younger sister’s protector; Lucia, the headstrong, unpredictable one, whose impulses are huge and, often, life changing. When Lucia starts hearing voices, it is Miranda who must find a way to reach her sister. Lucia impetuously plows ahead, but the bitter constant is that she is, in fact, mentally ill. Lucia lives life on a grand scale, until, inevitably, she crashes to earth.

Miranda leaves her own self-contained life in Switzerland to rescue her sister again—but only Lucia can decide whether she wants to be saved. The bonds of sisterly devotion stretch across oceans—but what does it take to break them?

Everything Here Is Beautiful is, at its heart, an immigrant story, and a young woman’s quest to find fulfillment and a life unconstrained by her illness. But it’s also an unforgettable, gut-wrenching story of the sacrifices we make to truly love someone—and when loyalty to one’s self must prevail over all.

I picked up this book from my library because it was recommended by the Reading Women Challenge Goodreads group as a really good title for one of the prompts, which was read a book with a woman who has a mental illness. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, so I was looking for a fiction title for that prompt (and pretty much all prompts) so when this one was so easily accessible to me, it seemed a good choice.

Miranda and Lucia are sisters, born to a mother that emigrated to America from China after the death of her husband. She raises the girls on her own, and they could not be more different. Miranda has always been the responsible one, the older one who has protected Lucia and always looked out for her. Always given her a place to crash when she needed it. Miranda went to college, got a degree and was into a good job. Lucia also went to college but she’s also a free spirit, spending years travelling after her degree, through places like Ecuador. Teaching English in Central America, that sort of thing. Miranda is skeptical when Lucia gets married – is skeptical about a lot of Lucia’s decisions and life.

Because Lucia is mentally ill. She has stages, where the illness overwhelms her and she cannot cope. She is often institutionalised against her will and it’s an ongoing battle to find the right sort of medication and to get her to take it. This book I felt, was a really good look at several aspects of both being mentally ill and caring/loving someone that is. Miranda is often forced to make difficult decisions, to advocate for her sister when she is hospitalised because she’s just a number and the goal seems to be getting her stable enough to get her out of there, even if that’s not the best course of treatment. Miranda finds that people don’t want to listen to her when she tells them what sort of medications haven’t worked for Lucia or what she won’t take for various reasons.

The mental illness that Lucia lives with, is something that will never be cured. She’s told this, given the statistics at what her success rates will be (or not). The likelihood of her being hospitalised again. It requires constant monitoring, medication and vigilance from those around her, who have to observe her behaviour and check for any changes, any signs that she may be entering another phase where it requires more treatment. Her illness sometimes motivates the choices she makes, the goals she prioritises. I feel as though the author does a fantastic job of portraying Lucia’s illness and how it creates chaos not just in her life, but in the lives of those around her. She struggles with things that she thinks is real, trying to do the right thing but it turns out to be horribly wrong, neglectful and dangerous.

The parts of the book that I felt were really good where when Lucia is hospitalised for her illness, sectioned against her will in order for her to get some treatment. The way in which people view mental illness and the way in which they go about treating it is really interesting – and pretty much grossly inadequate. Lucia is just one of many in what are probably overcrowded wards where the aim is to just get them ‘well enough’ to be discharged with a bunch of pamphlets to manage their own illness. Self help groups, counselling groups, out patient care, psychologist appointments. It’s quite overwhelming for most people I think and the idea is that they learn to manage their own illness, which is a good aim. But I think it’s difficult to expect that at times, when there are medications that have savage side effects and dosage is such a tricky thing that it can take so long to get correct. You can tell that some of the staff in the hospitals are anxious to help, to do their best and others are disinterested. Miranda has difficulty getting the attending doctor to even speak to her and at one stage, has to file some sort of injunction about medication. No matter what Lucia does, Miranda drops everything in her life and comes whenever she feels she needs to. Even when Lucia is resentful, vicious and screaming at her to get out of her life. Miranda is a study in patience and exasperation and it’s clear how much that her dedication to Lucia affects her life. Even when she’s living on the other side of the world, her constant monitoring of Lucia and her readiness to always go to her rescue definitely creates ripples in her own life.

I did expect there to be more about the sister relationship but they do spend most of the book half a world apart and honestly, sometimes they are barely in contact. A lot of that closeness seemed to be before the book began, when Lucia was turning up and crashing on the floors of the various places that Miranda lived. There’s a glimpse of their childhood at the beginning and then they’re both adults, graduated college, after Lucia’s travels and most of their relationship is hinging on a connection that we didn’t really get to see. I can’t help but admire Miranda for her constant prioritising of Lucia, her readiness to always be willing to step in and help in any way she can. Lucia is a difficult character to get a grasp on, she’s like smoke, always drifting and changing shape, impossible to hold. Her struggle is an every day thing and the desperation with which she wants to get her life back, get a job doing something meaningful to her, is very well portrayed. I enjoyed this, I feel like it helped me get a better understanding on a lot of the things surrounding mental illness, including the treatment and the stigma towards people who are open about their struggle, or who are trying to get their lives back in order.

8/10

Book #15 of 2019

Counting this towards my Reading Women Challenge – filling prompt #2, A woman with a mental illness.

 


One response to “Review: Everything Here Is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee

  1. […] Woman w/ a Mental Illness – Everything Here Is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee. My review. […]

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