Black Box, a young adult novel by St. Paul writer Julie Schumacher, is a simply told, quietly effective tale of a family’s attempt to cope with depression. It is a dark, harrowing story, made all the more so by the fact that it is based on the author’s own experiences.
It begins horrifically with a trip into a psychiatric ward. The suffering and fear of the patients is vividly depicted. There is then a detailed flashback which informs the reader as to what is happening.
The narrator is a 14-year-old girl named Elena. She is the youngest in a family of four that also includes a mother, a father, and the 17-year-old Dora. They are a fairly happy family, with good relationships. The two sisters are particularly close. But a shadow is cast across the family when Dora begins to have fits of sadness, during which she loses all drive to do anything and wishes she was dead.
|black box by julie schumacher. published by delacorte books for young readers (2008). $15.99.|
Dora is committed to Lorning, a psychiatric ward. This devastates the family, all of whom are negatively impacted. Elena suffers because of it, but does not show her emotions strongly. For the most part, she is a very calm and steady person.
She does find one outlet for her feelings in the person of Jimmy Zenk, probably the most interesting character. He is intelligent and observant, but completely lacking in social grace. He knows a great deal about depression, and discusses the subject with Elena. It is later revealed that he had once been a patient in Lorning.
The story is grimly realistic, with the varying emotions of Elena strongly depicted. It is a short novel, with brief chapters never more than two or three pages in length. This brevity is one of its strengths. It cuts out all that is unnecessary to the telling of the story, and provides focus for the narrative.
This novel may be a source of information and solace for those battling depression; it includes contact information for organizations offering help. Its literary merit is not great, but it adequately serves its purpose.
Cyrus Wolff is homeschooled in Princeton, Minnesota and studies classic literature, focusing on nineteenth century fiction. He is a book reviewer for Amazon.com and writes short stories and essays.
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