How I Made it to Eighteen, by Tracy White

tracy white how I made it to eighteen

“I didn’t come here to change my style.  I came here because I want to be happy again.”

The mostly true visual diary of the author (under the pseudonym ‘Stacy Black’) who finds herself in a psychiatric hospital following a self-destructive incident.  At seventeen, living with her boyfriend, separated from her family, graduated from high school, she loses touch with herself.  After punching out panes of glass, she asks her mother to commit her to a psychiatric hospital.

Once there she tries to maintain her sense of self while coming to grips with a numbing depression, her unhealthy relationship with her boyfriend, her difficult family dynamics.  

The art looks relatively primitive, but is quite clever in composition.  Simple skinny line drawings stage Stacy’s personal drama, while her captioned inner narration lends cynical commentary to the action (call it:  ‘Diary of an Angst-y Young Woman’).   Spare panels use white space to suggest a clinical atmosphere.   In a session of family therapy, angry dialogue between Stacy and her overbearing mother buries their counselor in word balloons.

The untrained art serves the story well, suggesting an emotional honesty and credibility.   None of the art would look out of place in the journal of a young woman.  There’s an immediacy of emotion, as the character only slowly admits to herself that she also has an eating disorder.   We find this out as she does.  Chapter breaks further reveal insights on Stacy’s character and personality via interview questions posed to her friends.

For the audience (especially for young women struggling with these issues) the book itself may serve as group therapy in the best way, where  recognition of shared experiences and feelings (and that these feelings may be widespread) serves to reduce a sense of isolation, validate your experience, and thus raise self-esteem.

At our library we keep this in the Young Adult section,  there is little in the way of objectionable language or visual content (one or two cuss words; flecks of vomit; we see a close up of cutting — all of which is rendered with a sense of emotional distance, not for shock effect) but the issues addressed are complex and emotional.

To my way of thinking the book would be appropriate for middle school readers (and up) as the kids most interested in the topic would be those who most need to read this sort of book.  Anyone for whom the issues are upsetting would be unlikely to check out or read the book in the first place.

The book is highly recommended for a high school level, though at our library the audience mostly eagerly waiting for it are all 6th-8th grade girls.

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