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Fig by Sarah Elizabeth Schantz
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I was quite surprised that this was a first novel for this author. As a young adult novel novel, I feel it should be on the required reading list for everyone over the age of 13. As a mental health/therapist, I found this book amazing in its portrayal of how schizophrenia affects everyone in the family, NOT just the patient. As a parent, I wanted to hug Fig and tell her it is okay and not her fault. This is a heartbreaking, endearing tale of a family in crisis, spread out over a young girls most important growth time. i cannot say enough good things about this novel and highly recommend it. ( )
  LeleliaSky | Oct 24, 2015 |
I wanted to read Fig because of the issues of mental illness. I deal with bipolar and anxiety issues, and these kinds of reads really appeals to me.

The biggest issue I had with Fig is that it is not a typical YA read, and that is what I was hoping for. It starts out from the pov of a six year old and that voice and world view is just not what I am used to. Of course she grows older and she is telling by looking back, but if I could change something it would be consistent age.

Fig did show a young girl having to try to take care of her mom when it should be the other way around, and more people need to realize what some children have to go through living in that sort of background. It is so hard on her, and changes things about personality and world view. Then, she is also dealing with her own mental health, and with the genetic issue, it is no surprise.

It is an emotional read, and important topic. The unique magical realism/fantasy feel certainly gives it a unique premise.

Bottom Line: Intriguing, and beautiful writing. Had an issue with the shifting age of protagonist and being labeled YA. ( )
  brandileigh2003 | Apr 20, 2015 |
“Fig” is a standout literary novel by Sarah Elizabeth Schantz. It’s the type of novel that unfolds exquisitely, slowly, and powerfully, breaking your heart almost every step along the way. Before you know it, you’re caught up in the harrowing story of an absolutely believable child struggling to deal with the everyday reality of coping with a schizophrenic mother.

The novel reads like a memoir. The main character is an overly bright and autodidactic child named Fiona Johnson. She lives with her mother and father on a certified organic farm on the outskirts of small town Eudora, Kansas. Her father and mother are highly educated people with degrees from Cornell. Everyone calls the child Fig except her grandmother. Grandmother Fiona lives in big-city Lawrence, Kansas, and frequently has to take care of Fig when the situation at home become too unstable and dangerous. Her father’s bachelor brother, Uncle Bill, also cares for Fig. He turns out to be one of the most fascinating and remarkable secondary characters in the book. It appears that Fig had a stable and loving childhood up until she was about three years old, then her mother began, once again, to show signs of the schizophrenia that had first manifested itself when she was nineteen.

The novel reads mostly like a psychologically astute and penetrating character study, a portrait of a child in emotional crisis, a child left alone to deal with problems way beyond her maturity level. How she deals with these problems forms the focus of the novel.

The book opens in 1994 when Fig is nineteen. It’s her birthday and on this day she plans to complete the memoir we intend to read. It is her account of her life for the past thirteen years. Her story begins when she is six. Each chapter is written in first-person present tense in a perfectly realistic fashion. Fig’s voice and outlook on life change appropriately throughout the book as she develops, matures, and grows in her understanding of life and the people around her. The book contains a chronological collection of short-story-like chapters. The book intensifies gradually to an eventful, and suspense-filled, emotional conclusion.

The book deals with the many ways Fig figures out to deal with her problems. Overall, she becomes hypervigilant and compulsive. It starts when, as a very young child, she’s convinced that if she holds her breath and crosses her fingers, she’ll be able to stop anything bad happening with her mother. As she gets older, she escalates this magical thinking to ever more creative, difficult, and painful sacrifices. She calls these obsessive-compulsive control mechanisms ordeals. “If I make enough sacrifices,” she thinks, “Mama will get better.” It starts with small stuff. “Today, I do not touch the color purple.” But soon it has escalated to more painful sacrifices. Eventually it leads to compulsive skin picking and skin cutting.
Once you finish this book, my bet is that you’ll never forget the main character. She will remain so realistic in your heart and mind that you’ll have to suppress the urge to try to find her (say, via the Internet or Facebook). You’ll want to find her because you passionately want to know what becomes of her following the close of the novel…even if you do the math and figure she’d be 40 years old in today’s world. It’s as if she were part of your own family.

The superb quality of Schantz’ prose is equally as memorable as the book’s main character. Take, for example, these words from Chapter One. “I catch Mama watching me. Her worry comes pouring out of her body like something spilling. It drips off her cloths, and her worry is the color of shadows, and it moves like water. From the porch, it seeps into the steps—pouring out into the grass where I am trying to run like a dog. Her worry comes for me.”

Unfortunately, it takes a close and careful reader to appreciate the subtleness and quiet beauty of the book’s ending. I consider myself an attentive reader, but I had to go back and reread my reviewing highlights before I fit it together and was satisfied with the ending. This is the reason why this lovely book is getting four, rather than five stars.

Although the book is being marketed as a young-adult novel and can definitely be appreciated by that audience, it is still the type of novel that will probably best be understood in its full complexity by adults with considerable life experience. ( )
  msbaba | Mar 28, 2015 |
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