Sunday, March 7, 2010

Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen

Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen. New York: Turtle Bay Books, 1993. ISBN-10: 0679746048; ISBN-13: 978-0679746041. 173 p.

Plot Summary
In 1967, after meeting with a doctor she had never seen before, 18-year-old Susanna Kaysen committed herself to the McLean Mental Hospital for what would turn into a two-year stay. Kaysen describes her time at the hospital through her own experiences and those of her fellow patients.

Critical Evaluation
Kaysen's book is an important historical document looking at the reality of treatment for mental illnesses in the late 1960s. This memoir doesn't proceed chronologically; instead, it presents a series of vignettes, including images of Kaysen's admissions paperwork and other notes taken by nurses at the facility. Kaysen's expert descriptions of how madness feels and how it is treated are instructive, although her detachment may alienate some viewers who seek to be able to relate to a narrator. It may be interesting to teens who have suffered from mental illnesses, especially as it shows how treatments have changed in the last 40 years. It may appeal to readers who enjoyed Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar."

Reader’s Annotation
Susanna Kaysen was committed to a mental hospital when she was 18. She was there for two years. Read her autobiographical account of her time there.

Author Information
Susanna Kaysen was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her father, Carl Kaysen, was an MIT professor and advisor to President John F. Kennedy. When she was 18, she underwent psychiatric treatment for depression after a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. This experience is the basis for Girl, Interrupted.

Her most recent book, The Camera My Mother Gave Me, is a memoir published in 2001. She was interviewed about her newest book by the Austin Chronicle in 2001, and another Q&A can be found at her publisher's website.


Curriculum Ties

Booktalking Ideas
What really goes on in a mental hospital?
How does insanity feel to the person going insane?

Reading Level/Interest Age
Grades 9-12

Challenge Issues
Frank language and discussions of sex.

Challenge Defense
It may be helpful to point challengers to reviews of the book at two different mental health websites: Psychiatry Online, and Mental The librarian should also be very familiar with the book's contents before recommending it to younger teens.

I included this book because it was selected as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults in 1994. I also needed more nonfiction on my blog, and this book has been on my to-read list for months.


Post a Comment