Thursday, September 27, 2012

January First: A Child's Descent into Madness and Her Father's Struggle to Save Her by Michael Schofield

about book:

Michael Schofield's daughter, January, is at the mercy of her imaginary friends, except they aren't the imaginary friends that most young children have; they are hallucinations.  And January is caught in the conflict between our world and their world, a place she calls Calalini.  Some of these hallucinations, like "24 Hours," are friendly, and some, like "400 the Cat" and "Wednesday the Rat," bite and scratch her until she does what they want.  They often tell her to scream at strangers, jump out of buildings, and attack her baby brother.

At six years old, January Schofield, "Janni" to her family, was diagnosed with schizophrenia, one of the worst mental illnesses known to man.  What's more, schizophrenia is 20 to 30 times more severe in children than in adults, and in Janni's case, doctors say, she is hallucinating 95 percent of the time she is awake.  Potent psychiatric drugs that would level most adults barely faze her.

January First captures Michael and his family's remarkable story in a narrative that forges new territory for books about mental illness.  In the beginning, readers see Janni's incredible early potential:  her brilliance and savant-like ability to learn extremely abstract concepts.  Next, they witness early warning signs that something is not right, Michael's attempts to rationalize what's happening, and his descent alongside his daughter into the abyss of schizophrenia.  Their battle has included a two-year search for answers, countless medications and hospitalizations, allegations of abuse, despair that almost broke their family apart, and, finally, victories against the illness and a new faith that they can create a life for Janni filled with moments of happiness.  

A compelling, unsparing, and passionate account, January First vividly detail's Schofield's commitment to bring his daughter back from the edge of insanity.  It is a father's soul-baring memoir of the daily struggles and challenges he and his wife face as they do everything they can to help Janni while trying to keep their family together. 

my thoughts:

I read this book ages ago and have been wondering what to write about it ever since.  I wasn't sure what to make of it.  This is the kind of book that is unputdownable - to the point that you are still awake at three in the morning, because you just have to finish it or you won't be able to sleep.  Its the kind of book that makes for great discussion, because there is just so much to talk about - schizophrenia in children, mental illness, medical industry, psych wards and children, affects of schizophrenia on family members, parental rights, marital issues, social issues, etc.  And, its the kind of book that is so emotional and heartbreaking, you just can't get it out of your head.

January First is about Janni Schofield, a little girl who gets diagnosed with schizophrenia.  The book is told from Michael's (Janni's dad) point of view.  We get to read all about Janni's high IQ and how Michael feels that her intelligence plays a huge part in affecting Janni's lack of social skills.  He gets mad at his wife for forcing Janni to attend play dates - all she wants is for Janni to make some friends, because Janni's only friends are imaginary.  Plus, her imaginary friends are rather bossy -  they demand that Janni hit her baby brother, scream for no reason, jump out a window, etc.  These imaginary friends are becoming too much for the Schofield's to handle.  So, Janni's parents take her to therapy, doctors, psych wards - anywhere that they feel might offer them the slightest glimpse of hope that something can be done for their little girl.  Of course, all of this takes its toll on the family and soon they are more broken than united.

Its a gripping read, for sure.  Michael's writing is engaging, real, and honest.  You find out how angry he gets at his wife; how much he would sacrifice for Janni; how sad he is that he can't even recognize his little girl anymore; and how he finds himself asking the police what will happen to his daughter if he just lets them take her away.  This is a man gasping for air in a life that is drowning him in anxiety, worry, stress, anger, sadness and so much more.  I found Michael's account of what happened to his family, Janni, and himself to be quite an emotional read.  I teared up and sighed one too many times while reading his book.  I also found myself wondering about Michael's choices at times  - were they the right ones to make?  How could he not understand that his wife was scared, tired, and overwhelmed by it all?  How could he not realize that his daughter did have mental issues that needed to be dealt with NOW?  How could he not see that her IQ was not the reason she didn't make any friends?  I would get frustrated with Michael at times - I felt that he needed to recognize that it wasn't just him and Janni against the world, but that it was him, Janni, his wife and son against the world.   Of course, what do I know about dealing with this type of situation?  I would assume that it would be hit and miss the whole way through - how could it not be?  At the end of the day, I found it brave of Michael to share his story with us all - the rare good bits and the overwhelming bad ones.  I may not agree with everything Michael does in the book, but I do believe that he loves his family and would be willing to do just about anything for them. 

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in memoirs and books dealing with mental illness (specifically schizophrenia).

Thanks to Crown Publishing (a subsidiary of Random House) for providing me with a copy of this book!


Rachel said...

Wow, this book sounds horrifying.

Nadia said...

Rachel, it was. It was just too scary to read, because you knew that anyone could be in the Schofields' situation.

Rebecca @ Love At First Book said...

"Unputdownable" makes me want to pick it up! That's a great word to use!

-Rebecca @ Love at First Book

Nadia said...

Rebecca, it is the type of book that you just can't put down - its so good!

bermudaonion said...

Fantastic review. I agree - this book was hard to put down. I questioned Michael's motivations at times too, but how can we really when we're not having to go through what he did?

Nadia said...

bermudaonion, exactly! We aren't in his shoes, so how do we know that we wouldn't do the same things. And, thanks! I loved your review, too!

Athira said...

Awesome review! I wasn't too intrigued by this book earlier, but now I am. I have to get it!

Nadia said...

Aths, thanks! Yes, check out the book. I wasn't at sure about it at first either, but soon enough you are so engrossed that you just won't be able to stop reading!