Her by Felicia Johnson, Fiction
Judge, Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-Book Awards
“Wow, this book is intense! Mesmerizing. Visceral. The story is told as a first-person account of Kristin, a seventeen-year-old girl, whose life goes from being raised by a single mom her first few years, to becoming a family when her mom marries Jack and she becomes a big sister to their twins. She has a best friend who she idolizes and seems to have caught the attention of a really cute boy, John. But the happiness doesn’t last.
Kristin is unable to please her mother, who constantly finds fault and disapproves of whatever Kristin does or says, making her feel worthless and unloved. But that’s not the worst of it. Jack, in a drunken moment, makes an inappropriate advance to her. She tries to just avoid him, but then Jack starts spending time with Kristen’s brother, Nick, behind closed doors that seems off and Kristen does not want to believe what she is starting to suspect about what is going on. As if that were not enough, it seems John is starting to have feelings for her best friend! But it seems like Kristen is not like other kids her age –she is less able to cope and more easily overwhelmed that others, is there something wrong with HER?
The feelings of inadequacy, isolation, and confusion, plus the lack of control over any aspect of her life, causes her to take solace in self-mutilation (cutting), which requires more and deeper cutting to feel the release that it gives her. Then that terrible week she catches John and her best friend in a passionate embrace, and a couple of days later, has her worst fears confirmed about Jack and her brother. And it pushes her to take the ultimate control attempted suicide. The story begins with that, and her past comes out in flashbacks as the story unwinds. She is sent to a short-term mental health facility and most of the book is about that time, how she works through her issues.
The author does an amazing job of engaging the reader from the first moment, and the feelings she is able to evoke are visceral and intense. I think so many young people could relate to these feelings of separation, isolation, loss, not feeling loved, and lack of acceptance, even with feelings of not knowing how they fit in to their family. What I think is most powerful is how the author presents mental health treatment as important and necessary and with such a positive, realistic manner, dispelling the negative stigma and encouraging young people to reach out when things get overwhelming. She in no way whitewashes the feelings of Kristen or the other patients; their feelings are validated but not in an enabling way at all.
The supporting characters are believable and well-developed. She does a good job of providing insight to the fact that you can’t change the people around you or your past, but you can make different/better choices and learn to cope and gain strength within yourself to deal with the hand you’re dealt. I just was blown away by the intensity of the book, it is clear that the author has either lived this or worked with people that have, because there is a ring of truth and authenticity that just shines.
The book is ultimately a tale of redemption, empowerment and overcoming not in a happily ever after way that isn’t believable, but in a realistic and credible way. There are a few very minor construction and spacing issues, but they are minimal. The book is hard to read because of the subject matter, but extremely well done. I think this book could really reach some young people at a time when they may be at a crossroad, and give them pause before they try a permanent solution to their temporary situation. I will look forward to see the author’s next book. Great job!