Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Author: Michael Schofield
Publisher: Crown, 2012
Read for: Review, Neuroscience list
January has been a high-strung child from birth, needing intensive stimulation all day in order to sleep at all. As she grows older and shows signs of extreme intelligence, her father believes -- and verifies with an IQ test -- that January is a genius. However, with the birth of a younger brother Jani begins displaying disturbing tendencies towards violence, and soon it becomes clear that it isn't just a phase -- Jani is suffering from severe mental illness.
I started January First when I finished my book on the bus and decided to knock out a review copy since I had my Kindle with me. I planned to read a few chapters on the bus and then finish it later. However, I could not put the book down and finished it within 24 hours. Jani's story is compelling, heartbreaking, and moving.
Michael Schofield chooses to relay his memoir in the present tense, which I think was very effective for this story. The immediacy of the present tense helped draw me in to his state of panic and confusion with Jani's bizarre and frightening behavior, as well as his frustrations with the institutions and doctors who are meant to be helping her but aren't always as willing or helpful as they could be.
I also felt that January First was written with stark honesty. I have read other reviews of the book complaining that Schofield's parenting was contributing to the problem, that he didn't pay enough attention to his other child, that his marriage was full of problems. There were certainly actions and attitudes Schofield had that I did not personally agree with, but he wasn't writing a parenting book -- he was writing the story of the effect his daughter's illness had on their lives. I appreciated that he included his mistakes with his successes. It also caused me to think about how I would handle a similar situation in my life -- it is easy to stand from a distance and judge Schofield's actions, but I can almost guarantee that none of the reviewers doing that have dealt with Schofield's unique situation. I appreciated his honesty and the direct look into the struggles of living with Janni and protecting their children.
While January First was an emotionally taxing book to read, it was also rewarding. While the Schofield family met with many challenges and setbacks, they also had moments of success. January First is not just about watching the train wreck of an awful disease -- it is also watching a family take an impossible situation and still manage to find solutions. January First is a fascinating memoir and story that will captivate readers.
Warnings: Language, non-graphic violence