I suppose it's not the wisest thing to have a lineup of Halloween books you need to read each year before the 31st or you'll be sad, especially if you have a whole blog to run. But, as you see before you, I am back- ...and with an epic new book!
After setting his friend's house on fire in a prank gone wrong, Salem Scott finds himself volunteering at Glenwood Manor, the town's local psych ward. In Mind Riot by Ken Bagnis, we learn that what first seems to be a place full of weirdos and crazies, Salem and his best friend Jace discover the thing they've been looking for: a kick-a$$ band. Beyond their exterior, the patients of Glenwood are the most interesting and cool people Salem's ever met, as well as awesome musicians.
But even after making the best out of a bad situation, even he realizes nothing is perfect. His new bandmates aren't the only ones working through bad trauma, and the more Salem gets to know people, the more he can relate to them. Can he and his new band, The Astrophonic Love Commandos, work together to learn to live, and to rock?
Finally, a book about mental illness that doesn't glorify it. Too many books and movies about mental illness (and just illness in general) make it out to be this cool, romantic thing that makes you unique and quirky, while in reality it's about the opposite. Mind Riot displays mental problems the way it is, a struggle many people have to go through. The patients of Glenwood Manor aren't written to be romantic superhumans, they're real people, people who have suffered through a lot.
(SPOLIERS BELOW!) But Mind Riot isn't a pity party either, it's a story of overcoming past experiences and using them to move towards the future. The main character, Salem, is constantly reminded of his older brother's suicide, and uses those experiences to connect and help Andy, a guy who accidentally killed his brother. Salem doesn't view Andy as a wack job or a murderer, but instead as a human and a friend.
Which brings us to our next topic: how the characters are treated. At the beginning of the book, Salem is unsure of the people at the hospital, but quickly becomes friends with them. This really surprised me, because usually books about mental illness go two ways: One, romantic quirky girl/boy who has schizophrenia finds love and lives happy ever after! Or two, "Wow look at these insane people! Aren't they crazy? Aren't they lesser human beings?" So that really blew my mind when the book went a whole different direction.
Salem really likes the people at Glenwood, almost immediately. He doesn't see them as a freak show or free entertainment, but instead what they really are, people with their own struggles. On the first day of work, Salem is already interested in Windsor the space captain's room, Evie's drawings, and Rascal's stuffed dog, Red Radish. He even calls them "awesome" and "cool", and is actually excited when Tammie says she wants to play her harmonica in the band. Isn't it sad when treating other people with even the most minimum respect is unusual?
But that's not to say everything about Mind Riot is perfect. While the representation is spot-on, I thought there were so many interesting characters that got the short end of the stick. People like Mitch the fake doctor and Slinky the guitar player, both of which I was very interested in, didn't get enough screen time (or is it page time?) to know them very well, leaving you with basically background characters who have interesting personalities.
But besides that one complaint, Mind Riot is a totally solid book that takes itself seriously enough to keep you invested, but has the perfect amount of fun to keep you coming back. It's a look into the world of someone so different, yet so familiar. I really do think that Mind Riot should be read by more people, not just because it's good, but as an example on how to write mental illness in a way that doesn't glorify it.