Countless, Karen Gregory

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When Hedda discovers she is pregnant, she doesn’t believe she could ever look after a baby. The numbers just don’t add up. She is young, and still in the grip of an eating disorder that controls every aspect of how she goes about her daily life. She’s even given her eating disorder a name – Nia. But as the days tick by, Hedda comes to a decision: she and Nia will call a truce, just until the baby is born. 17 weeks, 119 days, 357 meals. She can do it, if she takes it one day at a time …

Heartbreaking and hopeful by turns, Karen Gregory’s debut novel is a story of love, heartache and human resilience. And how the things that matter most can’t be counted. Perfect for fans of Lisa Williamson, Non Pratt and Sarah Crossan.

CONTENT WARNING: Eating Disorders (anorexia, binging, and restriction)

 

Why I picked this book up:

I requested this book because I was curious to see how issues of mental health and pregnancy would be handled, and I was interested in a YA novel set in the UK, as almost everything I’ve read in the YA Contemporary genre has been very American-centric.

 

The bad:

Honestly, there was nothing negative to say about this book, other than the possibility that it my be triggering to ED sufferers due to some details about Hedda’s methods of restriction and obsession with other women’s weight. Other than that, the topic of the main character’s eating disorder was handled well – great details and insight were included regarding Hedda’s recovery and relapse without making this novel a handbook on how to lie about food and lose weight as some others on the topic can tend to be.

 

The good:

Wow. Just wow. At times this book winded me with descriptions of Hedda’s self-hatred, with her two halves battling towards health but also towards her anorexia, which she refers to as ‘Nia’. The way Nia is personified is so chilling, and was a great narrative device in order to convey often inexplicable emotions. There was a moment where I was worried that a love interest would become the ‘cure’ or the main plot, but Gregory allows any romance to become background to Hedda’s personal journey, with her feelings used as a way to demonstrate her self-destructive behaviour rather than something that felt shoe-horned in to make the book sell (which is a trope I feel that a lot of debut authors fall foul of). Hedda was also a great and flawed character, selfish due to her illness, but also deeply passionate, analytical and efficient, with a wicked sarcastic sense of humour. Overall this book was tragic, hopeful, and beautiful, exploring motherhood, mental health, learning to trust others with your problems, and the difficult to break spiral of self-loathing. Hedda is never ‘cured’, but her steps towards self-improvement are inspiring and heart-wrenching.

 

Overall rating: 4.5

 

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

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5 Reads for Bad Mental Health Days

 

I’ve found that over the last few years, a few titles keep cropping up when I go to pick up a book to help me along on bad days. Although only some of these are directly about depression, I’ve found each to be uplifting and hopeful in its own way.

 

  1. The Humans by Matt Haigh

I’ve poured over this book so many times, and although, yes, it is about an alien disguised as an Oxford Professor, it contains beautifully constructed musings on finding the good and happy in humanity as it is. The story, complete with a physical list of ‘life lessons’ at the end, is a wonderful quick pick me up and completely restores my faith in life.

 

2. It’s Kind of A Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

This book is part novel, part memoir, about a boy’s experience with being admitted to a mental health facility after he calls a suicide helpline. What I find best about this book is that it effectively begins with identifying the problem and the depression sufferer seeking out help – something that is surprisingly quite refreshing in books of this kind. This book explores coping mechanisms, dealing with stereotypes of mental illness sufferers, and a few ‘coming of age’ elements, and I always come out the other side of this read feeling that much more hopeful.

 

3. The Perks of Being A Wallflower

As I tend to feel quite isolated during a down patch, this is the best book to make me feel appreciative of friends and always finds a way to give me a new perspective through which to view the everyday. Besides having a neuro-atypical protagonist, this novel indirectly deals with larger issues of abuse, lonliness, family, friendship, and love, which in the end resolve in not necessarily a positive way, but in a wistful and hopeful one, with a look towards the future.

 

4. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Although this book of poetry is a difficult read due to the content of the first half – rape, extreme negative body image, and vivid descriptions of depressive episodes – the contrast with Kaur’s end point of positivity and love is a fantastic illustration of recovery and how life can always improve and emotional hardship overcome.

 

5. Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Yes, Matt Haig is on here again, but this time with this non-fiction/memoir book about his own experiences with depression and anxiety. Anecdotes and essays interspersed with facts and figures about mental health, this book is a must read for practically everyone. Haig shares his own ways of coping, his own journey through relapses into severe depressive episodes, from where he draws strength and inspiration, and many, many words of comfort.

 

Have any of you read these books? What would you recommend or would you read during a bad mental health day?