Review: A Tragic Kind of Wonderful

For sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to keep everyone at arm’s length. And when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to come out and upend her shaky equilibrium.

As the walls of Mel’s compartmentalized world crumble, she fears the worst—that her friends will abandon her if they learn the truth about what she’s been hiding. Can Mel bring herself to risk everything to find out?

I seem to be weirdly attracted to books that have main characters with bipolar disorder, though maybe it’s not so weird because honestly I just want to understand the disorder better as I know people who have it. In any case, I pretty much enjoyed this book and there have been parts of it that cruised through my mind in the days since finishing it… that’s how you know a book is good.

I liked Mel as a main character, and I think she was a great rep of someone who has bipolar disorder. Like many mental disorders/conditions, it’s not the same in everyone, and this was yet another example of how bipolar disorder affects a person and the people around them. Mel, like many other people, wanted to keep her disorder a secret from everyone outside her family. By doing so, she lost her old best friends, Connor and Zumi, and picked up new ones when she got out of the hospital, Holly and Declan. Instead of going out and doing things with her friends though, she prefers to stay home or keeps herself busy at the senior home she works at.

Then Mel meets the grandson (David) of a new resident, and while she strikes up a friendship (and feelings) with him, she is reluctant to let him too close because of her disorder. She doesn’t want him to be like others, wondering when her cycles between mania and depression will change. So, like with her old and newer friends, Mel keeps David at an arm’s length.

“I can’t let anyone know what really happened, or what’s wrong with me. I can’t bear the thought of how they’d look at me, and treat me, if they knew how many pills I take every morning just to act more or less like everybody else.”

When Mel’s old friends resurface into her life, there ends up being an emotional blowup from Zumi, and Mel ends up not taking her meds for a couple of days and we see how she’s affected by her bipolar disorder as she ends up in a state of dysphoric mania (which from what I read is like mania and depression at the same time, or something like that). The change in Mel without her meds is very obvious and I loved how it was portrayed. I could tell right away that she was entering a state of mania without it even being said. 

There were other things I liked that were hidden, like Mel’s real name and why she wouldn’t tell anyone what it was. Even at the end, when she tells David what her name is, she tells him in the way of a riddle so he (and the readers) work it out for himself.

What this book teaches is that sometimes problems (no matter what state they come in) can sometimes be too much for us to handle, and we need to trust others and let them in. It took Mel backsliding and inadvertently putting herself in danger for her friends to become aware of her bipolar disorder. It meant that they saw her at her worst, but it also meant that afterwards Mel had a bigger support system than just her mom, dad, and aunt.

I don’t even think I have to say it, but I will… I would definitely recommend this book if you’re looking for books that have characters who struggle with mental illness. I think it’s important to read these books because it can help us understand what mental illness does to a person and how each person with it is affected differently.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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