Kirkus Review

In this debut memoir, a woman describes how she came to understand, treat and live successfully with her mental illness.

At first, this memoir’s narrative is difficult to piece together, as it bounces among the author’s memories of her first stay in a mental hospital; her career as a waitress; and stories of her high school boyfriend and her mother’s abusive boyfriend, among other things. However, readers soon begin to understand how fractured, abusive and sad Joiner’s childhood often was, due to her alcoholic mother, distant father and disastrous stepfathers. She began to have paranoid thoughts in high school, and by age 19, she suffered from delusions, including the belief that the Four Seasons’ 1962 song “Sherry,” which she heard on the radio, was “someone singing about me.” Soon, she believed that she was a movie star, that she was Jesus Christ, and that she could control John Kennedy’s and Robert Kennedy’s spirits. She shuffled among various jobs (waitressing, topless dancing, and, later, working as a preschool teacher and a nurse’s aide) as well as different men. She also repeatedly attempted suicide and underwent five different stints in an asylum. She developed a combination of work, creativity, exercise, therapy, and medication and created “Sherry’s Master Plan”—a method of meticulously recording and evaluating her daily achievements—that enabled her to get through each day. The book becomes more coherent as it goes on, as Joiner shines a light into the dark, frightening world of psychosis and its twisted logic. The prose is often beautiful, if harrowing, and readers will have sympathy for Joiner’s utter determination to find a way to live with her condition. The author’s stubborn courage is also admirable; for example, in 1972, she fought for equal pay for equal work, winning a settlement against a pizza place that paid her less because she was female. “I might have been ill, but for once, I knew I was right,” she says.

An affecting, honest memoir useful to anyone trying to understand life with psychosis.

posted online February 3, 2014

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