Thursday, October 16, 2008

Black Box by Julie Schumacher

Black Box is a young adult novel that will appeal to both teens and adults. Julie Schumacher writes about a 16-year-old girl, Dora, who is suffering from depression and is admitted to the hospital psychiatric ward. The book is told from the point of view of Dora's 14-year-old sister, Elena, whose loyalty to her older sister causes her great pain.

Though the younger of the two girls, Elena feels responsible for Dora, watching her like a hawk after she returns from the hospital. Elena is torn between keeping her sister's actions secret and telling her parents so Dora can get the help she needs.

Schumacher's writing pulled me in from the first page and dropped me right in the scene. It felt as though I really could hear the girl in the psychiatric ward screaming to be let out, and I could feel the mother's pain as she crumbles to the floor, realizing the screaming girl is her daughter. I could feel the tension between Elena's parents as they worry if they're doing right by Dora, and I could feel the confusion, anger, sadness, and loneliness weighing down on Elena.

It's been quite awhile since I was a teenager, but I think Schumacher did a great job getting into the minds of teenage girls. I also loved the character of Jimmy Zenk, the outcast who takes an interest in Elena and does his best to help her with her situation. He was so different from the boys I knew as a teenager; he loved to cook, and he actually listened to Elena. I developed a crush on him by the time the book ended. :)

With a history of depression in my family, I know what it's like to have the feelings Dora had. I also know what it feels like to be in Elena's shoes. And as a mother, I could sympathize with the parents, knowing that I'd be torn up if I was in the same situation.

At 164 pages, I easily finished reading Black Box in one day. Schumacher's writing flows so easily and so brilliantly captures the characters' pain and vulnerability that before I knew it, half the book had flown by.

It's hard to say I enjoyed this book because who enjoys watching someone suffer from depression? But Black Box was a great read, and I'd recommend it to anyone who likes books that stir their emotions.
I'll leave you with my favorite passage from the book, when Elena is speaking with her therapist:
"Sometimes when I think about Dora I wonder, you know--" I felt my pulse beating in my throat. "I wonder what I'm supposed to do with it." I looked around her office--the lamp, the rug, the bookshelf, the table with the box of tissues and the jar of stones--and I felt as if I were waiting for the end of a story, for the moment when the crisis passed and the characters wisely understood what had happened to them and someone shut the book with a satisfying snap. But what if the story didn't end, and the book stayed open?

"You wonder what you're supposed to do with what?" the Grandma Therapist asked.

"This." I couldn't look at her. I tried to gesture but ended up just turning my hands palm up in my lap. This thing, I wanted to say to her. This giant shape always pressing and bruising and taking up every single particle of air between us.

The Grandma Therapist leaned toward me. "Are you talking about sadness?"

I could barely speak above a whisper. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do with it," I said. "What do other people do with it? Where do they put it?"

She didn't answer right away. "Sometimes they carry it with them," she said. "Because they aren't sure what else to do."

I nodded.

"But sometimes they open it up like a package in the presence of a person they can talk to," she said. "Someone they can trust." She held out her hands. "Any person who is carrying a lot of sadness," she said, "needs to be able to rest sometimes, and to put it down." (pages 127-128)

This passage really stuck with me. Isn't Schumacher's writing beautiful?


I'm thrilled that Julie Schumacher agreed to let me interview her. I'll be posting that tomorrow, and I do hope you'll all stop by!

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Black Box from the author for review purposes.


Ana S. said...

Her writing is indeed beautiful. This sounds like a difficult yet wonderful book. Thanks for the great review, Anna.

Jeannie said...

That was a beautiful quote, Anna. Holding onto the feelings of pain and sadness can be an incredible burden. Sometimes we just need a grandma-type figure to tell us that it is o.k. to let those feelings go.

Darlene said...

What a great review Anna. I'd love to read this book. I really like the passage about sadness-what are you supposed to do with it, what do others do with it, where do they put it-how true it is. Sounds like a powerful novel. I look forward to the interview.

Serena said...

Sounds like a tough book to read, but well worth the read. Black Box is an interesting title, I guess I will have to tune in tomorrow to see if you asked her about the significance of the title...or maybe you can share your insights?!

Don't forget about my giveaway:

MySharonAnne said...

I'm drooling this book looks so good. Can't wait to read the interview.

Anna said...

Nymeth: Glad you enjoyed the review!

Jeannie: That's so true! There are so many more passages like that one. It's such a good book.

Dar: Glad you enjoyed the review. Please let me know what you think if you read it!

Serena: No, I didn't ask her about the title. In the book, there's discussion of one of the medications Dora is on. It has a "black box," meaning that anyone taking it should be closely watched for suicidal tendencies, etc.

Sharon: Definitely read the book if you have a chance. Let me know if you do; I'd love to hear what you think!

Anonymous said...

Anna, I love a great YA book that can be read and enjoyed by adults to. I think with good writing that line can be blurred. I just finished a book of which the same can be said.

I love the excerpt. It sounds like a book that a mother would find touching and identify with.

Looking forward to the interview!

Anonymous said...

I was choking up reading that quote because I knew it was a child having that struggle. The therapist sounds like a very compassionate character. Yes, beautiful writing indeed!

Anna said...

Shana: Black Box definitely blurred the lines between YA and adult. It spoke to me on so many levels that it never occurred to me as I was reading that it was a YA novel.

Dawn: That quote really affected me as well.

Lenore Appelhans said...

I reviewed Black Box here:

Alea said...

No I didn't see this, apparently I was off in la-la land! I know exactly what you mean about not being able to say you enjoyed this, the book i finished yesterday just torn me up inside but i'm glad i read it!

Anna said...

No worries, Alea! Books like these, they're hard to put into words.

Anonymous said...

I have just finished reading BlackBox and, this is going to sound really weird, but, I think I am inlove with Jimmy Zenk. And I am twelve so its not that weird, but he seems like a not-so-perfect guy who really listens.
Black Box spoke to me through the emotions of Elena. Julie's writing is so beautiful, it chokes me up every time I read even the littlest part.
I know this was from October, but if there was a 'giveaway' could you let me know? My e-mail is
If you read this comment, please e-mail me.
From an avid reader,
Age 12

Anna said...

Lindsay: Glad you enjoyed the book. I'm sorry but I don't know of any giveaway.