Review: Red Tears by Joanna Kenrick

Red Tears
Red Tears by Joanna Kenrick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that’s nigh-on impossible to review and I wish I could rate it a solid 3.5 as the 4 star feels undeserving.

In some parts I felt like the author was glamorising mental illness whereas in others, it felt like she was giving a true voice to what it’s like being a teenager going through mental illness. During the entire book I felt torn between it being cliché (the misunderstanding parents, the bitchy friends, the ignorant school etc.) and scaringly relevant to other experiences I saw growing up.

My main criticism about this book is that it makes recovery look easy and that belittles the entire approach of the book which is to develop compassion and understanding for teenagers going through mental illness. The conversations with the therapist (not a spoiler as it is mentioned in the preface) were accurate to my own experiences of therapy but they were too shallow and too much of a quick fix. In reality, mental illnesses can take years to recover from and it is a difficult process with usually a lot of relapses.
In this book, I think the lack of focus on the difficulty of recovery and the likelihood of relapse is actually dangerous given the books’ subject – self-harm and depression.

I also found it very distasteful that the author’s advice for anyone experiencing mental illness is to visit her book’s website for more information. I feel there should be more practical advice such as speaking to a friend/trusted adult and that there should be information for parents/carers on how to identify mental illness in their children and what to do about it. The one-page endnote does not seem enough given the likelihood of someone reading this book encountering mental illness in their own life or that of their loved ones.

That being said, the book’s strength lies in its ability to explain the rationality behind a person going through mental illness. What is a logical thought for someone experiencing depression could seem completely ridiculous to someone outside of the condition and that often leads to dialogue breaking down as it makes accessing help more difficult. I’m sure that this book has helped many young people open up about their problems or at very least, identify that they themselves or someone they know may have a problem and for that reason, I’m reluctant to say it’s not worth reading as there is nothing more precious than saving one person.

However, I think it is worth pointing out that this book is often quite negatively provoking. Through the main character’s reasoning about her actions it is quite easy for them to seem reasonable responses to her circumstances and I think, given the book’s target audience, this may be harmful on young adults that are particularly impressionable or are having difficulties (hence my wish that there should be a greater attempt to list supportive resources at the end).

It is recommended on the caution that this book shouldn’t be read without the opportunity to discuss the issues it raises in a secure and understanding environment and that this book is a lens through which to approach mental illness and not appropriate without further supplementation/discussion.

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