Title: A Danger To Herself And Others
Author: Alyssa Sheinmel
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mental Health
Publication Details: by Hachette Australia on 12th February, 2019
Word/Page Count: 352 pages (paperback)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)
Only when she’s locked away does the truth begin to escape…
Four walls. One window. No way to escape. Hannah knows there’s been a mistake. She didn’t need to be institutionalized. What happened to her roommate at her summer program was an accident. As soon as the doctors and judge figure out that she isn’t a danger to herself or others, she can go home to start her senior year. In the meantime, she is going to use her persuasive skills to get the staff on her side.
Then Lucy arrives. Lucy has her own baggage. And she may be the only person who can get Hannah to confront the dangerous games and secrets that landed her in confinement in the first place.
Well, this didn’t last long on my February TBR, I ended up devouring this overnight in one sitting! I had a feeling from the blurb that this book would feature an unreliable narrator and it looked like a suspenseful read – boy, did it deliver! I found myself so engrossed in the drama and intrigue that I couldn’t put it down until I reached the end!
Hannah is our protagonist who narrates in the first-person, and first up, let me just say it’s a treat to read a book with only one perspective for a change, since multiple narrators are very common in YA these days. But here we’re locked into Hannah’s mindset which is very persuasive and almost seductive in how it convinces us to see things her way; I knew I was being manipulated, but that was the fun of this reading experience! Trying to work out if we could take Hannah at her word or not, wondering whether her viewpoint on something was trustworthy or if it should be questioned, if she was deliberately blinding herself to something or if we could shrug and take it at face value, this all made for a very engaging time.
All we know at the start is that something bad happened to Agnes, who was Hannah’s roommate at college, and the fallout led to her being institutionalized. Hannah asserts her innocence, and that she’s a victim of wrongful incarceration, but she faces this adversity with a tranquil assurance that her innocence will eventually be proven. Since she’s an ambitious type who wants to excel at her studies and can’t afford to miss out on precious study time because of this unfortunate misunderstanding, Hannah becomes determined to help speed up the process by manipulating her doctor and her new roommate Lucy so that she can cheat the system.
It turns out that Hannah’s calm calculating manner extends back to childhood as we find out that right from kindergarten, she was playing mind-games with the other kids in order to position herself at the top of the social hierarchy. It was so interesting because I sympathized with Hannah and supported her goals, but at the same time, she didn’t come across as a very healthy well-adjusted individual and it made me wonder what she was capable of doing! Because her character is inextricable from the plot, you need to be interested in reading about her and fortunately I found Hannah to be witty, insightful, charmingly devious and her wry observations made me snicker a number of times. ❤ I really enjoyed her character not in spite of but because of all her flaws, it’s fun to read about a protagonist that’s always thinking, always scheming and trying to get the better of others!
I’ve never been in a mental institution so I can’t speak to the accuracy of its depiction here, but I liked all the details (even the most mundane, like Hannah’s doctor wearing ballet slippers to avoid having footwear that could be used as a weapon) because of how believable it made this asylum seem. I’ve come across one or two books dealing with mental health that were SO unrealistic and had the most outdated or downright abusive practices (imprisoning patients in straitjackets, subjecting them to electro-shock therapy as a form of torture, etc.) and it threw me out because that isn’t reflective of modern day practices, no, THAT would be an overly sensationalized 1800’s Gothic setting. A Danger To Herself And Others didn’t take the easy way out by demonizing the healthcare system and presenting Hannah with medical caricatures to battle, instead most of the conflict and drama was internalized, and I found it fascinating.
Hannah is so confident in her superior intellect and arrogant about her ability to manipulate people into getting her way, yet as time wears on, frustration and doubt start to creep in. It’s a cat and mouse game with her psychiatrist, but you’re not sure who’s really in control and whether Hannah’s going to succeed in pulling strings as she hopes. Whether you find this appealing will vary from reader to reader – Hannah is a mystery wrapped in layers, and each chapter reveals more and more about her character, giving us a greater understanding of what led up to that tragic incident with her roommate. Someone seeking constant action and plot twists may not easily warm to the story being told here, although I’d encourage those people to try it out anyway because the writing is excellent and has a way of mesmerizing the reader with its thought-provoking developments. And if you’re a fan of books that prioritize characterization and slow-burn drama, you’ll find a lot to love here!
Pros: charming protagonist, great mental health representation, engaging story arc, killer ending
Cons: pacing may be seen as slow & meandering
Personal Rating: 5 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.
Disclaimer: Physical copy provided by publisher free for an unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.