A Family Ordeal

Fig by Sarah Elizabeth Schantz is the type of book that will frustrate you while also making you think and feel strongly.

Fig, short for Fiona, is the daughter of a schizophrenic mother.  Fig herself is obsessive compulsive, along with some possible signs of schizophrenia.  She is obsessed with her mom, which makes it nearly impossible for her to form any other close relationships.  She blames her dad for her mom being taken away to psychiatric hospitals, and her paternal grandmother is bitter and cold toward Fig.  She is ostracized at school for her odd behaviors.

The story follows Fig’s life from her point of view, from the age of six (when she first realized something was amiss with her mom) to just before she turns nineteen.  During these years, we see the ups and downs of her mom’s behaviors, including the impact they have on Fig.  Fig’s one and only true wish is that her mom will be normal again.  She feels that she can make sacrifices to make her mom better.  An interesting part of the story is her calendar of ordeals.  Each day she must complete an ordeal, such as not touching metal, not speaking every third word, along with an assortment of other difficult tasks, all with the hope that the actions will cure her mom.  She also begins obsessively picking her skin as a release.

Fig’s uncle Billy is (finally) the person who is able to get through to Fig in one of her lowest moments.  He tells her she needs to stop self-harm and he gives her other outlets.  This is what Fig needs to find her own interests outside of her devotion/obsession with her mother, and to realize that she is cared for.

Strong writing and imagery along with the sensitive nature of mental illness make this an engaging read.  There is meaning behind everything: the chapter titles, the words defined at the beginning of each chapter, the omnipresent wild dog, and the flowers.  I had to find out if Fig would end up like her mom, or if she would find a different path.

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