Sara and the Search for Normal

S. & S/Paula Wiseman Bks. Jun. 2020. 272p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534421134.
Gr 4-8–King has done it again with this in-depth look into life-altering mental health issues. Sara, who was a supporting character in King’s book OCDaniel, gets to tell her own story. Sara is 12 years old and has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and schizophrenia. She also is selectively mute; she only speaks to four people in her life when the story begins. Sara’s goal in life is to become normal, and she has 154 rules for achieving it. Rule number one is, “Stop taking your pills.” We follow Sara as she goes to therapy, faces horrible bullying, finally makes a friend, and faces both setbacks and success. Mental health stigma is still so strong and easy to internalize. The stigma against schizophrenia is especially strong, and this book portrays Sara’s symptoms from her own point of view. They are frightening to her, but her symptoms don’t make her dangerous to anyone else. There is a teachable moment about the use of the “R word,” and child abuse and alcoholism are also discussed. The story is not didactic in addressing these issues, so conversations with students reading the book may be necessary. The one aspect of the book that pushes suspension of disbelief is that it is very rare for someone of Sara’s age to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia; the narrative implies that Sara was diagnosed quickly at the age of five or six.
VERDICT Readers of all ages will learn from Sara’s journey through shame to a point of growth and acceptance. A must-buy for elementary and middle school libraries.

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