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Somewhere Close to Happy by Lia Louis – Blog Tour Book Review

Book cover with letter

Synopsis

Lizzie James is happy.

She has a steady office job (with a steady stream of snacks), has had the same best friend since school, and she sees her family ever Thursday night for take-away and trashy TV, Lizzie likes her uncomplicated life.

Then a letter arrives one day from her first love, Roman. A letter dated the day he disappeared, 12 years before. As Lizzie uncovers the secrets of the letter, she discovers what really happened the year her life fell apart – and all avenues lead back to Roman.

Lizzie James thought she was happy, or somewhere close to happy, at least. Now she’s not so sure.

About the Author

Lia Louis is a writer from Hertfordshire where she lives with her partner and three young children. In 2015, she won ELLE magazine’s annual talent competition with her contemporary love letter, #RelationshipGoals. Lia’s fascination with letters doesn’t stop with her writing: she also has a varied collection of old letters which are a source of inspiration to her. Somewhere Close to Happy is her first novel. Lia can be found tweeting at @LisforLia.

What I Thought

This debut novel hit the sweet spot for me with a tender YA style first love and a gradual unpicking of a mystery later in life.

Lizzie thinks she’s moved on and moved past what happened when Roman disappeared but the delivery of his twelve year old letter opens those wounds and there’s only one way to heal them. She needs the truth.

Her best friend Priscilla has been with her since school, through her time at The Grove (the mental health unit where she met Roman), the year he left and now she’s the Sherlock to her Watson. I loved the female friendships in this book, most notably between Lizzie and Priscilla but also with Katie, her sister-in-law. There was one scene where Katie’s support had me fist pumping.

Of course Somewhere Close to Happy also represents the fauxships too, in all their agonising false niceties.

The novel flicks forward and back in time and this gradual unfurling of the story of first love and first loss is deftly handled, it had me so invested. I wanted to hug young Lizzie and young Roman in particular.

With hugely honest and accurate mental health portrayal, that comes from the author’s authentic experience. The experience of anxiety and panic pulses from the page. Also the hurt of one’s experience not being validated is raw and the, “she’s being a teenager”, “she’s just being awkward”, comments show how much more awareness is needed. The family relationships in this story are complex, some good (Hubble – sweet Hubble), some complex (Mum and Dad) and some downright 🤬 (Auntie who Shall be named – see what I did there!).

This story just feels so real, so bittersweet and the writing just had me hooked. I needed to know what happened. Lizzie goes on a journey, and the outcome is one of self understanding and growth. The moments when she quietly and calmly is able to state what she needs are powerful.

As a personal note there is something that happens with Priscilla (no spoilers) that I hope becomes Louis’ second novel, because I know this author has the sensitivity to write that empathetically. I’d also love to spend more time with these characters.

Trigger warning for mental health, suicide, drug addiction and abortion.

Somewhere Close to Happy is out on Thursday.

Thank you to Alex and Orion for the review copy #gifted for the purposes of an honest review. I loved it.

This review is part of a blog tour, do check out what everyone else thought on the other stops.

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Making the Invisible Visible – Mental Health in Comic Form – Book Reviews 


Today I want to talk about three cartoon/graphic books that each explore the experience of mental health. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, It’s All Absolutely Fine by Ruby Elliot and Night Shift by Debi Gliori. 

The first two books don’t only share bright yellow covers but have a similar style with rather unusual looking characters. The images in Hyperbole and a Half are in colour whereas It’s All Absolutely Fine contains line drawings in black on white. 

I’m pretty sure you will have seen Allie Brian’s images shared as memes on social media. Two chapters within the book focus explicitly on Depression although other topics such as Dogs are also covered. This is a funny book with a good balance between the images and textual story linking them. 


It’s All Absolutely Fine by Ruby Elliot (RubyETC) I only know about because of YALC this year and I picked up a signed copy. Every now and then there is some prose discussing the images in that section with the images then left to their own devices. This is much more ‘individual comic image’ style. I found her prose particularly insightful though. 


Night Shift is different to the other two being more poetic in nature. It’s a beautiful midnight blue clothbound hardback and the images inside are muted greyscale with the very occasional flash of colour. 


It is a story of depressive episodes that uses the metaphor of a dragon as a formidable opponent. Debi both wrote and illustrated the book and in one picture even talks about the difficulty of using words to describe the experience. Her combined use of words and images are a powerful exploration of thoughts and feelings as well as reminder of how episodes might start. 


I’m sure I’ve mentioned my own experiences with depression before. These three books each spoke to my experience. Not perhaps all of it because we are each different but aspects definitely helped me to feel less alone and that there are others that get it. 

Each book also includes little hints at hope and recovery/living with.

Two are more comic comics, one is more melancholic but beautifully illustrated and perhaps slightly more real. But also maybe one to read when you are feeling stronger and ready to fight your dragons. 

Please note I was provided with a copy of Night Shift from the publisher Hot Key but all opinions are my own. 

#TimetoTalk – Feb 6th 2014

Every year in my unit I use a fun creative activity to explore the concept of task analysis, activity analysis and occupational mapping. I call it the monster mash. This year I incorporated #TimetoTalk and we made monsters that either represented how mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety feel, or monsters that might help chase those feelings away.

Here is my monster which represents how depression can feel like a fog around you. The red cheeks are the embarrassment you can feel when sharing experiences of mental ill health and the purple buttons the concept of feeling stared at or observed warily. I briefly shared my own experiences with depression.
On the positive side the purple gems represent the glimmers of hope that we can cling to. Finally the geek badge is shining through the fog because it is no longer something that contributes to depressive feelings. I’m proud of my geek status and taking part in geeky activities helps my mood.

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Did you have Time to Talk about mental health today?

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