Author: Sarah Elizabeth Schantz
Synopsis: Fig’s world lies somewhere between reality and fantasy. But as she watches Mama slowly come undone, it becomes hard to tell what is real and what is not, what is fun and what is frightening. To save Mama, Fig begins a fierce battle to bring her back. She knows that her daily sacrifices, like not touching metal one day or avoiding water the next, are the only way to cure Mama.
The problem is that in the process of a daily sacrifice, Fig begins to lose herself as well, increasingly isolating herself from her classmates and engaging in self-destructive behavior that only further sets her apart.
Spanning the course of Fig’s childhood from age six to nineteen, this deeply provocative novel is more than a portrait of a mother, a daughter, and the struggle that comes with all-consuming love. It is an acutely honest and often painful portrayal of life with mental illness and the lengths to which a young woman must go to handle the ordeals—real or imaginary—thrown her way.
Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!
I have to admit a few things about Fig before I discuss it. One: I knew nothing about the book and went into it blind, and two: I am all the happier having read it. This book does not read like a début novel, nor does it fall into trappings that many YA novels about mental illness face. There’s no romance, no Romeo to save a Juliet, this book is about family and how metal illness can manifest in ways that are so difficult to discuss.
Parts of Fig mirrored my own life. Fiona, or Fig as she likes to be called, lives with a mother who suffers from schizophrenia. As Fig grows up she learns to develop ways into understanding her mother’s illness, and in this harsh reality of having to grow up quickly, becomes someone who sacrifices her life for the care of someone else. This boat: this is one I am familiar with, though with slightly different circumstances. I understood Figs desires to want to be perfect for her mother, to be the thing that she can always rely on. But I also saw the parts where Fig was losing herself, and in ways where it would be difficult to come back to the land of the living. Fig suffers, though how the Sarah Elizabeth Schantz portrays it, it is a suffering she chooses to endure for the price of love and understanding.
Interestingly, because this novel works through Fig’s various ages, you see Fig moves from a level of innocence to experience. She learns what it means to sacrifice, to lose having a ‘normal childhood’, and the hardship of what it means to grow up early. Throughout the story many of the characters treat Fig as though she is abnormal — no social skills, a lack of wanting to participate in the world, and yet Fig is never really given those opportunities in the narrative and it’s so damn heartbreaking. This is a story of family coping with mental illness, just as much as it is a story about understanding what others cope with every day. My heart went out to Fig, and yet as a character she was so strong and very preceptive.
The writing in this book is vivid and beautiful. Sarah Elizabeth Schantz draws the reader into Fig’s world, sometimes it reading like a dream, and other times being as sharp as a knife. There’s something to be said about characters that stick with you, and watching Fig and her mother’s evolution in the story is both sad, yet bitter-sweet. By the end of the book, I found myself thinking back on everything I had read, and admittedly, I wanted to cry. The writing does this amazing job of evoking emotion, and making you connect on that emotional level with the characters.
Is Fig’s story sad? Yes, but it’s also filled with redemption. Fig is one of those books that will leave you thinking about what you’d read, and make you question the stigmas of mental illness and how it affects everyone including those suffering, and those trying to escape. Thought provoking and intense, Fig will linger long after you’ve read the last page.