From that time on, the world was hers for the reading....

Monday, October 19, 2009

Gayle Forman: Sisters in Sanity

At the end of September, Gayle Forman hosted a second chances contest at her blog. The prize was the paperback edition of her novel Sisters in Sanity, and I won!

It's Labor Day weekend, and sixteen-year-old Brit Hemphill isn't very excited about a potential family trip the Grand Canyon. Two days trapped in a car with her father, stepmother (the stepmonster), and her half-brother Billy is not her idea of fun. She'd rather play a weekend music festival with Clod (she's their guitarist).

But she doesn't get to do either.

Instead, her dad tricks her into "taking a look at" Red Rock Academy in Utah. Once they arrive, Brit is pulled out of the car, away from her father, and locked in a small room "for her own good."

The next morning, she is forced to hand over all of her personal belongings and endure a thoroughly humiliating strip-search before meeting with a shrink who diagnoses her with "Oppositional Defiance Disorder"--all because she has magenta streaks in her black hair, a few tattoos, stays out late, and plays in a punk rock band.

And that's when the so-called treatment begins. There are six levels of therapy before the girls can return home--each level carries a different reward: leaving your room, sending and receiving mail, attending school in a classroom, receiving phone calls, having your family visit, wearing makeup, and leaving the school for supervised town outings. When they misbehave, get caught breaking the rules, or continually refuse to take part, the girls get demoted a level. Treatment can end up taking years.

Unfortunately, the treatment isn't helpful at all. It's cruel. Brit is scorned by not only the counselors, but her peers. They're encouraged to call each other names and tattletale on one another.

But then Brit makes friends. V, Bebe, Martha, and Cassie are just as unhappy as she is. They form a secret club called "Sisters In Sanity," a support system that keeps each of the girls from going off the deep end. Together, they vow to do what they can to expose the bogus treatment at Red Rock and get the place shut down for good.

This book frightened me. I was scared for the Brit and her friends and wanted more than anything to help them.

The story was well-written and the characters showed true heart and courage. I still haven't stopped thinking about it.

More than anything, Sisters In Sanity made me beyond grateful that my parents put up with my teenage shenanigans. I was quite a handful. Being grounded for a week seems like a gift in comparison to what Brit endured.

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