Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Vivienne by John E Mack and Holly Hickler

Vivienne: The Life and Suicide of an Adolescent Girl by John E Mack and Holly Hickler is the true story of Vivienne Loomis who hung herself at the age of fourteen in 1973. The book is out-of-print but I was able to find a copy at the library. (This is also why I am unable to provide a book cover for this review. Sorry!) The book is divided into three parts. The first part is a collection of writing from Vivienne Loomis’ diary, samples of her poetry, and letters to and from a teacher. The second part is a clinical assessment of the source material, adding more information about the family within the context of contemporary research in adolescent depression and suicide. The third part is an essay by a teacher who also taught at Vivienne’s school who did not actually teach Vivienne although she did encourage her to submit a poem to the school’s literary magazine. Each section offers a different perspective on Vivienne’s family, life, and her eventual suicide. By beginning the book with Vivienne’s own writing, the authors give the reader a perceived intimacy with the girl. When the book shifts into the more clinical discussion of what propelled Vivienne to kill herself the reader wants to get some understanding that cannot be found in the first section. The book does not offer any easy answers and by the time we are reading the thoughts of Holly Hickler, a teacher at the last school where Vivienne was a student, it is hard to not want someone to offer a solution, a reason, something to explain and hopefully stop adolescent suicide. Where this book fails is beyond its control—time passes and new research comes along. Some of the content sounds dated simply because things have changed. There are some things subtly implied or suggested that would now cause a therapist to jump up in alarm. Ultimately, the book is not as insightful as it might have been only because there is more awareness about family dysfunction. Therapy has come a long way, thanks to research and resources like this book. It is unlikely that there will ever be a single answer that will salvage every depressed adolescent. However, reading this book left me feeling at least some sense of hope that we are probably finding more answers than were possible in Vivienne Loomis’ time. On a purely subjective note, I found it amusing that they had a female pet called Tigger given that I started a short story about a boy whose mother brings home a female cat and names it Tigger. How prescient derivative of me.

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