Tuesday, April 17, 2012

January First by Michael Schofield

The subtitle -- "a child's descent into madness and her father's struggle to save her" -- pretty much sums up this memoir from blogger Michael Schofield, which tells the story of his preschool-aged daughter's path to a diagnosis of child-onset schizophrenia. At around 4 years old, January Schofield was showing behaviors that had her family worried: she was angry, withdrawn, preferred the company of her legions of imaginary friends to any real people, and refused to be called January, opting instead for any of a bizarre list of made-up names like "Blue Tree Frog." By the time she was 5, January's behavior turned violent. She routinely struck her parents and tried to hurt her newborn brother and even herself. January First chronicles the experiences of January's parents (mostly her father) as they went from hospital to hospital and from doctor to doctor, even going so far as to institutionalize January in an attempt to get her a diagnosis and suitable treatment.

I read this book with my stomach in my throat. Schofield writes a bit dramatically for my taste, but in this case it seems understandable -- this story lends itself to drama. As a reader, there was a sense of always waiting for the next Big Bad Thing to happen; the end of one chapter would see January have some kind of breakthrough, only to be followed 3 pages later by another violent incident. It was hard to read, but 100 times harder to live, I'm sure. My one main complaint was the extent to which the voice of Schofield's wife, Susan, was left out of the narrative. He often describes her in what felt to me to be an unflattering light, while painting himself as January's primary advocate. Aside from that, though, I would recommend this book to readers of popular nonfiction or those interested in parenting or psychology.

January First is available in August, 2012.

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