Juliet is an adolescent girl.
Juliet is a cutter.
Juliet is dizzy.
Juliet is bored.
Juliet is afraid of birds.
Juliet is feeling helpless.
Juliet is a machine.
Juliet is any old kid.
Juliet is fine.
Juliet is ready to get out of here.
In her novel, Juliet the Maniac, Juliet Escoria takes us back to the 90s, to the cusp of adolescence, to “the year after the rock star shot himself…heroin still seemed glamorous, celebrities still smoked, and the radio played songs filled with angst.” Navigating middle school and the transition to high school with all the accompanying emotions, dramas, hormones, and insecurities is a tumultuous time for anyone, but for young Juliet, the changes were just beginning.
By eighth grade, she recalls “the darkness” invading her became something out of control. Something she could no longer hide and deal with on her own. She wrote her parents a letter detailing her troubles in a very matter-of-fact, sensible list. It was that letter that endured me to Juliet’s plight, even more so than all the other memoirs and autofictions about young woman and mental illness I’ve read before. Maybe because I’m a parent myself now, I couldn’t help but read Juliet’s letter and her journey through schools, hospitals, and treatment centers without asking myself; what would I do if my child was Juliet? What if my child wrote that letter? Would I know what to do? Where to go? How to help?
Escoria writes with an honest, raw vulnerability about a difficult topic that few of us have to face, and even fewer are willing to. Often times I wanted to shake her shoulders and say don’t, don’t, don’t. Other times I wanted to gather her in my arms and whisper it will be okay. For example, upon returning to school after a suicide attempt, the school assigns her a PAL (Peer Assistant Listener) to help her with exactly what who knows, your guess is as good as mine, but the conversation goes as horribly awkward as you’d imagine. Another example, Juliet receives a white token from an old guy at an AA meeting. As he hugs her, her cool, detached, cynical mask cracks and she feels… what, she doesn’t say, but she feels something and I wanted to grab her by her hand and dance back to her seat with her.
Throughout the book, I wanted a deeper expose, a neat explanation of what happened to poor Juliet to unleash such a darkness. Was it her parents? Was she abused? But she describes herself as pretty much any other kid, fortunate even. I’ve learned that’s just not how mental illness works. Often there’s no bad guy to point a finger at. No neat, clear answers. You could be happy or sad, poor or rich, lucky or unlucky, and still the darkness could come.
Still, one feels, one is, one exists; and Escoria does a dynamic job of making her reader see and feel the humanity that too often gets overlooked in the eclipse of mental illness. Told through the filter of thirty years later, Juliet’s story offers a fresh breath of hope, strength, triumph and tenacity for those who struggle with mental illness and the people who care about them.
Copies of Juliet the Maniac are available here: https://www.amazon.com/Juliet-Maniac-Novel-Escoria/dp/1612197590/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1ODXZLRTZATBR&keywords=juliet+the+maniac&qid=1577725531&sprefix=Juliet+the+Ma%2Caps%2C162&sr=8-1
Emily Bertholf is an elusive enigma that temporarily resides in the collective imaginations of writers, readers, artists, and other bibliophiles. Recent sightings have been reported in or near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her stories and poems have appeared or are upcoming in Creative Wisconsin Anthology, Bending Genres, Digging Through the Fat, and others.