A Danger to Herself and Others by Alyssa Sheinmel

I’m very claustrophobic. Like, if my boyfriend pulls a blanket over my head, I lash out. It’s not pretty. But I’m also not one of those readers who feel claustrophobic when reading a book set in a small space. Well, I guess I should say, I wasn’t one of those readers before I read this.

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Title: A Danger to Herself and Others {352 pages}

Genre: YA Mystery/Suspense

Publication Date: February 5, 2019

Summary:

Four walls. One window. No way to escape. Hannah knows there’s been a mistake. She didn’t need to be institutionalized. What happened to her roommate at her summer program was an accident. As soon as the doctors and judge figure out that she isn’t a danger to herself or others, she can go home to start her senior year. In the meantime, she is going to use her persuasive skills to get the staff on her side.

Then Lucy arrives. Lucy has her own baggage. And she may be the only person who can get Hannah to confront the dangerous games and secrets that landed her in confinement in the first place.

Review:

When I read the summary of this book, I was immediately interested. I thought that this would be a thriller that would leave me breathless. It did, but not in the way that a thriller would.

Hannah begins her story in a institution, pacing her tiny room while she wonders when her parents are going to take her out of there since she very obviously does not belong. Sure, her roommate fell out of a window and Hannah was the only one there, but that doesn’t mean Hannah pushed her. So she’s stuck in this institution with no way out, but then Lucy arrive and Hannah knows that she’s her out. Hannah can use her to show the doctors what a great friend she can be, and then they’ll send her right home. It’s the prefect plan, except for one thing: Lucy is the key to everything that will unravel Hannah.

It’s so difficult to talk about this book without giving away anything. I guess let’s lay down the basics: this is about mental health, Hannah is very troubled, and none of the horrifying situations that happen in this book are her fault. As her story unfolds, we learn about a rich Upper East side girl, the kind of girl that Gossip Girl had been made about. Her parents traveled all over the world, taking Hannah with them and leaving her for hours at a time in her own hotel room. She’s always had best friends, girls that she can mold into anyone she wants, and she’s never been the type to take no for a first – or even second – answer. Hannah is strong-willed and brilliant. Hannah is also beginning to understand herself better.

****SKIP TO THE END IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED****

When writing about the things that the brain does – and can do – to us, there’s this fine line of creating believable situations that will remain believable once the twist comes. In this case, once Hannah learns about her diagnosis, the reader goes back through the book to see the hints, like we’re trying to pick it apart so we can point to a black hole and tell the author that Hannah couldn’t have created these friends because look right here! But then you notice the fact that Lucy never speaks to anyone else. The doctor seems to ignore her completely when she walks into the room. Lucy escapes the hospital with little fanfare and makes it back inside. Even Jonah, who we only learn about through Hannah’s memories, doesn’t seem to interact with anyone other than her, even when he’s with his supposed girlfriend. Hannah has created a world so whole and real that there are no black holes that we can point to.

This was beautifully written, and not just the prose. Alyssa Sheinmel approached this topic with care, and never once did it seem like she was being unnecessary cruel to Hannah or her illness. She wove the story about Hannah and her illness, creating situations that seemed real and honest, while still remaining faithful to mental health. Hannah was not a cliché. She was the kind of teenager that we might encounter at Starbucks or see at school. But she’s sick, and that doesn’t always show outwardly. Does that make her different? Yes, but it doesn’t make her the kind of monster that others thought she was.

Basically, if you’re ready to cry and want to figure out a mystery at the same time, A Danger to Herself and Others is for you.

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