Author: Susan Sheehan
Rating: 5 Stars
Review By: Shana
This book is a masterpiece of investigative journalism and a credit to the author’s dedication to following an individual for decades. It should be obvious to any reader why this won a Pulitzer. Sheehan’s work acts as both biography of Sylvia Frumkin (a pseudonym for the later-identified Maxine Mason, a woman with schizophrenia) and an examination of mental illness in America. Sheehan has taken her years of research and molded it into an engrossing read—poignant and sad and explicit and enlightening.
Throughout the entire book, you are just awash with the frustration and powerlessness that Ms. Mason and her family must have felt when she manifested signs of schizophrenia and, later, upon her placement in various facilities. Sheehan approaches this subject with sensitivity and humanity, but she is nonetheless objective and (when necessary) bluntly honest about what she has seen. The portrait painted shows a family that is all too human, and sometimes unable to approach their mentally troubled daughter/sister with compassion or understanding. This sometimes appears to be a harsh portrayal, but rings true.
Sheehan is even-handed, highlighting the positives and negatives of Ms. Mason’s treatment in a variety of facilities (including hospitals and half-way homes), and gives a reader much to ponder about how mental health issues are addressed, the needless shame that often attaches to them, and how individuals with issues often still strive for some measure of independence and meaning in their lives.