The Witch Haven – Sasha Peyton Smith

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

“Something bad is coming”

Frances Hallowell is mourning the recent death of her brother. Her life gets a lot more complicated when her super slimy boss attacks her after hours and she sorta kinda accidentally kills him. Oops!

When it looks certain that Frances is going to be convicted as a murderer, salvation comes to her by way of an ambulance. She’s told she’s very unwell and is promptly taken to Haxahaven Sanitarium to be ‘treated’. Only Haxahaven isn’t what it’s advertised to be. It’s actually a school for witches…

The premise of this book hooked me: secret witchy school, murder mystery, underdog battling the Big Bad. The reality of the book surprised me, and I’m still conflicted.

I was entirely engaged until I learned that the witchcraft that was being taught at Haxahaven was limited to producing good little wives and domestic help. I switched off a little at that point and was even able to put the book aside for a few weeks without any trouble.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to finish reading but figured I’d give it another try. I found it easy to get back into. I hadn’t forgotten who the characters were or what was happening for each of them when I pressed pause. It didn’t take me long to get into the rest of the story, the parts that didn’t involve magical bread-kneading.

While I wasn’t the hugest fan of Frances, I absolutely adored Maxine and Lena. I wanted to get to know Oliver better.

I think perhaps this is how we survive in the world. Passing little bits of our magic back and forth to each other when the world takes it from us. It’s survival. It’s love. It’s family.

Content warnings include attempted sexual assault including suffocation, domestic abuse, mental health and a character who was removed from her home and taken to a residential school. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In 1911 New York City, seventeen year old Frances Hallowell spends her days as a seamstress, mourning the mysterious death of her brother months prior. Everything changes when she’s attacked and a man ends up dead at her feet – her scissors in his neck, and she can’t explain how they got there.

Before she can be condemned as a murderess, two cape-wearing nurses arrive to inform her she is deathly ill and ordered to report to Haxahaven Sanitarium. But Frances finds Haxahaven isn’t a sanitarium at all: it’s a school for witches. Within Haxahaven’s glittering walls, Frances finds the sisterhood she craves, but the headmistress warns Frances that magic is dangerous. Frances has no interest in the small, safe magic of her school, and is instead enchanted by Finn, a boy with magic himself who appears in her dreams and tells her he can teach her all she’s been craving to learn, lessons that may bring her closer to discovering what truly happened to her brother.

Frances’s newfound power attracts the attention of the leader of an ancient order who yearns for magical control of Manhattan. And who will stop at nothing to have Frances by his side. Frances must ultimately choose what matters more, justice for her murdered brother and her growing feelings for Finn, or the safety of her city and fellow witches. What price would she pay for power, and what if the truth is more terrible than she ever imagined?

Arc of a Scythe #3.5: Gleanings – Neal Shusterman

I love the scythedom and couldn’t wait to spend more time in Citra and Rowan’s world. This anthology contains twelve short stories and one poem. There’s a bonus story in the Barnes & Noble Exclusive Edition, which I’ll be reading as soon as it finishes its journey across the ocean to meet me.

There are backstories and glimpses of what happened after The Toll for some characters we already know, as well as introductions to some robes whose colours we haven’t seen before. Some stories are written by Neal Shusterman, while others are collaborations with other authors. The poem is written by Neal’s daughter, Joelle.

After a bit of a shaky start, I began to find stories that enriched what I already know of this world. Of the thirteen gleanings in this collection, I found six favourites, one short of an octave.

In Formidable, Scythe Curie has recently finished her apprenticeship and has not yet become the self assured legend she is when Citra gets to know her after her own apprenticeship.

“The future is unfettered. Long live us all!”

A Death of Many Colours sees scythe deniers being confronted with a little bit too much reality.

“Let’s give you a new perspective.”

Kohl Whitlock’s sister’s reaction to his gleaning takes us to Unsavory Row.

But giving an unsavory parameters was just a dare to break them.

In A Martian Minute, we learn Carson Lusk’s backstory.

Sometimes, when your life is wheels within wheels, you can take a wrong step and get ground up in the slow churn of the gears.

The Mortal Canvas (co-authored by David Yoon) introduces four students who create art under exceptional circumstances.

“From this moment on, no one will ever know what it feels like to be complete.”

I loved learning what became of Citra’s brother, Ben, in Anastasia’s Shadow.

It was hard enough being the brother of Scythe Anastasia. He was constantly being compared to her, and constantly being reminded that he did not compare.

I will always welcome new stories from the scythedom.

Thank you so much to Walker Books Australia for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

There are still countless tales of the Scythedom to tell. Centuries passed between the Thunderhead cradling humanity and Scythe Goddard trying to turn it upside down. For years humans lived in a world without hunger, disease, or death with Scythes as the living instruments of population control.

Neal Shusterman – along with collaborators David Yoon, Jarrod Shusterman, Sofía Lapuente, Michael H. Payne, Michelle Knowlden, and Joelle Shusterman – returns to the world throughout the timeline of the Arc of a Scythe series. Discover secrets and histories of characters you’ve followed for three volumes and meet new heroes, new foes, and some figures in between.

Gleanings shows just how expansive, terrifying, and thrilling the world that began with the Printz Honor–winning Scythe truly is.

Arc of a Scythe #3: The Toll – Neal Shusterman

“Can we … do that?” Nietzsche asked.

“We’re scythes; we can do anything we please.”

Scythe is one of my favourite books of all time and I was hooked for the entire series. I love the characters. I can’t get enough of the history, mythology and practices of all of the scythes, both those I love and those I love to hate. I’ve probably spent too much time deliberating about what colour my robe would be, who I’d choose as my Patron Historic and what my gleaning MO would be.

I had so many questions going into this book and I got answers, even when they didn’t look anything like I’d expected them to. I’m satisfied with most of them, with the exception of probably the biggest of them all, where we left Rowan and Citra.

This book was well written, like the rest of the series, and I couldn’t put it down. So why aren’t I absolutely thrilled right now?

I think part of it was that for much of the book I like like I was treading water, waiting for the big finish. Characters who I absolutely adore barely spent any time together when I’d looked forward to them bantering their way through the pages.

I hurt for Faraday and, like Munira, I couldn’t make it better; the Faraday in this book didn’t feel like the Faraday that made me fall in love with the scythedom. I couldn’t spend time with one of my favourite scythes because of the events of the second book.

Greyson, who wowed me in the second book, seemed more like a puppet going through the motions for most of this one and I missed the Greyson I thought I was going to hang out with here. I desperately wanted a huge showdown with the Big Bad.

Okay, so it’s starting to sound like I hated this book, but I didn’t. It was still a four star read for me, so pretty impressive. I think it’s just a case of my expectations being so unreasonably high and, as a result, reality had no hope of growing tall enough to reach them. Even though I’ve only recently reread it, I want to read Scythe again to renew my first love.

Yes, of course I sent a test email to Loriana’s email address. No, it didn’t work.

Favourite no context quote:

And what was that old mortal-age saying? Curiosity was a cat killer?

Content warnings include death by suicide and mention of self harm.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In a world that’s conquered death, will humanity finally be torn asunder by the immortal beings it created?

Citra and Rowan have disappeared. Endura is gone. It seems like nothing stands between Scythe Goddard and absolute dominion over the world scythedom. With the silence of the Thunderhead and the reverberations of the Great Resonance still shaking the earth to its core, the question remains: Is there anyone left who can stop him?

The answer lies in the Tone, the Toll, and the Thunder.

Arc of a Scythe #2: Thunderhead – Neal Shusterman

“Well, then,” said Supreme Blade Kahlo, raising her hand in a grand dramatic gesture, “let the wild rumpus start!”

I tend to be one of those people who read the next book in a series I’m following as soon as it’s published (earlier if I can get my hands on an advanced copy) and then spend the next year hanging precariously over a cliff while I wait to find out what’s going to happen next. All I can think after finishing this book is how grateful I am that this time, I’m late to the party.

I read Scythe for the first time shortly after it was released and began this book soon after it was published. Then something happened, which I can’t even remember now, that took me away from it before I finished and unfinished it’s remained. Until now. I don’t know how I would have managed if I’d had to wait a year to see how everything unfolds from here but it wouldn’t have been pretty. This is a series you definitely need to binge.

I love vigilante Rowan, AKA, Scythe Lucifer. He’s not just making corrupt scythes deadish; he’s making sure they don’t come back. As he researched his potential targets and stalked them prior to taking their lives, he reminded me of the Green Arrow. I wanted his kills to come with a catchphrase … You have failed this Scythedom.

Meanwhile, Citra (now Scythe Anastasia) did me proud as a junior scythe. Taking on the best of what both of her mentors taught her but making it her own, Citra’s scythe MO was compassionate and thoughtful, and everything I expected from her.

“She is a fresh voice of reason and responsibility. She can make the old ways new again. Which is why they fear her.”

However, it was her strength, tenacity and courage that really captivated me. It’s one thing to do the right thing but it’s another thing entirely when the right thing isn’t the easy thing and your decisions come with consequences you can’t necessarily predict and aren’t always in your favour.

The big surprise for me, though, was Greyson. I didn’t expect much from him, even though it was clear from the beginning that his role in this series was going to be significant. I enjoyed watching as he began to transform into Slayd. His journey introduced me to unsavouries, whose particular brand of rebellion I found fascinating.

I need to live in the restored Great Library of Alexandria. It contains 3.5 million volumes of scythe journals!

Favourite no context quotes:

Permission is the bloated corpse of freedom.

“We are forever impaled upon our own wisdom.”

“Deadish men tell no tales for a while.”

To borrow a new favourite phrase, this book was “fun-and-a-half”. I’m starting The Toll immediately.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Humans learn from their mistakes. I cannot. I make no mistakes.

The Thunderhead is the perfect ruler of a perfect world, but it has no control over the scythedom. A year has passed since Rowan had gone off grid. Since then, he has become an urban legend, a vigilante snuffing out corrupt scythes in a trial by fire. His story is told in whispers across the continent.

As Scythe Anastasia, Citra gleans with compassion and openly challenges the ideals of the “new order.” But when her life is threatened and her methods questioned, it becomes clear that not everyone is open to the change.

Old foes and new enemies converge, and as corruption within the Scythedom spreads, Rowan and Citra begin to lose hope. Will the Thunderhead intervene?

Or will it simply watch as this perfect world begins to unravel?

Arc of a Scythe #1: Scythe – Neal Shusterman

Hope in the shadow of fear is the world’s most powerful motivator.

This book became one of my favourite reads of all time when I met Citra and Rowan five years ago. Since then I’ve wanted to visit them again but, like all of the books I’ve fallen in love with as an adult, I’ve procrastinated my reread. I wanted to hold onto the love at first read that I experienced. I was concerned that the shine wouldn’t be there the second time around.

I needn’t have worried. I didn’t think it possible but the reread shone even brighter for me. The characters I knew and loved, and those I loved to hate, came to me fully formed; I didn’t need to reacquaint myself with them, even after all of this time.

Citra and Rowan have been selected to undertake an apprenticeship. They will be spending the next year competing against one another for a job neither of them want. Ironically, this makes them the perfect candidates. Although they are both going to be trained by Scythe Faraday, their apprenticeships will be vastly different.

Theirs is a world of splats and revival centres, where nanites can dull your pain but also limit the spectrum of your emotions. It’s also a world where serial killers are not only sanctioned but revered. Here they’re called scythes and their kills aren’t murder; they’re gleanings.

Scythes have a quota of 260 gleanings per year. While this sounds like death is around every corner, your odds of being gleaned in the next 100 years are only 1 in 100.

On the one hand, I have trouble imagining living in a world where we know everything there is to know and have conquered disease and mortality itself. On the other hand, I was fully immersed in Citra and Rowan’s world. I believed.

I imagined the joy of having time to learn everything I wanted to learn, read all of the books on my TBR list and experience everything I’ve ever dreamed of. But because time’s no longer finite, the urgency of our world doesn’t exist in Citra and Rowan’s. There’s nothing left to strive towards, nothing new to discover.

With nothing to really aspire to, life has become about maintenance. Eternal maintenance.

I adored Scythe Faraday, with his thoughtful, compassionate approach. I loved the excerpts from scythes’ journals that caused me to think more deeply about their world as well as our own. I’m still chewing on the philosophical and moral issues raised in this book.

Favourite no context quote:

Well, she could learn self-control tomorrow. Today she wanted pizza.

This remains one of my favourite books of all time. I can’t wait to binge the rest of the series.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Thou shalt kill.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life – and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe – a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

The Butterfly Assassin – Finn Longman

No mercy, no hesitation, no witnesses.

I finished reading this book two weeks ago and I’m still having trouble figuring out what to say about it. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it. I did. I flew through it. It’s not that I didn’t love the characters. I did. So much! It’s that practically everything I want to say about this book wanders into spoiler territory and I don’t want to ruin it for you.

Isabel Ryan is trying her best to reinvent herself as Bella Nicholls. Isabel was trained as a contract killer by Comma, one of Espera’s two guilds. Bella is an ordinary high school student, a civilian.

She’s seventeen, she’s safe, and she got out.

One day maybe that will feel true.

Isabel is one of the best badass characters I’ve ever survived. She’s resilient, surprisingly vulnerable and all kinds of lethal when the situation calls for it.

‘It’s my trauma. You don’t get to tell me how to deal with it.’

Emma is one of the best friends you could ever hope to meet.

She smiles like it’s nothing. Show her how she can help, give her the knowledge to do it, and there it is: joy.

Grace is a librarian, which made her one of my favourite characters even before I knew anything else about her.

‘All I can offer is books and friendly advice, I’m afraid.’

This is a book about surviving against the odds. It’s about extricating yourself from the past when it’s holding on for dear life. It’s about control: being controlled, losing control and taking it back.

Isabel’s past is essentially layers of trauma and her present isn’t any easier. Not only is she trying to cope with the physical and emotional fallout from her life in the guild, she’s doing her best to create a new life for herself in hopes of having a future. Although not specifically identified as such, the portrayal of PTSD was authentic.

I loved that the chapter titles were in Esperanto as well as English. I loved the worldbuilding. I hated being constantly worried about the safety of my favourite characters but loved that, despite the darkness of this book, there was enough light to find them in the first place.

Favourite no context quote:

‘A candle can’t do much against a black hole.’

‘So light another candle.’

Content warnings include child abuse (emotional, medical, neglect, physical, verbal), foster care and mental health. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Children’s UK for the opportunity to read this book. I need the sequel immediately!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Trained and traumatised by a secret assassin programme for minors, Isabel Ryans wants nothing more than to be a normal civilian. After running away from home, she has a new name, a new life and a new friend, Emma, and for the first time in Isabel’s life, things are looking up.

But old habits die hard, and it’s not long until she blows her cover, drawing the attention of the guilds – the two rival organisations who control the city of Espera. An unaffiliated killer like Isabel is either a potential asset … or a threat to be eliminated.

Will the blood on her hands cost her everything?

Fluffy McWhiskers Cuteness Explosion – Stephen W. Martin

Illustrations – Dan Tavis

Fluffy McWhiskers is cursed with cuteness. 

Yes, Fluffy McWhiskers was so cute that if you saw her … you’d explode. 

Which, if you think about it, kinda ups the danger level of reading this book.

It’s a lonely existence when no one lives long enough to be your friend. Fluffy goes to extreme lengths to save potential victims but nothing seems to work. Is she destined to be alone forever?

I am so conflicted. I don’t know whether to tell you that I laughed at the absurdity of this book or how ashamed I feel for finding a massacre of cutie patooties amusing. Granted, they were very pretty rainbow explosions, but so many adorable animals (many of which I found cuter than Fluffy) died explodey deaths all over the pages.

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I do have one question. If even seeing Fluffy’s photo in a newspaper is a death sentence, then how did the photographer and the rest of the newspaper staff survive long enough to publish that edition of the Animal Times?

Be on the lookout out for the Piggy Bank and Pizza Sloth Express.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Meet Fluffy – an adorable kitten. So adorable, in fact, that anyone who sees her will spontaneously explode into balls of sparkles and fireworks. KABOOM! Poof. 

Poor Fluffy doesn’t want anyone to get hurt, but everything she tries, even a bad haircut, just makes her cuter! So Fluffy runs away someplace no one can find her. Find out if there’s any hope for Fluffy in this funny and subversive story about self-acceptance and finding friendship in unlikely places.

How I Saved the World in a Week – Polly Ho-Yen

Illustrations – George Ermos

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” I couldn’t get this Joseph Heller quote out of my head when I was reading this book. Billy’s mother, Sylvia, teaches him survival skills every chance she gets. Never mind that a lot of the time this preparation takes place during school hours. 

‘You have to be ready.’

‘Ready for what?’ 

While he loves spending time with his mother and learning new skills, like how to make fire without a match, Billy doesn’t love needing to change schools regularly. 

I mean, what’s the point in trying to get to know someone when you might disappear at any moment?

He also misses his father, who he hasn’t seen for years.

When people start turning grey, Billy starts to think that this is what his mother has been preparing him for. Only his father won’t believe him, believing instead that Sylvia’s preoccupation with teaching her son survival skills is merely a symptom of her mental illness. 

I wouldn’t, couldn’t, believe that everything Sylvia had taught me was all for nothing. 

Thankfully, Billy is about to meet Anwar, who is enthusiastic and loves conducting experiments, and Angharad, who’s loyal but isn’t always that great at keeping her promises (you’ll forgive her for breaking the ones she does, though). His new friends believe Billy about the Greys because they’re kids, so thankfully they haven’t yet learned to disbelieve the unbelievable. 

I think: this is what friends are to each other – someone who knows, without you having to explain, that right at that moment all you need is their help. 

Although it’s not mentioned in the author’s note at the end of the book, I got the feeling this book was written, at least in part, during the pandemic. Especially when I read sentences like this: 

It’s like we’re cut off from the world even though we’re surrounded by people. 

The resolution was a bit too easy and neat for my liking but, taking into consideration the fact that I’m decades older than the target audience, my thoughts on this aren’t especially relevant. If I’d read this book when I was a kid I would have needed everything to work out the way it did.

Although there’s plenty of action, at its heart, this book is about hope, resilience and having trusted people you can rely on. 

‘This thing happening, it shows us the things that are really important. The things that really matter. Everything else … everything else just drops away.’

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Rule number one: Always be prepared …

Billy’s mum isn’t like other mums. All she wants is to teach him the Rules of Survival – how to make fire, build shelter and find food. She likes to test Billy on the rules until one day she goes too far, and Billy is sent to live with a dad he barely knows.

Then the world changes forever as people begin to be infected with a mysterious virus that turns their skin grey. As chaos breaks out, Billy has to flee the city. Suddenly he realises that this is what his mum was preparing him for – not just to save his family, but to save the whole world.

Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead – Emily Austin

Twenty-seven year old Gilda is the new receptionist at St. Rigobert’s Catholic Church. She’s also sort of, not really dating a “self-actualized reality strategist”. That’s life coach speak for being a life coach, if you’re Giuseppe. Between being an “undercover atheist” working at a church and being a gay woman with a girlfriend who’s sort of, not really dating a man, Gilda’s life is kind of complicated these days.

Gilda is on a first name basis with the staff at the emergency department and she’s currently cultivating a dirty dishes sculpture. Her parents could have an entire book dedicated to their own foibles and her younger brother is an alcoholic. Add all of that up and you realise that Gilda could have really used that therapy on the flyer that led her to St. Rigobert’s in the first place. Oh, and the lovely old lady whose job Gilda stumbled into may have been murdered. Nothing to see here, folks.

Because I apparently love books about fellow misfits going about their daily lives, I got sucked straight into this one. Although they’re entirely different people, the socially awkward protagonists of Snowflake and Convenience Store Woman came to mind as I read. 

Gilda’s fascination with, and fear of, death fascinated me. 

I wonder if my death will be what defines me. 

The depiction of mental illness, specifically depression and the panic attacks that accompany anxiety, was authentic. 

I’m “okay” in the loose sense of the word, meaning mostly: I can breathe. I am probably, however, not truly okay. Something is obviously wrong with me. I feel like I just escaped a bear attack. Why does my body react like it is being chased down by predators when it’s not? Am I physically in-tuned to some sort of impending doom that I can’t perceive otherwise? Am I sensing something, or am I just out of whack? Why do I feel this terrible physical dread? Do I have cancer? Am I—

Stop. 

I loved Gilda’s take on so many things:

The preoccupation people have with the way they look… 

“I think our appearance is meaningless,” I sputter. “We’re all just skeletons covered in skin.” 

Biblical loopholes… 

I can’t help noting the use of the male pronouns. I wonder whether this directive applies to me. Am I subject to a womanly loophole? Whoever wrote this book prioritized men so much, he forgot about the other half of humanity. It seems like I can curse my parents with no repercussions at all. 

On not being as invisible as you feel… 

I find it so bizarre that I occupy space, and that I am seen by other people. 

Telling it like it is… 

“It’s easy to feel like you understand everything in life when you’re big-headed, self-important, and stupid.” 

And telling it like it is Part 2… 

Don’t worry, Jeff, life is meaningless; it’s strange and inexplicable that we exist to begin with. We are all basically dead already in the grand scheme of things, and our feelings of sadness are pointless – they are just how our meat sacks react to the chemicals in our bodies. 

Did I mention that Gilda’s essentially a ray of sunshine wrapped in a meat sack?

Content warnings include alcoholism, bullying, death by suicide, mental health, self harm and suicidal ideation. Readers with emetophobia may have difficulty with one scene.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Meet Gilda. She cannot stop thinking about death. Desperate for relief from her anxious mind and alienated from her repressive family, she responds to a flyer for free therapy at a local church and finds herself abruptly hired to replace the deceased receptionist Grace. It’s not the most obvious job – she’s queer and an atheist for starters – and so in between trying to learn mass, hiding her new maybe-girlfriend and conducting an amateur investigation into Grace’s death, Gilda must avoid revealing the truth of her mortifying existence.

A blend of warmth, deadpan humour, and pitch-perfect observations about the human condition, Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead is a crackling exploration of what it takes to stay afloat in a world where your expiration – and the expiration of those you love – is the only certainty.

The Valedictorian of Being Dead – Heather B. Armstrong

When you want to be dead, there’s nothing quite like being dead.

Heather B. Armstrong has lived with depression since she was a child but her experience in 2017 was more intense than anything prior. She spent eighteen months severely depressed, wanting to be dead but forcing herself to go through the motions, doing “All the Things Needing to Get Done”, because of her children.

It was during this time of desperation that Heather learned of an experimental study being run by Dr Brian Mickey. She was only the third person to qualify for and agree to participate in Dr Mickey’s study. About three times a week for ten sessions, Heather was put to sleep with propofol anaesthesia.

Dr. Bushnell would eventually clarify that they weren’t technically killing me; it was more of a really, really intense induced coma. They were just almost killing me.

Heather’s writing style is engaging, taking the reader on the journey with her: the good, the bad, the TMI, the scary and the funny. I met her family, some of her friends and the professionals treating her. I learned about the abyss and found the humour in Heather’s inability to recall what year it was when she was coming out of anaesthesia (1979 or 2012, every single time).

I particularly loved how candid Heather was in describing her depression, including the fact that she was able to hide its severity from many people for so long.

No one knew that I wanted to be dead. That’s how good I am.

Heather’s story not only showcases her perseverance and bravery, it also highlights how integral supportive family and friends are for people living with mental illness. I adored Heather’s friend, Stacia, who stayed the night with her when she didn’t have the internal safety to be alone.

However, Heather’s mother, Linda, and stepfather, Rob, were the ones who stole my heart. The practical and emotional support they offered almost had me ugly crying. They are everything you need family to be when you need help. I could have hugged Linda when she said:

“We have nothing else to do this month other than be there when you wake up.”

As I read, I kept thinking back to times when I’ve had suicidal ideation and the more I thought about it the more courageous Heather seemed. Regardless of how desperate I was, I don’t think I could have attempted a treatment option with a possible side effect (however rare) of death. That may sound absurd to you. Here I am saying I wanted to die yet I would have been too scared to try a treatment that might kill me. Isn’t that exactly what I wanted?

Well, yes and no. See, to submit yourself to an experimental treatment like Heather did, you would have to think that it’s the only or best option for you. But because it’s labelled as ‘treatment’ a part of you, even if that part is teensy, would hope that it might work. That’s the part that would have terrified me: the prospect of holding hope while knowing that hope could literally kill me.

It can be hard for a lot of people to ask for help when they need it. It’s especially difficult when your brain is lying to you, telling you that the people who love you would be better off without you. Heather’s recovery, with the help of the medical profession as well as her family and friends, will hopefully convince readers that it’s perfectly okay to ask for help and accept it when it’s offered.

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, disordered eating, mental health and suicidal ideation.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Author and blogger Heather B. Armstrong writes about her experience as one of only a few people to participate in an experimental treatment for depression involving ten rounds of a chemically induced coma approximating brain death.

For years, Heather B. Armstrong has alluded to her struggle with depression on her website. But in 2016, Heather found herself in the depths of a depression she just couldn’t shake, an episode darker and longer than anything she had previously experienced. 

This book recalls the torturous eighteen months of suicidal depression she endured and the month-long experimental study in which doctors used propofol anaesthesia to quiet all brain activity for a full fifteen minutes before bringing her back from a flatline. Ten times. The experience wasn’t easy. Not for Heather or her family. But a switch was flipped, and Heather hasn’t experienced a single moment of suicidal depression since. The Valedictorian of Being Dead brings to light a groundbreaking new treatment for depression.