YA Book Review: “Without Tess” by Marcella Pixley

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“Without Tess”, written by Marcella Pixley, is one of the best YA novels I have read in a while. I rarely give books five stars when rating them, but this one I did. The story revolves around the main character (Lizzie), and her dead sister (Tess). Lizzie is the younger sister by a couple years and was only 10 when her older sister tragically passed away.

The real star of the novel is Tess. As you read through the book and relive vibrant memories Lizzie shared with Tess, you come to both love and sometimes dislike Tess. Tess was a true believer in magic. She was creative and passionate. She was both loving and loyal, but at times cruel and violent. She was mentally ill, and at times downright psychotic. This novel is a lifelike retelling of what it is like to grow up with an extremely mentally ill sibling. It addresses the love, the hate, the sadness, the pain, the rage, the guilt, and all the other emotions that come along with such a disturbing family dynamic.

I had a deeply personal connection with this book, both as someone who grew up with a mentally ill sibling, and someone who eventually lost that sibling, mostly due to that mental illness. At one point the book even made me tear up, which is extremely rare for any book to do. Definitely recommended!

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YA Book Review: ‘Stealing Heaven’ by Elizabeth Scott

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My favorite fiction genre is definitely YA. I’m not sure exactly why. Maybe I never grew up all the way? Maybe it is because teen fiction tends to be more emotionally raw than adult fiction? Maybe because the themes the genre most often explores (finding your personal identity, friendship, figuring out relationships, family dysfunction, etc.) are topics I still struggle with?

Regardless of the reason, I read a lot of YA fiction and yesterday I finished a book called “Stealing Heaven” by Elizabeth Scott, and I just wanted to say I loved this book in many ways. For one thing, the main character (Dani) has a family arguably more messed up than mine, which is hard to find lol. It is rare that I read a book which makes me grateful to have my past rather than theirs!

To sum up the book without spoilers, Dani is the daughter of two parents who got through life by being professional criminals (thieves who target rich households). Her father got caught and jailed long ago, so she has mostly grown up with her mother only. Dani doesn’t enjoy the thieving lifestyle like her parents do, but it is all she knows. She has never had any sort of security. Never been able to settle down anywhere, because her mother is always working on the next “hit job”.

Dani has never gone to school. She has never had a friend. She has only had one romantic encounter (which was honestly FUCKED UP). Dani hasn’t even been able to use her real name at any point in her life. She is adrift. However, as her mother plans yet another robbery, Dani makes a real friend for the first time and even more dangerously, she starts to fall for a cop! Can Dani find a way out of the criminal lifestyle that was forced upon her?

If you like chick lit, realistic fiction, or YA/Teen novels, I would definitely recommend giving this one a chance!

Fun 6 Word Story Writing Prompts

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I must admit that I stole these 6 word story writing prompts from one of my favorite WordPress bloggers, Therapy Bits. I’m not sure where she gets these prompts, or if she makes them up herself, but I thought they looked like a lot of fun, so I started borrowing a few of them just to see what I could come up with. Personally, I tend to think of these 6 word stories as a minimalist form of poetry, even tighter and more concise than haiku.

So here are a few of the prompts and what I came up with:

“Curves”
Her curves couldn’t outweigh her personality.

“Belief”
To hold a belief is self-delusion.

“Doll”
One doll, with third degree burns.

“Mundane”
Mundane, but still better than Monday.

“Maddening”
A cat is a maddening creature.

“Offer”
Make an offer, I can refuse.

“Plausible”
Perhaps plausible, but is it infallible?

“Rebel”
Rebel against your own poor expectations.

I hope you guys enjoyed this. Let me know if you did and maybe I’ll do more in the future. If you want to share any 6 word stories you come up with, feel free to do so in the comments!

Poetry: Sleeping Poetic Genius

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Sleeping Poetic Genius
By: Maranda Russell

I wrote a poem
in my sleep last night.
The words, colors, and images
now blur in my mind.
I try to pin them down,
only to have them
wiggle away
like a puppy
desperate to escape
a confining embrace.

The poem was grand,
of this I am sure.
A masterpiece of language,
now shriveled and dried up
like an unlucky worm
laying dead
after a rainstorm.

Hypersensitivity to Criticism

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Recently my therapist and I have been talking about and working on my hypersensitivity to criticism. I have always had some hypersensitivity to any kind of criticism or rebuke. As a kid, I was the one you could make cry by looking at me wrong or even gently scolding me. I still tear up over things like that, even though I wish I didn’t.

This inability to deal constructively with any kind of feeling of failure has haunted me throughout my adult life, especially in the work world. I think this fear of not living up to expectations is partly why I struggle with immense anxiety around any kind of authority figure (bosses, teachers, doctors, police, etc.) Many times this anxiety is so strong that I am almost struck dumb (probably a type of selective mutism), such as when I have had to go for job reviews or any other kind of personal evaluation.

I have noticed though that my hypersensitivity to criticism focuses mainly on 5 areas. If I am criticized on something outside of these 5 topics, I am likely to be able to shake it off better or not let it bother me in the first place. Here are the subjects I am referring to:

  1. My art or writing. I am extremely sensitive to any criticism about my art and writing. However, I think this one is fairly normal for creative types. We all put a bit of our heart and soul into the things we create, in a sense they are our “babies” and we gave birth to them. This does create problems for me when it comes to having the confidence to share my art and writing publicly, especially in person.
  2. My looks and weight. I have always felt that I was rather plain or average-looking, so I have a bit of an achilles heel here. I was bullied quite a bit in middle school when I gained some weight after my dad died, and although I lost the weight a couple years later, those mean words about being “fat” have stuck with me. I have always relied on my intelligence, not my looks, to get me anywhere. I am proud of that fact, but sometimes I wish I felt more confident about the way I look.
  3. Any accusation of laziness or incompetence. I think the laziness thing bothers me because my mom would accuse me of that all the time. “Lazy”, “good for nothing”, “useless”…words like that stick with you. As for the incompetence, it doesn’t even have to be someone else that says something. If I feel even slightly incompetent (at anything) within myself it is enough to send me into a meltdown, probably a result of my perfectionism.
  4. Any perceived insult to my intelligence. As I said before, I have always relied on my intelligence to get through life, so if that is questioned or doubted, I feel worthless.
  5. Any insinuation implying that I am childish/immature or a crybaby. I have a lot of “childlike” qualities, as do many with Aspergers syndrome, and those can be endearing, but when people turn it into a bad thing and accuse me of childishness or immaturity, I feel misunderstood and hurt. I am extremely sensitive in some ways, but I hate the term “crybaby”.

So, what do you guys think? Do you share any of these insecurities? Are you also hypersensitive to criticism in these areas or others?

Mental Illness Labels : Alphabet Soup Poem

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Yesterday I commented on a post by blogger Myloudbipolarwhispers about mental illness labels. In the comment, I explained how one of my foster kids once had a therapist who talked about the dangers of “alphabet soup”, which is when people start collecting so many labels (ADHD, ADD, ASD, PTSD, SAD, OCD, DID, BPD, RAD, and so on and so on) that they lose sense of themselves as a person or even worse, those treating them lose sight of their humanity and just see them as a list of diagnoses.

I shared in the comment that I even wrote a short poem about “alphabet soup”, which ended up in my book about foster care (From Both Sides). Myloudbipolarwhispers mentioned that she would like to see the poem, so I figured I would just share it in a post here, since it definitely fits the themes of this blog:

Alphabet Soup
By: Maranda Russell

Some good old-fashioned RAD,
a touch of PTSD,
just a hint of OCD,
a generous helping of ADHD
and a pinch of ODD
to taste.

Add it all together
and what do you get?

Alphabet soup…

and a kid
made entirely
of labels.

Journal Writings from a Severe Depressive Episode

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Once in a while I share intimate writings from my journal, from times when I was severely depressed. I don’t do this to get sympathy, but because I hope to educate people who haven’t experienced depression themselves to get even a glimpse of the mental torture you undergo when extremely depressed. I hope sharing might help reduce the stigma and the judgmental attitudes that persist in the face of major depression. So, here goes:

“Why is it that I am screaming on the inside, and yet my voice is mute? Not a peep must pass these lips. I am invisible, even as I am seen.”

“I had to get out. I had to leave. Repeating “I’m ok”, over and over to myself, wasn’t working. I couldn’t breathe, or maybe I didn’t want to any longer. My entire body shook, even as I threw on clothes and grabbed the car keys. I’m still shaking now.”

“I’ve lost it. My composure, my hope, my perception of living. I no longer know if I even exist. No one else seems to see me either.”

“As I walk down the road, tears streaming down my face, a ribbon dangles from my journal, suspended not by wind but by movement. I should tuck it in, but I want to look unkempt. Let the outside, even my props, match the inner disarray.”

“The question asks itself, am I sad or just spoiled? Do I put this on? Is it a show? Do I want to appear unhinged? Is this for attention, and if so, why do I fail so miserably even at that, as it is made clear that nobody sees me?”

*You might notice a pattern in many of these writings, a feeling of invisibility, of not being seen, and not feeling like I matter. As the last quote shows, I even wonder if I am crying out for the attention that I don’t know how to get. Perhaps this aspect is tied to the social limitations of being autistic and suffering from severe social anxiety disorder? I wondered if others who are not autistic or socially anxious feel these same things when depressed, or if it is just me?

By the way, BetterHelp has some great resources on depression as well, so check them out!

 

What makes a good poem?

I stumbled across this post I wrote 6 years ago today! I still think it is pretty decent advice!

Maranda Russell

Poetry is an intensely personal thing, so opinions abound regarding what makes a poem truly good. I’m not here to tell you that I know the magic formula or to try and pretend that I am some literary genius that has it all figured out, but I would like to share my opinion of what makes a poem stand out above the rest. Undoubtedly, some of you will disagree with my criteria, which is fine. In fact, I would encourage you to post a comment with your own opinion on the matter if you wish to do so.

So without further ado…my list of poetry must-haves:

1. Honesty – is this one really a surprise? After all, I named my recently published poetry book, “Not Afraid to Be Real”. And to me, that isn’t just a clever title. I strive in all my writing to be honest and present life realistically. Of…

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