“This is my superhero alter ego. I go around the world finding people who commit social injustices and I attack them with copies of literary classics to teach them a lesson. The kid who is suspended for racial slurs? I break into his bedroom in the middle of the night, knock out a few of his teeth, and leave him with a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. The parents who get arrested because they let their twelve-year-old throw a party without their supervision and the kids break into the liquor cabinet? I visit the parents in their holding cell to drop off two copies of Lord of the Flies. Before the next presidential election I’ll skip around the country like Santa Claus, delivering 1984 to all eligible and literate voters” (pp. 188-189).
In January First, Michael Schofield recounts his experiences raising January, his daughter. While, for the first few years of her life, Schofield blames her erratic behavior on her high IQ, it quickly becomes apparent that there is more to her condition than her intelligence. After years of fighting to keep Jani safe from the promptings of her hallucinations, and to keep her infant brother protected from the violence that they demand she commits, Schofield and his wife finally receive a diagnosis for their daughter: schizophrenia. As the most severe mental illness, treating this condition is extremely difficult–particularly in the case of a child, as this illness does not typically emerge until later in life. Through it all, though, Schofield’s love for his family and his determination not to give up on his daughter carry the people he cares for most through an incredibly trying experience.
Pace: The tempo of the narrative, to borrow a musical term, is one that keeps readers interested. Each chapter is headed with its corresponding month and year, making it easy for readers to follow the timeline of the book.
Writing Style: Schofield’s writing style is clear and concise. He describes the important aspects of events, but does not get too elaborate in terms of the details. This is important for two reasons. First, the memoir spans several years. While it may be acceptable to recreate dialogue to one’s best approximation, recreating entire scenes and their details is typically frowned upon. As such, Schofield has kept the story true to his memory and made it easier for readers to navigate a story that could easily become difficult to understand.
The second reason that his writing style fits the book is because this is not a story about the details–not the environmental details, anyway. This is a story about Schofield, Jani, and the rest of their family. As such, he focuses on the human interaction that takes place. I believe this makes it easier to retain focus on the story and keeps readers engaged.
Larger Issues: Schofield’s memoir brings up a long list of issues that society really needs to consider to a greater degree. First and foremost is the issue of mental health. People may argue that today’s healthcare system fails to provide the level of care that individuals who suffer from mental illness–and their families–need, and they would be right in many regards. But Schofield’s story speaks more specifically to the instance of mental illness in children. From both the book and my own studies in psychology, it is evident that this is an area of the field that needs further investigation. While today’s professionals may do their best given the resources that they have, it is integral that these resources (and the knowledge that fuels them) are continually expanded upon in an effort to better understand and treat children. Furthermore, Jani’s experiences raise questions about the educational system and how it should be expected to meet the needs of children who require special attention.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in psychology or who loves memoirs. While it was very difficult to read at times, as the challenges that Schofield and his family face are monumental, it is an enlightening look into the lives of families who are fighting mental illness on a daily basis.
To learn more about Schofield and his family’s journey, visit:
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
“Until Josh died, I thought I understood what time was and how it worked. I thought I knew that you couldn’t go back. But death gives time a whole new meaning. I have days on which suddenly it will hit me, as if for the first time, and I will say to myself, Oh my God. I’m never going to see him again. Every time that thought comes to my mind, no matter when or where I am, it seems to be as painful as the first time. I can’t go back. I will never be able to go back. I know that even now, three months later, my brain hasn’t fully absorbed that concept. That’s what Gatsby and I also have in common. We can’t seem to swallow our own realities” (p. 55).
“Sitting on the floor of the shower is the ultimate act of surrendering” (p. 61).