Wednesday, May 7, 2014

REVIEW: "His Eye Is On The Sparrow" by Lisa Sparrow (Write Now Lit)

"From the agony of multiple miscarriages to the pain of never feeling love from anyone, Lisa Y. Sparrow reveals the most intimate of details of her life in the hopes that someone is freed from their own prison of mental illness."


Newcomer Lisa Sparrow has endured more pain and loss in her life than anyone should be expected to. With her first book, His Eye is on the Sparrow, she reveals the challenges she has faced in stunning detail. Lisa is a divorced mother of two wonderful children, Lauren and Leon, and currently lives in Columbus, Ohio. She currently works as clerical support for a local lighting company. She’s learned the hard way that if you stay where you are in life, you’ll never reach your full potential. Her journey to self love and acceptance has been a hard fought battle and one she is led by God to share with her readers. With her first autobiography, His Eye is on the Sparrow, Lisa hopes to shed some light on the subject of mental illness in this country and the process of healing. Although this is Lisa’s first project, it certainly will not be her last. She is currently working on a follow up to "His Eye is on the Sparrow", scheduled to be released in 2015.

I received a copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review, which follows:

Mental illness is the dirty little secret swept under the rug and ignored by the vast majority of the world.  As someone who has family members with mental illness, who has done extensive research into the stigma of mental illness (specifically regarding how it affects children), who advocates for children with mental illness and their families, and as one called to stand in the intersection between individuals with mental illness and the Church, this is an issue that is near and dear to my heart.  We like to pretend it doesn't exist, that "those people" are somewhere "over there".  Bull sh**.  Conservative estimates say that 1 in 4 people have a diagnosable condition.  What is it like to live with depression, extreme self-esteem issues, and a family and society that wants to ostracize you for your mental difficulties you cannot control?

Living with mental illness is hard enough.  It is even harder when your family has mirrored the ostracization of society, institutionalization is a regular occurrence, and no one seems to accept you no matter what.  Not even the church.  

Lisa Sparrow is a woman who has seen much hardship in her life.  In this heart-breaking autobiography, she bares the bones of truth regarding how she has been treated for living with a difficult mental illness.  She did not choose to be saddled with a life-long battle with depression.  It happened to her, and it complicated everything.  From an emotionally distanced and abusive mother, to other family members who blamed the difficulty of their lives on her mental instability, to multiple stints in mental institutions....Lisa talks about it all, and she talks about it as though she were talking to a best friend. 

Here we find a real-world story of how depression can affect an individual and his or her family.  In language and a writing style that reflects the mental processes of someone who lives with mental illness, Sparrow talks about the hard things, but also where she has found redemption in the midst of the pain.  

This is a hard book.  This is a worthwhile book.  This is a book you should read.  It will challenge you to open your eyes and see the person instead of just the diagnosis.

On an ascending scale of 1 to 5, I give this book a 4.

The Good
A long, long time ago (though more recently than I'd like), mental illness was blamed on poor parenting.  Children developed autism because their mothers were emotionally distant.  Attention problems happened because parents weren't strict enough.  Blah blah blah.  Enter the never-ending debate between nature vs. nurture.  What truly causes mental illness - one's environment and parental influences while growing up, or one's DNA?  Most experts agree we can't really pin mental illness purely to nature or nurture, that it is some kind of mixture of the two (genetic vulnerabilities influenced by environment).

Lisa Sparrow is a woman who has struggled with mental illness for most of her life.  After hearing about the "hell" that was her home life as a child, one could be tempted to say her depression was caused mostly by nurture - or lack thereof - and they might not be far off.  From an emotionally distant and abusive mother, to a family that did not protect her and a society that did not accept her, Lisa was not really given a fair shot at having a happy life.  Unfortunately, this meant she attempted suicides multiple times, was committed to various institutions, found herself in unhealthy relationships while seeking unconditional positive regard from anyone, and has struggled mightily her entire life.  But if I say too much, I'll give away too much and you really should read this book yourself.

This book is a stark look at living with depression and a difficult family.  Lisa is painfully honest about everything that she went through. She wants readers to feel the rejection she has dealt with her entire life from everywhere: her family, society, school, lovers, and even the church.  The last on that list hurt my heart a lot, especially as I currently work as pastor at a church and feel especially called to be an advocate for those with mental illness within the church.  Of all places, the church should be a place of sanctuary for those living with mental illness, but this is often not the case.  I could pull out my little soap box here and wax long on how Church has participated in the societal violence of excluding those with a mental diagnosis, but Sparrow has a fabulous chapter talking about exactly that. 

This is a hard book to read.  It is hard because it is real.  This is a real woman who has been really ostracized by her real family, in the middle of the real society in which many of us live.  This is a story that is more common than we want to admit.

 It is also hard to read because in honesty it is a bit disjointed, repetitive, and ruminative.  I was initially tempted to lower my score of this book for its slightly all-over-the-place writing style, and if it were almost any other book I would have done so.  The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized it is reflective of how I have heard individuals living with depression speak.  Yes, it is hard to read and hard to keep track of in places, and there are even spots that are extremely repetitive.  But this is how many people with depression think.  I can't knock a book written by someone with depression for the fact that it sounds like it was written by someone with depression.

The Bugly (bad/ugly)
There are a few things to be critical about here, but I'm much more critical about Sparrow's family and a society that has put her on the fringe of living simply because she has a mental illness.  Regardless, 

1) Though Sparrow talks about having a mental illness, we don't know what the diagnosis is until nearly 2/3 of the way through the book.  Perhaps she did reveal it earlier and I just missed it.  I just know that I only suspected it was depression for a vast majority of the book and it was mighty relieving to eventually know that I was right.  When a book revolves around one's mental illness to the degree that this book does, the diagnosis should come earlier and clearer - unless we are never going to get it at all.

2) And editor needs to run through this book.  If an editor has been through this book, they need someone else rechecking their work.  A slightly disjointed and all-over-the-place writing style usually bugs me, but here I can deal, for the most part.  It was slightly buggersome, however, how many run-on sentences existed, as well as awkward punctuation and such.  Now, I'm not perfect at grammar and punctuation by any means, but I do know that a published work should be as error free as possible unless it is intentional.  Many of the typos, however, did not feel intentional.  Missing words are generally not intentional.

3) I understand the need to talk about the difficult things in life, but everything here is so dang raw.  Pastors are encouraged to use stories from our own lives in our sermons in order to illustrate what we are talking about.  What we are not encouraged to do is "bleed on our congregation."  What do I mean by that?  I mean that typically we are not encouraged to use things that are still making our hearts weep blood.  If we are trying to use our personal stories to help people heal from something, then we need to be healed up a bit and not seeking our healing by emotionally bleeding all over our congregation.  That all being said, this book felt like Sparrow was still weeping blood upon her listeners.  Yes, she is revealing the truth of her living situation and all of the crap that has befallen her, but it still feels a bit too raw.  I am saying this, however, as someone who is not in the midst of the throes of depression.  I can definitely see how this book could help those who are clawing their way out of the pit.  There is hope near the end.  A glimmer of hope, but hope.  

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