Pieces of Me
Pieces of Me
There’s something seriously wrong with me.
Whatever it is, the doctors can’t quite figure it out. At fourteen, I was diagnosed with depression. When I was sixteen, another therapist thought I had severe anxiety disorder and probably ADHD. My brother thinks I’m a drunk, and my mother thinks I’m bipolar. My last shrink diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder shortly after my eighteenth birthday, even though I don’t think my moods are that extreme.
What do I think? No one’s bothered to ask. Mostly I think I’m crazy. I know it’s not the politically correct thing to say, but it’s how it feels. Like there’s a connection in my brain that doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. It just shorts out. Either that, or I’m dying.
I definitely feel crazy after I hang up with my mother. I sit on the floor of this strange but not strange room and stare at the phone in my hand. “Three days,” I whisper. “How could I have blacked out for three fucking days?”
Eighteen-year-old Dylan loses time and never remembers what has happened to cause her problem. After an episode where she loses three entire days and prompts a missing person’s report by her mother, she is finally diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder. While having a solid diagnosis seems helpful, Dylan now has to process how to cope with the various identities inside her brain and, perhaps more importantly, must figure out what caused this mental health issue in the first place.
Dylan is a likeable character who has a very complicated answer to the seemingly simple question “Who am I?” Readers watch as she gets to know the various personalities in her head who, from time to time and depending on circumstances, take over her body as well. Dylan likens this to giving up the driver’s seat to someone else and becoming a passenger in her own body. Understandably, this unleashes a variety of emotions – anger, confusion and occasionally relief that someone else is taking charge of the journey that is her life. Dylan is confused – at first denying anything is wrong with her and resisting treatment before finally accepting the help she so desperately needs. On top of this, Dylan has flashbacks to some sort of trauma which was the initial cause of her disorder, but she simply cannot seem to come to grips mentally or emotionally with what happened to her as a child.
Dylan is fortunate to have a solid group of supporters to give her strength during this ordeal. Her mom gradually learns to accept Dylan’s DID and does what she can to help her. Friend Izzy is understanding and caring and plays a key role in Dylan’s ability to adapt to her new reality. Boyfriend Connor adds romance to the story and also is a constant source of strength and stability for Dylan. Dylan’s twin brother Mark is a little more confused about this complicated situation and varies between being harsh and misunderstanding to being simply sad and hurt. Other family members, such as Dylan’s dad, stepmom and young stepsister, fill supporting roles and round out the cast of the story.
Another equally important cast is the inner characters in Dylan’s mind. Each has a role and a voice, and the author is able to differentiate them well. They try to be a strong support system for Dylan yet some of these other identities are the reason her recall of the past has been and remains blocked. Dylan’s brain is broken into “pieces of me”, and she needs to meet each one and learn how to deal with them both individually and as a group.
There are elements of suspense and mystery in the novel as Dylan tries to piece together what might have happened in her childhood, but the overall theme of the book is mental health and specifically Dissociative Identity Disorder which has also been called multiple personalities. Kate McLaughlin understands her character well and gives her young adult readers a good sense of Dylan’s struggles. The author also portrays those around Dylan with empathy, not only her family and friends but also the health team of neurologists and psychologists who endeavor to help her.
McLaughlin has obviously done a great deal of research in preparation for writing the novel. She shares this in the Acknowledgments sections and also has added a list of resources for further research. She acknowledges that she, like most of her readers, can only observe this disorder from the outside, but her deep dive into the subject gives readers the sense that Dylan’s mental health struggles are realistic.
The complexity of the human mind and the in-depth look at this mental disorder make this novel compelling reading. Some of the characters are a little too perfect, perhaps, and, for many readers, the childhood trauma and its cause will not be much of a mystery. Dylan may be unlike others sufferers in that she has a great deal of support as well as the money to pursue any necessary treatments. McLaughlin has chosen to end the novel with Dylan’s coping well with her issues which may or not be realistic and seems a little rushed given the other circumstances of the story. These are small criticisms of what remains a very readable and intense novel.
McLaughlin talks about triggers before the book begins. “Some of the thematic material within contains discussions of suicide, child abuse/sexual assault, and alcohol abuse, as well as mentions of vaping, smoking, and sex.” With this in mind, the book’s intended audience seems to be older young adults as well as adult readers who have an interest in mental health and perhaps in DID in particular.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, Ontario.