By the fourth chapter of This Is How I Find Her, I turned back to the book’s description thinking I must have been mistaken that I was reading fiction. Sara Polsky’s young adult debut novel captures the emotions of her protagonist Sophie and the realities of dealing with a bipolar mother so realistically that I was convinced it was a memoir.
The reader discovers the meaning of the title in the first chapter as Sophie arrives home from school to find her mother with her legs dangling from the bed, her hair disheveled, and her breathing so shallow Sophie has to lean down with her ear to her mother’s mouth to hear it. Spotting the glass of water and the half-empty pill bottle, she calls 911.
An intriguing back-story gradually unfolds with Sophie, her cousin Leila, longtime friend James, and her mother that ultimately explains the estrangement between her mom and her mom’s sister Aunt Cynthia. Caught in a situation where she must ask for help, Sophie turns to the only family she knows even though they have distanced themselves from her for five years. The main story brings her adjustment to the limitations of what she can do without help even though for some time she has taken care of herself and her mother with some degree of competence. Conflicting emotions of responsibility for her mother’s care, the need for a life free of those worries, and the insecurity about the real feelings of her relatives toward her and her mother keep Sophie searching for answers. Mingled with that story is another about those who are important in her life – James, Leila, her aunt and uncle, and her mother. Without a pat conclusion, Sara Polsky brings the book to a satisfying, realistic, and hopeful end.
Shortly after I read this book, I saw a discussion questioning how we can teach empathy to children and young people or even adults in today’s world where meanness and bullying are sometimes not only tolerated but esteemed. I think the power of compelling story like this is at least part of the answer. This is a good read for anyone, but particularly for those seeking understanding of the complex lives of those who are bipolar and those who care for a loved one whose life ranges from ecstatic creativity to suicidal depression.