Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How All This Started by Peter Fromm

As a Bellingham transplant, one of the first places I discovered early on, haunt on a weekly basis, and never leave without buying something is, of course, Village Books.  So last month, in my role as co-department chair of the English department here at BHS, I met with Chuck Robinson, owner, and Paul Hanson, outreach director.  We brainstormed different ways to keep students engaged and excited about reading.  And bless their heart, they came bearing gifts...a copy of How All This Started by Peter Fromm.  From what I've learned, Fromm has been a short-story author and this book is his first venture into the world of novels.  It is a worthy first effort.

The story, while it focuses on two young people, is definitely not a YA book.  It deals with complex and sometimes disturbing issues of mental illness.  The two children of the family, Abilene and her younger brother Austin, live out on a desolate Texas ranch, raised by two loving parents who have filled their heads with the stories of their conception (of course, in their namesake towns).  They have forsaken their parental hold over Austin and ceded both his time and his baseball training to older sister, Abilene.  Haunted by her own failed attempt to play on the boy's baseball team, Abilene comes off as obsessive and controlling.  As the story continues, you see Abilene fall deeply into a life or death struggle with her bi-polar disorder.  At times deeply disturbing and depressing, it is also a very raw and real look into how a mental disorder has the ability to destroy a family.

I felt at times like I was looking into a window, compelled to watch while knowing I shouldn't be - that what this family was experiencing was so raw, so powerful, so devastating that it should be kept private and personal.  However, that's the power of this novel.  In the end, it teaches us that mental illness is just that, an illness, not a deep, ugly secret from which to be shielded.  This is a book I will not soon forget.

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