Author: Michael Schofield
Where I got it: From NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review
Michael Schofield’s daughter January is at the mercy of her imaginary friends, except they aren’t the imaginary friends that most young children have; they are hallucinations. And January is caught in the conflict between our world and their world, a place she calls Calalini. Some of these hallucinations, like “24 Hours,” are friendly and some, like “400 the Cat” and “Wednesday the Rat,” bite and scratch her until she does what they want. They often tell her to scream at strangers, jump out of buildings, and attack her baby brother.
At six years old, January Schofield, “Janni,” to her family, was diagnosed with schizophrenia, one of the worst mental illnesses known to man. What’s more, schizophrenia is 20 to 30 times more severe in children than in adults and in January’s case, doctors say, she is hallucinating 95 percent of the time that she is awake. Potent psychiatric drugs that would level most adults barely faze her.
January First captures Michael and his family's remarkable story in a narrative that forges new territory within books about mental illness. In the beginning, readers see Janni’s incredible early potential: her brilliance, and savant-like ability to learn extremely abstract concepts. Next, they witnesses early warning signs that something is not right, Michael’s attempts to rationalize what’s happening, and his descent alongside his daughter into the abyss of schizophrenia. Their battle has included a two-year search for answers, countless medications and hospitalizations, allegations of abuse, despair that almost broke their family apart and, finally, victories against the illness and a new faith that they can create a life for Janni filled with moments of happiness.
A compelling, unsparing and passionate account, January First vividly details Schofield’s commitment to bring his daughter back from the edge of insanity. It is a father’s soul-baring memoir of the daily struggles and challenges he and his wife face as they do everything they can to help Janni while trying to keep their family together.
January First is a memoir that describes a family’s terrifying and wrenching challenges in dealing with their oldest child’s early onset schizophrenia. The story is heartbreaking, but told with honesty and candor, and I absolutely loved it.
I typically shy away from non-fiction, because I get enough of reality in school, but I couldn’t resist January First, and I am so glad I read it. January is a brilliant and energetic child, who begins to retreat more and more into her imaginary world as she grows up, and also begins to experience extremely violent episodes. The family goes through medical hell to get her treatment and a diagnosis, and has to make so many difficult decisions that it’s impossible to truly imagine the struggle.
To me, this book reads like fiction – it’s completely enthralling, and I read it cover to cover in one sitting because I just had to know how things were going to turn out for the family. While I can’t imagine the struggle they experienced in reality, it’s very well portrayed in the book, and I completely feel for this family and any others who have to deal with the effects of mental illness on their lives.