January First is the memoir of Michael Schofield, a father struggling to raise a daughter diagnosed with child-onset schizophrenia. January is only five when the most worrying of her symptoms start to appear. She is violent towards her family, hallucinates a huge cast of imaginary friends and flies into uncontrollable rages over things as simple as hearing her own name or receiving a compliment. It's very rare for schizophrenia to be diagnosed in a child so young, so when Schofield turns to medical professionals for help the answers don't come easily. He has to battle an array of less-than-hepful doctors and fight with his insurance company to get January the treatment she needs. This book is a brutally honest window into the life of a family trying to deal with a horrific mental illness and work within an inefficient and uncaring medical system.
I won an ARC of January First through Good Reads, and I am so glad that I did. The fascinating subject matter made this a quick read for me. I finished in just a day. As other reviewers have pointed out, the writing style isn't as polished as a seasoned author's would be. However, I feel that this strengthens the story because it makes it feel more authentic. In fact, I would say that the honesty portrayed through Scofield's simple language is one of the memoir's biggest assets. He doesn't portray himself as a perfect parent. He documents all of the stress, the fighting he and his wife go through and his frustrations with January's behavior in detail. Most people will never have to deal with a mental illness as extreme as schizophrenia, so to get an inside look at a family struggling with it is both interesting and disturbing. I certainly learned a lot of things I didn't know about schizophrenia, as well as a lot of things about how people affected by mental illness struggle to get help.
I was most deeply affected by the passages where Schofield would talk about how schizophrenia will limit January. It's an incurable disease and his daughter has a very severe case of it. He laments the fact that she won't ever be able to live independently. Someone will always need to be taking care of her for the rest of her life. He also touches on how since people with schizophrenia have shorter lifespans, it's a very real possibility that she will die before him. It's just gut wrenching to read these thoughts because they're undeniably true. No parent should have to think like this about their child.
In the forward of the book, Schofield says that, "Schizophrenia is a little like cancer. You can't trust that it will ever go away completely." Even though the novel ends on a hopeful note, the reader can still feel the shadow of January's illness looming on the horizon, ready to swoop back in and turn everything the family has built on its head again. This was a great read and I definitely recommend it. It has made me feel more empathy for and be more aware of people dealing with children who are sick. It's worth the time it takes to read it to gain a wider perspective on the world of mental illness.