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Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets

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“I hate myself but I love Walt Whitman, the kook. Always positive. I need to be more positive, so I wake myself up every morning with a song of myself.”

Sixteen-year-old James Whitman has been yawping (à la Whitman) at his abusive father ever since he kicked his beloved older sister, Jorie, out of the house. James’s painful struggle with anxiety and depression—along with his ongoing quest to understand what led to his self-destructive sister’s exile—make for a heart-rending read, but his wild, exuberant Whitmanization of the world and keen sense of humor keep this emotionally charged debut novel buoyant.

310 pages, Hardcover

First published March 5, 2013

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About the author

Evan Roskos

2 books134 followers
Evan Roskos was born and raised in New Jersey, a state often maligned for its air and politics but rightly praised for its produce. One of Narrative’s Best New Writers, Evan’s fiction has appeared in Granta’s New Voices online feature, as well as in Story Quarterly, The Hummingbird Review, and BestFiction. He earned an MFA from Rutgers University - Newark and teaches literature and writing courses for Rowan University and Rutgers - Camden. His debut novel is Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 555 reviews
Profile Image for Ken.
Author 3 books901 followers
January 26, 2013
Evan Roskos' debut novel tells the anything-but-sweet story of a 16-year-old suffering from depression and with good reason. His older sister has been kicked out of the house. The twin terrors that are his parents (nicknamed "The Brute" and "The Banshee") are physically and mentally painful to be around. And high school? Well, the brick factories we call "schools" are never ideal environments for sensitive souls like James Whitman, a distraught kid whose only joy is memorizing his namesake's poetry (lots of Walt-sized "Yawps!" in this book).

Do we need another book about a teen with mental health issues? Probably teen readers do. There's lots to identify with here and plenty of unique angles, too. I'll skim over all the easily identifiable stuff (boy deals with complications attached to girls, parties, alcohol, drugs, good people, bad people, doubts, depression, parents, teachers, etc.) and get to the unique. For one, James has an imaginary pigeon he talks to. That'd be the "Dr. Bird" of the title, who tilts its head and gives James the black beady eye quite a bit. Oh. And talks, too.

Also, James gives a new wrinkle to the term "tree-hugger." Heck with the environment. He does it for his sanity, and maybe for the pain inflicted on his arms by that beautiful, rough bark, which proves a distraction from life's angst more than once. Another plot driver: His older sister, Jorie, thrown (literally) out of the house by The Brute, has a secret. James? He has a secret guilt. And so on.

It's been awhile since I shared a life quite as claustrophobic as this. The boy's trapped sense of sadness is almost palpable in a NO EXIT kind of way. Some incidents in the plot may bend the suspension bridge of disbelief a tad, but overall Roskos is true to the plight of young people troubled by the black dog of depression. James eventually reaches out to a real therapist that he has to pay himself (more complicated than you might expect, given his age and his parents' disapproval of therapists).

What I liked best? Well, two things. There's a thread of humor throughout -- some of it dark, some of it goofy, and some of it as sad as our weary protagonist -- but it's there and it's as much a lifeline for readers as it is for James. And second? Roskos is candid enough to avoid easy answers or neatly-wrapped, Hollywood endings. For sad poets -- the lucky ones, anyway -- life goes on and miracle cures are not to be found in a pill, a bottle, or a Yoda-like wise man, even though it's pretty to think so.

Honesty like that in a book like this goes a long way in earning a reader's trust. Especially a sad reader's -- a young one who might pick this up so he or she does not feel quite so alone in the world.
Profile Image for Cal Armistead.
Author 1 book74 followers
August 25, 2013
This was one of those books you finish reading, close the cover, and gaze at fondly, as if at a good friend. (Cheesy, but I can't help. it.) James Whitman is a character that we all would love to be friends with, because he's real, he's sensitive, he's smart, and even though he is dealing with a whole lot in his life, he has a wicked sense of humor and makes us laugh. I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys contemporary realistic fiction. The Walt Whitman references are excellent as well, and I found myself reading the last chapter over a couple times, just because it was so beautifully written. In short...read it!
Profile Image for Monica.
111 reviews4 followers
March 22, 2013
I'm a big fan of YA fiction, mainly because I believe that the anxiety, self-consciousness, and self-loathing that begin in adolescence never really go away and, for some of us, may actually increase over time. For these reasons, this book is right in my wheelhouse. What's new to me, though, is YA from a teenage male's point of view. Most of the YA books I read are by women, about girls, and any YA book that I've read with a male character has tended to fall more in the fantasy or sci-fi genres in which boys can only "find" themselves through some quest or adventure (interestingly, Roskos's narrator does try to create a fact-finding adventure for himself, though the result is...well, I'll let you read it yourself). This is important because we're in an interesting gender era right now where a lot has changed for women in terms of what society has now deemed "acceptable": girls can wear boys' clothing, play sports, take on leadership positions, and assert themselves. Conversely, while some things have changed in terms of conventional views of masculinity, much has remained the same, leaving boys in a strange limbo between change and stagnant conventional expectations, resulting - I can only imagine - in anxiety and what I'd call a general "checked-out-ed-ness." In fact, many people have pointed to the "male slacker" movies (i.e. anything with Seth Rogen) as the model of the new American man: essentially, a dude that fails to live up to conventional ideals of masculinity and has, therefore, checked out altogether. I digress...

Roskos's novel is not a treatise on adolescent masculinity issues, but, nevertheless it represents a necessary voice right now: the teenage boy. And not just any teenage boy. But a teenage boy that likes poetry. A teenage boy that likes art and photography and trees. A teenage boy that likes girls. A teenage boy that does not like himself or his family. A teenage boy with anxiety and depression. A complex teenage boy who's not just looking to lose his virginity or "man up!" through a fight or quest. James Whitman's quest is everyone's quest: to be understood by others and understand (and hopefully, ultimately, celebrate) the self.

Which brings me to Walt Whitman. Roskos makes a risky move here by incorporating Walt Whitman so heavily in a book for teens. First, Roskos will be lucky if teens are even reading Whitman these days. Second, he'd be even luckier if teens actually liked Whitman. Speaking as a Whitman lover, I did not love him when I was a teenager, mainly because I thought that all poetry had to rhyme and be about love and/or death (only). He pissed me off with all his long sentences and semi-colons and lists (reading Whitman felt like reading the chores sheet my mom would leave for me after school). I don't think I really "got" Whitman until I got to college. The funny thing is that when I think about Whitman now (and even more so after having read Dr. Bird,) there doesn't seem to be an American poet I can think of who could speak to the soul of an American teenager BETTER than Whitman. Whitman likes to loaf; teenagers like to loaf. Whitman loves himself; teenagers love themselves. Whitman is the eternal watcher; teenagers love to watch and be watched (even if they say they don't). Whitman loves sexy-time; teenagers love sexy-time. It's a match made in heaven. The problem is that no one TAUGHT Whitman that way to me in high school. Instead, it was just "Whitman is America's poet." Boo, hiss. I hated America (and everything) in high school, so what did I care for a guy who loved it so damn much? My teachers - and many teachers alike, I'm sure - fail to see how relevant this guy could be for an American teenager. It's all in how you sell him. Or, better yet, let him sell himself; teens will get it.

Roskos uses Whitman effectively in this book, as opposed to simply name-dropping for intellectual masturbation purposes (see: Fox's use of E.A. Poe in The Following). The main character - James Whitman - references Whitman not only because he loves him but also because he is frustrated by him. Whitman's philosophies and catchy "life coach" phrases are certainly important, but, as James understands, it's not always easy to love yourself, relax, contemplate nature and beauty, and Yawp! So, Whitman is useful but infuriating because he seems to want us to be our truest selves by accepting ourselves when, in reality, that's a lot harder to do than it looks on paper (or, in a book of poems).

I would have liked to have seen some of the more peripheral characters, like the Brute, the Banshee, and Beth, get a bit more development, but, being that the book is from James's first person perspective (a teenager's perspective, nonetheless), it is entirely reasonable that some back story and/or objectivity might be neglected. Overall, this is a great YA novel replete with complex issues, bright bursts of humor and witty banter, and beautifully written - and utterly human (at any age) - main characters (James, Derek, and Jorie) worth rooting (or yawping!) for.
Profile Image for Nafiza.
Author 7 books1,199 followers
March 21, 2013
A few weeks ago, we were discussing constructions of masculine identity in children’s literature. We had read an article by the fantastic Perry Nodelman about the stereotypes applied to men and boys where their masculinity is concerned. These stereotypes were collected under headings such as “phallic masculinity” and “group masculinity.” To cut a long winded ramble short, it was an interesting read and if you want the name of the article, ask me.

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets constructs masculine identity in a very different way than Nodelman discussed. This is not to imply that traditional definitions and normative behavior (and expectations of said behavior) weren’t present in the novel – they were – but the novel showed an alternative masculine identity in James Whitman. He is broken – almost gloriously so and Roskos pulls no punches in showing us how exactly he’s broken. The novel is a painful journey about a boy who is hurting and keeps on hurting and every time he asks for help from the adults in his life, he is spurned.

It took a while for me to actually get into the story. At first it seems a little choppy and awkward but then the rhythm of the sentences settles in, a certain cadence present in the prose becomes more explicit and the whole Whitman and poetry affair becomes more apparent. I was horrified by James’s parents and touched by the relationships between James and his sister and James and his best friend. This novel, despite James talking to an imaginary pigeon who acts as his shrink, is far more realistic than others in the same genre and perhaps the more poignant for it. I also liked how this book gave a positive perspective on emotional illnesses, depression and other similar problems and show therapy as something positive. More kids need to know that it’s okay to reach out and talk to people than the usual YA novel would have you believe.

I don’t know if this book will appeal to everyone. I do know that while the pace is slow and sometimes languid, the payoff is worth it.
Profile Image for Amanda Pearl.
528 reviews261 followers
March 7, 2013
Do you ever just randomly pick up a book without knowing much about it and it's just the perfect thing for your life? Well that's what happened for me. I wandered into the bookstore with the goal of just getting a coffee but then Dr Bird's caught my eye. I had no idea what it was about, but I saw the blurbs from Matthew Quick and Jesse Andrews and thought "I need to read this".

Turns out Dr. Bird's is about a boy with depression and anxiety. The synchronicity is rather freaky because I've suspected that I have depression for years but I've never really taken action to get some help, I've always tried to deal with it on my own. Dr. Bird's helped me realize that I cannot do it alone and I've started taking steps to find a therapist. I really appreciate this novel and the perfect timing in which it came into my life.
Profile Image for Kelly.
Author 6 books1,205 followers
February 22, 2013
James's sister Jorie got kicked out of the house after she was expelled from school. Now he doesn't know where she is or how to get in touch with her, and he needs to talk with her because he needs to connect with someone who completely understands what's going on.

When the girl James is crushing on asks him to help her locate Jorie's poetry for submission to the school literary journal, he's torn. He doesn't want to go through her things, but he does want to have Beth's attention. Plus, it could help him figure out where Jorie is.

It's sheer luck he runs into Jorie, and some may call it luck what it is he finds hidden in her room, too, even if it's anything but happy.

Roskos's debut novel is part Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, part Sorta Like a Rock Star, and part Stupid Fast. It's a character-driven, voice-heavy novel about a boy suffering from anxiety and depression but who is ultimately funny and very likable.

But what makes James so amazing, aside from the humor, is his passion and true belief in Walt Whitman and his writing. Whitman believed in the good of all people, despite what their behaviors on the outside might suggest. It's through his love for Whitman and his deep devotion to Whitman's philosophy of the beauty in the common person that he's able to not only love himself but see how valuable those around him are, even if they are completely imperfect. Even if they are It's this spirit of optimism throughout the novel that makes James likable, and it also is what makes him so vulnerable. It's what draws the reader in and forces them to really feel for him, through his ups and his downs.

This is one of my favorite reads this year. It's an incredible debut with great appeal, an honest male voice, and pacing that is not only spot-on, but forces you to read through in a single sitting. Bonus points awarded for Whitman, as well as for offering only a tiny taste of romance, rather than a lengthy relationship. This was a story about James's relationship to himself first and foremost.

Longer review to come!
Profile Image for Muffinsandbooks.
1,004 reviews680 followers
January 24, 2022
Un roman très original, avec un style poétique drôle, touchant et attachant malgré les sujets très durs abordés. J’ai été surprise par la profondeur du récit, mais j’ai beaucoup aimé la manière dont l’histoire et les personnages évoluaient.

TW : dépression, mention de suicide, relations toxiques, auto-mutilation
Profile Image for Ed.
227 reviews12 followers
June 9, 2013
Roskos, E. (2013). Dr. Bird's advice for sad poets. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 310 pp. ISBN: 978-0-547-92853-1. (Hardcover); $16.99.

Fans of Vizzini's Kind of a Funny Story will appreciate this Yawping fine look at mental health. Unlike Vizzini's book, however, readers see a young man, James Whitman, scrambling to figure out ways to pay for the therapy his dysfunctional father (and others) think is a waste of money. James battles depression by reading Walt Whitman poetry. The text has echoes of Song of My Self and Roskos uses them to humorous effect: "I chitter at squirrels, who celebrate themselves." (p. 3). In addition to depression, James often suffers from that chronic teen impulsiveness--in an attempt to rescue a wounded bird in the street, James gets brushed by a school bus. Much of James' anxiety stems from the fact that his sister, Jorie, has been kicked out of the house. Jorie writes poetry. Before she was expelled from school and kicked out of her house, she wrote poems for the school literary magazine, the Amalgam, often under assumed names like Willy Hamlet. With Jorie gone and only Derek, his childhood companion for company, James invents an imaginary friend of sorts. Well, his imaginary person is not really a friend, but a psychiatrist, Dr. Bird. And this psychiatrist is not really a person, but a large head-bobbing pigeon. James' task is to figure out a way to bring his sister home and back to school, get Beth King to like him, maybe make a few more friends, cure his family's woes, and sort out the reasons for his anxiety and depression. Along the way James will hug a tree or two. The strength of this debut novel is in its unusual and refreshing positive look at therapy and therapists (Dr. Bird notwithstanding). Poetry lovers will appreciate the clever play with Whitman, which manages to be both humorous and respectful--snaps to Roskos! School social workers should welcome a title that explores anxiety and depression with humor that never drifts too far away from the very real underlying pain. A fine debut. Purchase this one for High School libraries. Did I mention how much I love the title?!
Profile Image for Rachele Alpine.
Author 14 books173 followers
January 5, 2014
As a HS English teacher and lover of Walt Whitman, I can’t express how much I loved this book. It tackles some tough subjects but never ever does it in a way that feels preachy or clinical. Roskos’ writing is honest and authentic; it makes the reader want to follow James on his journey and root for him.

I’m always looking for a good book that addresses depression in a realistic way and is relatable to students. This book does both of those things. The main character, James, deals with thoughts and issues that many of my students do, and I could see bits of them in him. He isn’t perfect and the reader follows him as he stumbles, falls, triumphs and tries to figure out his place in the world and who he is. He doesn’t have all the answers and his journey is one that is realistic and true. I can definitely see my students identifying with him and finding a safe place to see pieces of themselves within this story.

I have to say that my favorite part of this book with James’ love toward his sister. He cares for her ferociously, despite her faults, and it made me love his character even more.

This book will appeal greatly to my boy readers (which is often a hard feat to do!). Roskos tells this story with humor and I found myself laughing out loud often throughout the book. It’s not easily to write about difficult subjects with humor, but Roskos nails it.

This is one of those books that is important to teens and can speak to them, and I plan to get it into the hands of as many of my students as I can.
Profile Image for Erin Bowman.
Author 15 books1,908 followers
April 2, 2013
DR. BIRD’S ADVICE FOR SAD POETS was a wonderful, refreshing surprise. James Whitman is battling depression. His abusive father has just kicked James’s older sister, Jorie, out of the house when she’s expelled from school, and when he refuses to pay for James to see a therapist, James finds his own manners of coping. Mainly, talking to a pigeon outside his window (Dr. Bird), quoting Walt Whitman, and hugging trees. As James tries to make sense of Jorie’s fate, he realizes he may share many of his sister’s self-destructive tendencies.

James’s voice is authentic and humorous. He reminds me a bit of Charlie (The Perks of Being a Wallflower). In his confusion and anxiety, he sometimes comes across sounding young and lost. Other moments he’s incredibly insightful, striking a chord with the reader. This book perfectly captures the messiness that is the teenage years, with a tale of anxiety and depression that is not preachy or melodramatic, and yet still moving and heartfelt and honest. And funny. For all the darkness in this story, I still managed to laugh throughout. This novel is a timeless read that I imagine will help many kids struggling with similar issues no longer feel quiet so alone.

Originally posted here.
Profile Image for christine.
108 reviews18 followers
December 14, 2014
Actual rating: 4.35 stars
For a year, I've been seeing an imaginary therapist. Her name is Dr. Bird. She is a large pigeon, human-size. She wears no clothes. Because she's a bird.

This is the type of person James Whitman is. He hugs trees and talks to Dr. Bird when he's feeling depressed. He is the type of person who memorizes Walt Whitman, likes to yawp, and risks his life to save injured animals from buses, even though sometimes those animals turn out to be Tastykake wrappers, and he turns out with a broken arm. He crushes on Beth, the president of the lit magazine that no one reads, and tries to write Whitman poetry like Whitman writes.

That is his quirkier side. He has a darker one, as does everyone.

I go up to the tree that has preexisted me and might outlive me. I press my arms around the trunk and feel the bites against my inner arms... and I think about anxiety and medication and worry about losing myself or sinking further into this kind of stupid behavior. I can't keep going on like this.

He tries to distract himself from life, but sometimes life forces him to not be distracted. James wants to know why his sister was expelled, and he finds it difficult to live without her. He's plagued by guilt because all throughout his childhood, their parents (the Banshee and the Brute, as he nicknames them) beat her for things he had done, and he never thought would be discovered for. Every single time, his sister Jorie had taken the blame, until she had gotten expelled and then brutally kicked out of the house.

Now, James is alone. He wants to know why because he thinks there must be a reason, as others have done what Jorie did and have only gotten suspended for a week.

This is the novel: a tale of James Whitman's song of self. It includes Beth (his crush), Derek (his kinda friend), Jorie (his sister), the Banshee and the Brute, and of course, Dr. Bird.

My thoughts:
Evan Roskos' debut novel was absolutely hilarious and deep at the same time. His style of writing is one of ease, so it was exceedingly easy to fall deep into the story and not surface until it is finished. This novel was poignant and captivating, and James was the most eccentric (yet not completely crazy) main character that I've seen in a long time. This book tackles really serious issues in the best way possible, with a fucking barbaric yawwwwwwwwwwwwwpppppppp!

Sorry, I had to include that.

If you're still not convinced to at least give Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets a try, here's some small excerpts from around the novel:

Page one:
I yawp most mornings to irritate my father, the Brute.
"Yawp! Yawp!" It moves him out of the bathroom faster.
He responds with the gruff "All right." He dislikes things that seem fun

Page 26:
I do not tell Dr. Bird I want to kill myself sometimes, but she knows. She's up in my head. She perches on the power lines of my thoughts

Page 148:
I tell Derek that I had a great moment with Beth.
"A moment?"
"Yeah. More than a moment, but tere was a moment that was very important, I think."
"Did she touch you where you pee?" he asks.
"I'm not sure how that even happens."
"She said I didn't ruin her life." I feel like I'm bouncing up and down but I'm actually standing still. My heart's racing.
"Well, that's a good way to start a relationship: 'Hey, I didn't ruin your life. Let's date!'"

Please. This book was amazing.
Profile Image for Melody.
373 reviews37 followers
July 3, 2016
I knew that I would enjoy Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets so I don't really have an excuse as to why it's taken me so long to finally sit down and read this book. But I am so, so glad that I finally did take the plunge.

I loved following James, a teen who is trying to put the pieces together and cope with his sister being both expelled from school and kicked out of the house. On top of that, he's got his own issues and seeing this all play out with the help of Walt Whitman and James's imaginary therapist, Dr. Bird was such a treat. This book was such a hoot!

Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets is unapologetic in every way. From its raw and authentic teen dialogue to its exploration of mental illness in families and the support that some people simply do not get no matter what they do to cry out for it, this book is legit one of the most truthful and heartbreaking and heartwarming representations of this subject matter, period. It's unapologetic in its messiness, James, a character who is just as naive (as teenagers are) and lost as he is insightful. It's true.

What's so wonderful about the way that this story is told is that one moment, you'll be smiling and laughing and the next, you're as broken as a bird who's injured its wings. Evan Roskos has managed to put down on paper so clearly how I feel, how I'm sure so, so many people, children, teens, and adults alike feel as they live each day with depression and anxiety.

This isn't the end all be all, nothing that is a representation of depression and/or anxiety ever can be. But it's certainly more of a mirror for me than most books I've read dealing with this. It's so, completely vulnerable. Cut the tree hugging and swap out Walt Whitman for someone else and you may as well swap James with middle school and teenage me.

Through James, we see such a rich exploration of depression and anxiety, guilt and suicidal thoughts, self harm and coping and stepping up to take care of yourself. Such a realistic and possibly deeply personal, for the reader) look at abuse in the home. Through James, his family, and friends, we see the things that we miss because of miscommunication. We see how destructive miscommunication can be. We see how damaging the truth can be when unwilling to address it. When wanting to address it and needing help but there's no one willing to.

Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets is an outstanding debut novel. It's got such a strong and delightful voice, such lovely, heartfelt writing, perfect pacing (p.s., you might want to prepare yourself to read this in one sitting), and a cast of characters you'll love and be infuriated by and possibly relate to and hopefully gain from.

This would have been the book for me when I was younger but really, it's still the book for me. For me, this book is perfect. I can count on one hand the books that I will always recommend until the day that I die and now, this is one of them.
Profile Image for Kathryn Kopple.
32 reviews6 followers
May 3, 2013
I was very happy to be given the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Evan Roskos' Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets (due out in 2013). James Whitman (the protagonist) is truly a character anyone can believe in, understand, laugh along with-because the humor is great (Roskos knows how to use humor to create sympathetic characters without making a caricature of their struggles; instead their jokes, banter, spats, and retorts make them seem all the more human.) James may be in high school but he has had had to grow up fast, which means that he is not only hyper self-aware but compassionate. He knows his family life is broken and puzzling--and Roskos is a mature enough writer to end the book without too many ribbons and bows (and that is a good thing because nothing about the story feels forced). As far as the writing, there is much to admire and praise. A wonderfully written and compelling novel.
Profile Image for Liviania.
957 reviews63 followers
July 9, 2013
Evan Roskos's debut novel is a strange, brilliant creation. Walt Whitman-obsessed James Whitman has depression. He needs therapy, and not just from the imaginary bird therapist in his head. But his distant, angry parents are unlikely to help him seek medical attention and his older sister was recently kicked out.

DR. BIRD'S ADVICE FOR SAD POETS could be a very dreary, painful book. But it's quite funny and hopeful. James is a fairly normal teenage boy, albeit a little weird about the environment. I worried for him while reading the novel, but his story was most definitely not a tragedy slog. (The only uncomfortableness came from some bits that reminded me of a friend's attempted suicide.) It's a wonderful novel that deals with far more than teenage depression. Plus, it makes poetry fun.
Profile Image for Marcia.
1,037 reviews104 followers
July 15, 2013
I thought Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets was an OK read, but nothing too special. This story about sixteen-year-old James Whitman, who has anxieties, a depression and an abusive father, is very slow paced. I felt like nothing really happened.. The characters are also a bit flat, maybe because the main character is very self absorbed.

In Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets are a lot of references, for example to Twilight and Lady Gaga. Normally I like those references in a book, but this time I felt like the writer was just trying to be cool.

This book felt very similar to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a book I didn't enjoy that much either by the way. I didn't find the story idea original at all.

I thought the ending was very weird, suddenly everything is allright again? I guess this just wasn't my type of book.
Profile Image for EBONI.
64 reviews1 follower
January 6, 2021
I don't have spoilers, but if you consider character analysis as spoilers then skip my review.

It's quite established that I'm in love with young adult novels about mental health. Because simply said, I relate, I feel, I know, I understand.
I've read more than 10 books in this genre so safe to say this one made me feel different than the rest. It captured my experience more than any other. A good amount points are similar between me and James.

1) he notices details, things even people don't notice about themselves or each other.
2) he absorbs feelings of those around him which sends him into an overthinking spiral
3) he feels guilty, about everything from jorie to Derek to his parents to even Beth.
4) he doesn't have a solid reason for his depression, nothing he can pin point and say this is what caused it, which is different than the other books and it made me more attached, and he often goes into overthinking this bit and invalidated his problems, he knows there's something wrong with him, he knows what it is and he just can't find a convincing enough reason. This often leads to viewing everything as a potential reason, yet majority of things sound stupid, so we go down the spiral of guild for feeling bad too.
5) he can't afford therapy, so he tried to therapize himself by inventing a Dr. Bird. Same thing here, therapy is expensive as shit so I try to convince myself that once I study clinical psychology I'll be able to treat myself. Recently, that bubble has been blown. He goes to work to save up, I had a similar idea of saving up some of my allowance back when I lived at the dorm.
6) tying both 4 and 5 together, he can't convince his parents, they don't take him seriously, and he doesn't have any solid foundation to convince them enough, which leaves him to stand with himself and his thoughts alone, dealing with it himself. Same.
7) his suicidal thoughts are serious and not at the same time, he feels suicidal but he's not up to actually going through it.
8) his anxiety mazes are sooo familiar to me, like the catastrophic thinking, the nonsense, the small annoying details, the keep going round and round in a way that causes him sometimes to blurt things out. He holds in so much, that when he spits stuff out he's mumbling and blurting and it comes out too honest and alarming to the person he's talking to.
9) he humors his pain away. Trying to make it sound less serious when in reality it is. He laughs it off, to seem indifferent and strong. Honestly, same. I use dark humor to just laugh it off to not come off as intense, I don't want you to feel sorry for me yet at the same time I want you to notice, this alone sends me into a self-hate spiral.
10) he's into poetry, he thinks in poetry, he metaphorizes the world in poetry. I do that too, you'll find that my poetry feels touchable, reachable, like it exists before your eyes, like you can see it from your everyday life, and it is from everyday life.
So, I loved this book, this goes into the list of books that feel like home to me.
Profile Image for Perly Inez.
146 reviews
June 20, 2020
''I look around the cafeteria. I wonder how many people in the room would say that I should just think happy thoughts or get organized or decide on a college and career. I wonder how many of them cut themselves. I see girls laughing with guys. I see guys moody and alone. I see girls checking their faces in small mirrors. I see girls not eating. I see guys waving around iced teas as they tell dynamic jokes. I see teachers mope through the room. I see the cashier and the food service ladies smile for some kids, frown at others. I see smirks, behind-the-back points and laughts. I see all these things and I wonder what these people see in me?''

''I look at the red marks on my inner arms and decide this does not count as defiling. I even absolve Jorie because she did not intend to ruin her body; she sought peace through pain. I do not condone the method, but the method didn't destroy her. It only helped her from being destroyed.''

''I guess sometimes life can be easy if you let it.''
Profile Image for Melissa Frye.
Author 3 books44 followers
March 18, 2013
Don’t you just love it when you open a book and it draws you in so completely that you’re loathe to close it for any reason? Evan Roskos has written such a book. The characters and pacing grab the reader and don’t let go.
Synopsis taken from Goodreads:

“I hate myself but I love Walt Whitman, the kook. Always positive. I need to be more positive, so I wake myself up every morning with a song of myself.”

Sixteen-year-old James Whitman has been yawping (à la Whitman) at his abusive father ever since he kicked his beloved older sister, Jorie, out of the house. James’s painful struggle with anxiety and depression—along with his ongoing quest to understand what led to his self-destructive sister’s exile—make for a heart-rending read, but his wild, exuberant Whitmanization of the world and keen sense of humor keep this emotionally charged debut novel buoyant.

Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets is filled with conflict, crisis and ultimate resolution. However, you shouldn’t expect a pretty little bow at the end. Life often hands us things we don’t understand and we must learn to deal with that reality.

James Whitman is a character that I easily identified with. I suffered from depression and anxiety as a teenager and didn’t know what was happening most of the time. James is much more self-aware than I was.

He’s quirky in an endearing way. His coping mechanisms are creative and at times funny. He’s a tree hugger. Literally. Hugging trees makes him feel better. I love that about him.

The secondary characters are well-rounded adding to the realistic feel of the story. We see all of them change to a degree. James though, he matures and learns along the way. It’s beautiful to witness.

The plot is well planned; drops of information reveal a world of pain. Each revelation pulls James further from his cocoon and instead of shutting down he learns to face the world. I admire this character.

Whitman poetry and an imaginary bird for a therapist are just spices added to a beautifully sad and encouraging novel. I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Allie.
9 reviews19 followers
December 8, 2020
This book was so incredibly refreshing and unlike any YA book I've read in awhile.

James Whitman shares a last name with his poetic inspiration Walt Whitman and enjoys Songs of Myself, hugging trees for their therapeutic value, and yawping. James Whitman yawps all day long if only to save his sanity. He sees things that most people are blind to, and has an imaginary therapist manifested as a pigeon.

James Whitman suffers from crippling panic attacks and depression, which is understandable in the house he lives in. His parents are distant and sometimes cruel, and his sister is banned from the household for a mysterious offense she committed. When James realizes he must take his mental health into his own hands, he finds a job at a pizza parlor to pay for (real) therapy and begins casually interrogating everyone at his high school to find out what happened to his sister. Along the way he develops a crush on a classmate named Beth - an aspiring journalist, and saves his best friend, Derek, from a dangerous affair with an older, slightly pedophilic lady.

I loved the sincerity of this story. I appreciated the way the author handled the issues of depression and self harm. These days, television, internet memes, and tumblr all tend to glamorize anxiety and depression. But this book paints a character that is cheerful and endearing, but truly struggling to endure each day. James suffers long nights of pacing his room and sweating out his parent's arguments, and days where he flees social situations to recuperate with his arms around a tree. He suffers guilt for letting his sister take his punches loneliness at her absence.

But despite the heaviness that James carries, his voice is unique and lovable. I loved reading about the way he dealt with girls, parties, alcohol, pizzas, and his imaginary therapist, Dr. Bird. And, of course, the yawps.

Oh and and no disrespect to Mr. Walt Whitman, but I like James's Whitmatizations a whole lot.
"I chitter at squirrels who celebrate themselves."
Profile Image for Ally.
203 reviews32 followers
January 31, 2013
James Whitman (no relation to poet Walt Whitman, whom he adores) has been struggling ever since his abusive father kicked his older sister Jorie out of the house. His struggle with depression and anxiety is made even worse by his parents' refusal to pay for therapy. He tries to go forward (and let out Walt Whitman-like YAWPs while doing so) by getting a job, working on a literary mag, and making an effort to see his sister, but he gets caught up and bogged down in the details of his sister's expulsion from school and home.

Wow, this one felt real. From the discussions with Dr. Bird to James's interactions with his parents (nicknamed the Brute and the Banshee) to his coping mechanisms and his descriptions of panic, it all felt real. This kid is in a terrible situation at home and in his own head, and he's baffled as to why someone he views as an ally is suddenly gone. There's a lot happening here--his home life, the mystery of Jorie, his best friend Derek's weird relationship with a girl, a job at the local pizzeria, the literary magazine, tree-hugging (literal), an awkward relationship with a new friend, therapy--but it doesn't seem cluttered. It seems like a kid that suffers from major panic trying to deal with all the things that are going on in his life. Roskos has a good handle on James's voice and it really works. Well done. YAWP!
Profile Image for Kit Grindstaff.
Author 1 book69 followers
August 26, 2013
James Whitman is a troubled teen whose way of dealing with a dreadful home life isn't to head down some slippery slope of self-destruction, but to hug trees, find solace in the poetry of Walt (namesake) Whitman - and to get advice from his Inner Therapist, who happens to be...a bird.

Dr. Bird, an invention born of James's angst, is a big part of what makes him such a lovable character. His first-person narrative is full of brilliant flashes of humor, which on the surface of it, soften the pain of his situation. I say "on the surface" because for me, the effect was actually to bring the coldness of James's home life into sharper relief, his intelligence and wit making him a more credible witness to it. He's not infallible (is any good protagonist?), but he is sincere and believable. Kudos to author Evan Roskos for striking that balance.

A few human relationships help James on his journey - one being with big sis Jorie, who's left home and school for reasons that don't become entirely clear till the final chapters. But James's biggest ally is his own determination to heal. He's a wonderful example for kids to find their own brand of quirky genius to help them through similar struggles.
Profile Image for Wren (fablesandwren).
669 reviews1,499 followers
September 17, 2020

I liked the premise of this book well enough: a boy who deals with anxiety and depression who is going through high school and family issues. But was it an enjoyable read?

It was enjoyable enough that I pushed through it with little ease. The writing style is what got me. I didn't like the writing. It felt way too young for me. I know "well it's young adult" but I felt like it was "younger adult" which is fine, I guess.

Really I skimmed over a few pages because I kind of got the idea of somethings.

I did relate to how he took certain situations out of their borders tho. Anxiety does that. Or how one thing can really make you go into a dark place even though you tried your hardest not to.

James is relatable. He has family issues, his sister got kicked out of the house and his parents are abusive (yes, both the banshee and the brute). He tries to figure out what exactly happened with Jodie (his sister) and why she was kicked out of their house and school. It's like a puzzle.

He also has a girl he likes. So that's the other thing.

I liked the idea of and the story of this book. I just think the writing could use some work.
Profile Image for BookChampions.
1,183 reviews107 followers
June 1, 2015
Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets has several things going for it. It's main character, James Whitman, seems tailor-made for me. He's a sensitive, awkward, neurotic teenager with some inner demons, and a love for the poetry of Walt Whitman. The book is littered with shameless Whitman quotes (yes!) and dotted with James' own barbaric yawp, complete with exclamation marks!

I believe it will be a hard sell for the majority of my students, though. While the characterization is solid, the plot sort of meanders, and there never really is a satisfying climax to the story. There are too many threads that Roskos seems to only pick up at random times; while none of them seemed ignored completely, it didn't seem seamless as it could be. The writing reminded me of that of Laurie Halse Anderson, but just not as crisp.

For once-teenage boys and girls like me, there will be solace in this story, but I'm curious how it will speak to teens today without the flash of a well-paced plot. Despite the flaws, I will remember James Whitman, and I still found the book a solid read; at least for the sad teenage boy still writing poetry in my head.
Profile Image for Nicki.
106 reviews
December 26, 2013
This is a story about 16 year old James Whitman who is severely depressed and anxious. His sister was recently expelled from school and kicked out of the house and his parents seem abusive. (I say seem abusive because it's hard to tell if they actually are or, if James has just escalated the situation in his brain.) James spends the entirety of the book trying to fix himself and find answers to why his sister was expelled and a way to get her back into school.

The story basically revolves around James and his disorders and the few friends he has. James is a well written character and can be funny and I really felt sorry for him when he was having attacks of depression or anxiety. I think that's why I scored this book so low. The author ends the story on a maniac seeming note and the happiness felt fake for how sad he was throughout the whole story. I definitely wasn't expecting a happy ending and this ending totally ruined it.

I feel like the story could leave depressed teens feeling either hopeless about their situation or, dangerously optimistic.
Profile Image for Renata.
2,472 reviews333 followers
January 8, 2015
Yay, after forcing myself to read a bunch of popular paranormal romance books so I can stay HIP AND RELEVANT for the kids these days, I read a YA book that I picked out for myself!! And it was so great! I read it all in one day!

I love realistic contemporary fiction about kids who are kind of pretentious and maybe say things that are a few degrees smarter than what real kids stay but still seem realistic about it.

Like maybe there are real teenagers who start out each day by YAWPING and reciting Walk Whitman aloud. Like three of them. In the world. But who cares because fictional James Whitman does it and it's perfect and endearing and sad. Really strong, great narrative of depression and fraught family life and high school and therapy that ends up being a narrative of strength and joy rather than, like, depression.
Profile Image for Amy.
664 reviews
March 31, 2013
Whoa that was heavy. Roskos basically held my hand and walked me (pulled me? dragged me?) back through a few years of my life that up until now seemed very, very distant. Thanks, I guess? I hope this book serves a different kind of purpose for others who read it (hopefully teens...of course because that is the intended audience, right?). I don't know what that purpose will be, but I hope it's positive and entertaining and interesting and eye-opening and funny. This book has all those elements, but they are shrouded in gauzy blackness that some of us are quite susceptible to.
Profile Image for Victoria Scott.
Author 41 books2,906 followers
March 24, 2013
An absolutely outstanding read! Roskos didn't hold back while writing this story, and that quiet confidence will pay dividends to readers for years to come. The weaving of Whitman's writing into the story was seamless, and I envied the raw, and often humorous exploration into anxiety and depression that affects not only an individual, but a family. DR. BIRD'S ADVICE FOR SAD POETS is a thoroughly entertaining read that will easily stand the test of time!
Profile Image for Margaret.
226 reviews2 followers
September 10, 2016
This is one of the times when I note that the Goodreads star ratings refer to how much I enjoyed a book, rather than my opinion of its quality.
This is a reasonably well-written book which I did not enjoy at all. I found inside the mind of a bipolar teen male Walt Whitman fan an unhappy and highly unpleasant place to be. In particular, the main character's objectification of female classmates, while in all likelihood typical of many teenage boys, made me very uncomfortable.
Profile Image for Lisa.
Author 36 books2,084 followers
March 19, 2013
I enjoyed it a lot. Really unique book!
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