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Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother's Love

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  2,338 ratings  ·  312 reviews
The story of a young man fighting to recover from a devastating psychotic break and the mother who refuses to give up on him

Zack McDermott, a 26-year-old Brooklyn public defender, woke up one morning convinced he was being filmed, Truman Show-style, as part of an audition for a TV pilot. Every passerby was an actor; every car would magically stop for him; everything he sa
Hardcover, 274 pages
Published September 26th 2017 by Little, Brown and Company
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Average rating 4.21  · 
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 ·  2,338 ratings  ·  312 reviews

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Start your review of Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother's Love
4.8, manically rounded up, up, up!!

I’ll tell you, my socks were officially knocked off. The better to run and keep up with this guy. Never mind, I'll grab my pogo stick, whee! It's faster and more fun. But it's not a whee for Zack, a public defender in New York, who ran through the city half naked, talking to strangers who he was convinced were part of the reality show he was starring in. That manic run led to his first stay in the psych ward and the diagnosis of bipolar.

I don't know where to st
A 2.5 book upgraded to 4 because of insights. Very thought-provoking. I finished the book despite long periods of boredom. The author's descriptions of his psychosis were interesting as were his observations of his job and clients - he is a Public Defender. He made me think, which is what I like best about books, when he said that he did his job because he didn't believe much in choice. He didn't believe that many people chose to be dreadful people or to go to prison, but that their life and the ...more
Diane S ☔
Sep 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
His mother nicknamed him gorilla when he was a child, because he had a very hairy back. He called her the bird. This is a story of the devastation of mental illness, it is also a story of a mother's fierce, abiding love for her child. Mental illness ran in their family, but Zack had no clue the havoc this would cause in his own life. A public defender, overworked, overburdened, way to many people, with too many problems, the mentally ill, all came to rest on his shoulders. To relieve his stress, ...more
Feb 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
A high 4 stars. Gorilla and the Bird has a raw honesty that really comes through in the audiobook.

Zack McDermott is Gorilla to his mother who is Bird to him. McDermott comes from Wichita, Kansas. Despite an economically challenging childhood, his uncanny intelligence, his mother’s unwavering love and support, and massive student loans allowed him to became lawyer. Soon after starting work as a public defender in Brooklyn where he represented clients with serious mental health issues, he had a ps
Jan 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs
That was brave.

Zack McDermott holds nothing back in this painfully honest memoir that is also a love letter to his most deserving mother, who may be the living embodiment of a saint. This covers everything: insomnia, ideas spiraling out of control, bizarre behavior, manic episodes, drugs, judgement, support and crushing fear. He tells his story of living with and fighting against mental illness with self-deprecating humor and a truly affable tone. The last thing I expected to encounter in these
May 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
[4.5] This book is a gift to those of us who want to better understand mental illness. McDermott writes about his bipolar episodes with power and impressive clarity. Reading about his psychotic breaks and depression is painful (especially the hospitalizations) but he balances these descriptions with infusions of warmth and humor. This memoir is really a homage to his mother, the Bird, whose grit and love save the day. Wonderful and illuminating.
As a public defender in New York City, Zack McDermott worked with seemingly crazy people every day at Legal Aid, little knowing that he was on his way to a psychotic break himself. Soon he’d covered the walls of his apartment with marker scrawl and fully taken on his stand-up comedian persona, Myles. Convinced that he was in a Truman Show-style reality show, he ended up half-naked and crying on a subway platform. That’s when the police showed up to take him to Bellevue mental hospital.

Jan 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir, 2018, bookclub
Regaining sanity in a mental hospital is like treating a migraine at a rave.

3.5 stars. An intimate and often humorous look at the author's experience with bipolar disorder. Although I have close family and friends suffering from this disease, I learned so much about what it feels like experiencing it from the inside and not just seeing it from the outside looking in. Especially the warning signs that comes with lack of sleep was interesting and helpful. The author's stints in psychiatric hospita
Feb 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook
If you know someone with a mental illness and have tried to understand their dilemma, this memoir is the perfect explanation.
Zack grew up with a great mother, who he nicknamed, "the Bird" but father figures were another story. His grandparents, especially his grandmother, were a solid foundation he could seek for solace , love and home cooked food. Since education was important to his Mom all three siblings graduated from college. Zack, called the "Gorilla" by his mom because of his hairy body,
Sonja Arlow
The story opens mid-psychotic breakdown. Zack is convinced, and I was almost convinced right along with him, that he is in the middle of some huge reality TV cast walking the streets of New York.

Being in the head of someone mid psychotic breakdown was eye-opening and done very well.

But its not just the story, but the way it was told that made me turn the pages faster and faster. The author clearly has a talent to bring out the funny in situations.

”Regaining sanity in a mental hospital is like tr
Ericka Clouther
In the text:
The memoir is very well written. McDermott has a clear talent for language and is exceptionally smart. His personal story about mental illness is very interesting. He conveys his personal experiences in a very raw and emotional manner. It's riveting throughout.

During the period of the memoir, he's an attorney and a public defender. The things he writes about the legal system are extremely important and well-expressed. I'm not sure what the solution is outside of legislation and bett
Stacey A.  Prose and Palate
Nov 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"I looked forward to the Bird's visits, but there were only two hours per day during which she was allowed. Every minute of every visiting opportunity, she was there. Ten minutes early, lined up at the door, ready to go through security -- she was there. She didn't panic, Not in front of me.... She wanted the staff to know I was not the man they saw. "This is not my son," she'd say. "This is my son," and she'd flash photos she'd brought with her of me looking "normal". To humanize me -- to let t ...more
While I thought the memoir was well-written and a great way to get a better understanding of psychosis, I was almost more interested in his mom's story. Can we get a book about Zack's mom?!
Oct 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I devoured this audiobook that Zack McDermott narrates himself. His memoir is a gritty look into the thoughts and experiences of someone with Bipolar Disorder.

This book is as much about self love and acceptance as it is about the love between McDermott and his family. My favorite parts all involve simple dialogue that is familiar to those of us who have cared for someone struggling with mental illness. It is such a unique story, but it sheds light into the similar experiences that many young pe
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
This is a fantastic memoir by a public defender with bipolar disorder, who occasionally experiences intense psychotic episodes. Zack McDermott is an excellent storyteller and onetime aspiring comedian, so this book will pull you right in, keep you rapt and sometimes make you laugh, despite its sometimes heavy subject matter.

The beginning of the book throws readers right into McDermott’s first psychotic episode: having met with a producer about his comedy routine only a few days before, he walks
May 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Trying to put my thoughts together on this book and struggle to say more than: "read this." It hits all 3 of my top reading categories: memoir, mental illness, public defense. But the way that McDermott writes about his mental illness (with shockingly stark clarity even during his psychotic break) and about his career in public defense makes this a must read in my opinion.
Kelly Long
Oct 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
One of the best memoirs about bipolar disorder that I have ever read.
Maya Sophia
Jan 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I adored this memoir so much, I flew through it in two days. Zack was a public defender who was very familiar with one side of the criminal justice system, including how severely mentally ill people are treated and dealt with, when he first experienced psychosis as a result of his bipolar I disorder. I thought the way he described how he experienced psychosis was eye opening and fascinating. That kind of thing is extremely hard to understand as a person who has never experienced it, but he did a ...more
Jill Elizabeth
Aug 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
"...there is a real, and very important, distinction between sanity and lucidity"

I have long been fascinated by stories about mental health and the myriad ways our brains can betray us. It always seemed to me to be the ultimate betrayal - when you cannot trust yourself to be yourself, what on earth can you trust? In this amazing story, Zack transitions from a successful Public Defender helping those who cannot help themselves to a man suffering from a psychotic break who cann
Dec 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
By the time Zack approaches his third hospitalization, you can feel your heart breaking for him. He's already had to hold his head up and return to his work as a public defender after treating his coworkers to increasingly manic, then psychotic behavior. His memoir starts with a madcap romp through New York City; he inserts himself in a soccer game, raps with four brahs on a corner, sees Daniel Day-Lewis, and winds up losing his clothes on the subway. Nothing seems weird to him because they ever ...more
Mar 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I am so passionate about this book. Even when it ended I felt so invested in Zack’s story. a very touching memoir. I love The Bird and her unconditionally love her patience her dedication. We need to as a society become invested in mental health, it shouldn’t be such a stigma. I really appreciated the company The Gorilla worked for too. I was left hoping that each company or business any of my loved ones worked for would allow them the time that they would need to focus on their health. This is ...more
Jan 09, 2019 rated it liked it
I’m glad I read this. It gave me a lot of empathy for people struggling with severe bipolar disorder and psychosis. Being that it’s subtitled “a memoir of madness and a mother’s love,” I wanted to hear much more about his mother. It seemed like some other side stories received unnecessary attention and his relationship with his mom got pushed to the sidelines. That said, I’d recommend it. A unique topic and a story worth reading.
Renee Smith
Sep 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: won-books
I won this on the Goodreads giveaway.

It was really interesting, having dealt with Bipolar people myself. I really liked it. His conversations with all the imaginary things were often funny sometimes sad. I found this book very good. When it is out you should read it.
Apr 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Alyse Stolz
Jul 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
I loved this book. Definitely somewhere in the 4.5 range for me.

I’ve never heard a more detailed, honest, and generally relatable telling of what it is like to experience mental illness. The details about the manic episodes and psychotic breaks and living with bipolar disorder was so fascinating. Zack MacDermott does an incredible job of telling his story, taking the reader inside his brain, and knocking down any boundaries that most people put up when it comes to their mental health.

Also, can I
Julia Siwierka
Jul 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
I am not claiming to know his experience, however, having lived in Wichita for 4 years, there are so many aspects of his time here that speak to me in many ways. Naturally, his mental health experiences were eye opening, and I am grateful for having the chance to feel his thoughts through this book. But the lives described in Wichita are so real to me and explain so much about him, the Bird, and their care for one another, as well as how the environments around them exasperated some of their fee ...more
Aug 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book was truly unputdownable! There were a few times when I had to remind myself that this is a memoir and, holy shit, this actually happened to this guy. There's something about his unbridled honesty and his humanity that made me feel intimately linked to him and the Bird.
I really can't recommend this book enough. It'll be one of those I'll re-read as the years go by. Thank you, Zack, for writing this book. I, too, am better for having read it.
Kaci Kennedy
4.5 stars rounded up

The author’s mom is amazing. Multiple times while reading I cried beautiful tears in response to how his mom responded to her son during his journey.
Jan 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs, parenting
So beautifully written and such a powerful illustration of how amazing mothers are. Wowza!

It feels weird to say but I cannot over-estimate how much this book taught me about mania, mental illness, and the legal system. Equal parts emotional and informative.
Steve Horowitt
Jan 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This memoir has instantly become one of my favorites. Fast and furious, intimate and frenzied, I loved taking this journey with Zack and Bird. I literally could not put this book down.
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I was born in Wichita, KS and went to the University of Kansas for undergrad. I studied political science and African-American studies -- that was my favorite. I went to UVA Law and then became a public defender in Brooklyn in 2008.

As soon as I moved to New York I started doing stand up comedy. My "career" was derailed by my first psychotic break and a trip to the psych ward. My book takes it fro

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