Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Kathy Reviews: Breaking Out by Bob Brink

ISBN #: 978-1450226769
Page Count: 244
Copyright: June 21, 2010
Publisher: iUniverse

Book Summary:
(Taken from back cover)

As a child growing up in various cities and towns, Britt Rutgers exhibits both acute sensitivity and an insatiable ebullience that expresses itself in rebelliousness against his restrictive parents. But something profoundly important is missing deep inside. As he moves into his late teens in the 1950s on a farm near Mayfield, Iowa, his enthusiasm gradually morphs into agonizing self-consciousness, feelings of guilt, embarrassment over sexual naivete, and fear wrought by his fundamentalist religious upbringing. His parents have always placed his quiet older brother on a pedestal, and Britt begins to emulate him. Battling these internal demons, Britt is unable to concentrate and becomes panicky that he will fail his school subjects.

When Britt heads out for a night of bowling in February of his senior year, he has no idea that everything is about to change. Taunted by his friends, he returns home and tearfully confides to his parents that he has been miserable for some time. They send him to a sanitarium, where he is quickly diagnosed with schizophrenia and shock treatments begin. Over the next several years, between two periods spent in psychiatric institutions observing a plethora of colorful, and tragic, characters, Britt struggles not merely to function, but to flourish.

Breaking Out explores a family's dynamics and history, revealing the forces that shape an innocent child and make a train wreck of his crossing from adolescence into adulthood.

Kathy's Review:

From the opening scene, your heart will break for Britt, an incredibly sensitive, self-conscious teenager. When walking across a crowded gym floor brings him such anxiety that he can barely bring himself to do it, you know he has some major issues.

At times more like a psychology case study than a work of fiction, Breaking Out is as much about the evolution of psychiatric practice as it is about Britt himself. The author does a great job of showing anecdote after anecdote about Britt's early years and give us several indications of mental illness on both branches of his family tree. It's like the poor guy never stood a chance.

The author implies quite strongly that Britt's parents are to blame for his mental stability. They are not supportive of him, showing favoritism to his older brother, Kevin (who himself seems like he might have some issues - although the author doesn't spend a lot of time on him). They don't encourage Britt in school, they forbid him to go out for sports - in short, they deny him what a child needs most from his parents - love and nurturing.

Then, Britt is quickly whisked off to a mental institution, where it seems like he is given a snap assessment and immediately put on electroshock treatments. Can you even imagine this happening today? No group therapy, no one-on-one time with a doctor. Just getting zapped several times a week until Britt is deemed zapped enough to go home. It's quite scary to realize that this actually happened in the U.S. just a few decades ago.

This is not a pleasant read. There are scenes that will disturb you. Then there are scenes where you just feel bad for Britt. It held my interest the entire way through, as I was hoping that someone would come to this poor young man's rescue. As I mentioned before, sometimes this book feels like a case study that a professor would use in a psych class, posing the question on how they would diagnose Britt and what treatment they would administer. There are mundane recaps of Britt's college classes, his professors and what grades he made in each class that I feel were a bit long-winded and unnecessary to advance the plot.

And the only other thing I will mention is to have a dictionary handy. The author uses words that I had to look up, and I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent person when it comes to language. Ebullient, for instance, which means enthusiastic, is used often, as is the word corpulent (overweight). Sometimes the word choice fits and other times, not so much. Britt describes a girl he dates in college as have a large proboscis - known as a "nose" in layman's terms. These are words you may have heard before, but I'm guessing the average reader probably hasn't.

Breaking Out will interest those who enjoy psychology or want to read about the way mental illness was treated in the mid-20th century. It may open your eyes and think about how things have changed for the better - although there's still a long way to go in learning how to deal with mental instability.

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