By Karen Winters Schwartz (Goodman Beck Publishing, 2010)
Reviewed by Kelsey Osgood
It’s a parent’s nightmare: a teenage daughter, once a well-adjusted, academic achiever, suddenly begins to fray at the edges. Despite everyone’s best efforts, she tumbles down the wormhole into bipolar disorder, bringing her parents and the rest of the family along for the ride.
Where Are the Cocoa Puffs? A Family’s Journey Through Bipolar Disorder, the debut novel of Karen Winters Schwartz, tracks the Benson family as their eldest child, 18- year-old Amanda, is diagnosed and struggles with euphoric hallucinations, crippling depressions, suicidal thoughts, a nostalgia for mania, and eventually, a hospitalization. The story is in some ways unbelievably tidy, the most obvious example being Ryan, the instantly devoted, endlessly patient boyfriend. But what Schwartz does so well is give each character ample space and time to express how the illness has affected him or her. The most interesting dilemma is that of Jerry Benson, Amanda’s father, also a psychiatrist. Throughout the story, he wrestles with his psychiatric rationale and his emotional paternal instincts. His decisions are often questionable, but this is a forgiving book and a gentle writer, one who makes sure each character is seen as both flawed and beautiful, or in a word: human.