Definitions of Indefinable Things by Whitney Taylor
The New Title Tuesday recommendation, Definitions of Indefinable Things by Whitney Taylor, is a realistic and pithy exploration of the struggle of being a teenager – which is bad enough with the stress of navigating romantic relationships, the social caste system of high school, making good grades, and the biological necessity to rebel against parents and authority. It’s easy to see how easily hopelessness infects adolescents. But, add clinical depression and adverse side-effects of medication to the mix, and the desolation can be unbearable.
Publisher’s Summary: Reggie isn’t really a romantic: she’s been hurt too often, and doesn’t let people in as a rule. When she meets Snake, though, he doesn’t give her much of a choice. Snake has a neck tattoo, a Twizzler habit, and a fair share of arrogance, but he’s funny, charming, and interested in Reggie.
Snake also has an ex-girlfriend, Carla, who’s seven months pregnant. Good thing Reggie isn’t a romantic. Reggie, Snake, and Carla struggle to comprehend love, friendship, and depression–and realize one definition doesn’t always cover it.
As a parent and educator, I’ve seen teens suffer through (and survive) the wonderland, and snake-pit that is adolescence while struggling with mental illness. That is the reason I was drawn to Definitions of Indefinable Things. But I continued reading because the main character, Reggie (short for Regina), has a snarky comeback for every situation. Even if real teens do not rapidly discharge zinging one-liners, it makes the grim subject matter palatable. Taylor neither downplays or romanticizes the despondency and crippling self-loathing of depression.
In addition, the romantic triangle does not pit girl against girl because of a boy. As Dr. Jen Harrison said in her review in The Children’s Book Review, “It is the three-dimensional nature of Whitney Taylor’s characters that makes Definitions of Indefinable Things so enjoyable to read – that, and the rich, complex, and intelligent dialogue. Taken together, these elements remind the reader that being young does not mean you have to be conventionally predictable, safely middle-of-the-road, or conservatively stupid. It reminds us that no one can define our brand of happiness for us – and that is a valuable reminder for anyone.”
Research and real-life experience has shown that reading literature promotes empathy and decreases the feeling of isolation. Books such as Definitions of Indefinable Things have the potential to embolden teens who live with or suffer from depression.
To learn more about depression or other mental illnesses visit the National Institute of Mental Health or contact your health provider.
Other YA novels about mental illness:
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven – When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself–a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.
Saving Francesca by Marlena Marcheta
Sixteen-year-old Francesca could use her outspoken mother’s help with the problems of being one of a handful of girls at a parochial school that has just turned co-ed, but her mother has suddenly become severely depressed.