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Book Review: Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

by Sabrina Michelena

Girl, Interrupted is a gripping memoir by Susanna Kaysen. It details Kaysen’s experiences as a young woman in a psychiatric facility in the 1960s. She was admitted to the facility after a suicide attempt in which she tried to overdose on aspirin. Kaysen was soon diagnosed with borderline-personality disorder and spent 18 months in the hospital where she formed friendships with other patients and endured the harsh treatment of inexperienced nurses and medical techniques that are now regarded as harmful and illegal. She becomes very much affiliated and nearly obsessed with Lisa, a fellow patient who enjoys flaunting her diagnosis as a sociopath. Lisa is charming and seemingly extremely self-assured, which captivates Kaysen. However, she soon discovers that Lisa is terribly manipulative, and like most sociopaths, feels no guilt for her actions. She also lures Kaysen into the world of extreme self-destruction.

The memoir can be difficult to read for some readers since it details Kaysen’s experiences in such immense detail. Sometimes these experiences can be gruesome, such as the time that Kaysen first experiences depersonalization and develops a false sense of reality. In this brief but disturbing moment, she cuts her hand because she believes that she has lost all the bones in her hand. She is hysterical and deeply involved in this illusion until she gets an x-ray to prove that her hand still contains bones. Kaysen also describes unsettling and erratic behavior from her fellow patients that are sometimes unexplainable. Sometimes the reader can forget about the fact that this is a memoir until Kaysen includes several real hospital reports of her, such as notes from nurses about her behavior or her patient chart. It’s a harrowing shock when the reader remembers that these are all true events of Kaysen’s life.

Kaysen’s story was then again catapulted into recognition when the 1999 movie adaptation, by the same name, was released. The movie starred Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie and is regarded as a cult classic. Angelina Jolie won an Oscar for her role as the promiscuous and captivating Lisa. The movie had a box office of $48.3 million. While the movie may have gained an immense following, it is important to remember where the roots of the story lie: in the book. Girl, Interrupted is now regarded as a classic novel about mental illness. With its raw, unapologetic storytelling of real-life events and the bitter truth of psychiatric hospitals in the 1960s, it has still become immensely popular throughout generations.

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