Biting wit makes this quest for suburban normalcy in the face of depression and anxiety both laugh-out-loud funny and immensely intelligent.
In Get Well Soon (2007), Anna spent three weeks in a mental hospital, unwillingly. Now she faces her first three weeks back at home—Dad retaining his “classically trained dick” attitude, Mom riddled with “wuss issues”—and back at school. She’s insecure about where she’s been and fears the in-class panic attacks and bowel symptoms that plagued her earlier. She postpones writing to hospital romance Justin, unsure what to say. Instead, Anna focuses on art class, funky clothing and her peers in outpatient therapy. Her first-person narration brims with humor and raunchiness: “The dark wood that made up the library’s décor screamed 1976 academia, but the dainty sentiment of ‘EB sucks cock’ scratched into the wood brought a modern feel.” As life improves, she questions sharply which aspects of treatment—or life—are really helping. Anna finds Holden Caulfield (Halpern employs layered and alluring Catcher in the Rye references); boys find her. Characters and observations are impressively original. The only staleness is relentless textual insistence that Anna’s weight loss—born of “crappy mental hospital cafeteria food, depression, [and] anxiety”—is crucial to, and the same thing as, her recovery.
Aside from the too-anxious-to-eat valorization, fresh as a daisy and sharp as a tack. (Fiction. 12-17)