Dr. Bird's Advice For Sad Poets
by Evan Roskos
“I hate myself but I love Walt Whitman, the kook. Always positive. I need to be more positive, so I wake myself up every morning with a song of myself.”
Sixteen-year-old James Whitman has been yawping (à la Whitman) at his abusive father ever since he kicked his beloved older sister, Jorie, out of the house. James’s painful struggle with anxiety and depression—along with his ongoing quest to understand what led to his self-destructive sister’s exile—make for a heart-rending read, but his wild, exuberant Whitmanization of the world and keen sense of humor keep this emotionally charged debut novel buoyant.
I recently had the great luck to run across this review, which compared this book to one of my all-time favorite movies: Dead Poet's Society. I was overjoyed. It's possible that I only made the connection because of Monica's review, but I would like to think that I would have recognized it anyway. I cannot tell you just how many times I've seen that movie and wallowed in my self-imposed angst. I love a movie or a book that can just make you feel, even if that feeling happens to be uncomfortably sad. Dr. Bird's Advice For Sad Poets is one of those books.
James is exactly the kind of kid I used to be. He's fond of poetry, hugs trees to make himself happy, and is so awkward around other people that it is almost painful. He can barely talk to the girl he likes, though in moments when he isn't ruled by anxiety he concocts ill-advised plans to be noticed by her. Even when they are talking and things are going well, he can't get over the fact that he just may not be...enough.
"My eyes are probably cloudy, sad, mean, boring. Not blue enough or brown enough or bright enough."
The writing is beautiful and poetic, which is to be expected in a story about a young poet who reads Whitman as much as James does. There is a lot of emotion in this book. I was cringing practically through the entire story, first in embarrassment for James and then in sympathy when the parents were introduced. The parents are pretty horrific. I was surprised James and his sister Jorie didn't end up even more messed-up than they were.
"She and I seem to be poisoned with sadness in our blood."
I loved the book. It was like discovering my favorite movie all over again. There was quite a bit of nostalgia involved, which was an odd feeling to have for a book I've never read before. But there it is...I'm the kind of person that can't separate a comparison once it's been made.