Juliet the Maniac

Melville House. May 2019. 336p. ISBN 9781612197593. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781612197609. F
[DEBUT] Like Sylvia Plath, Susanna Kaysen, and Elizabeth Wurtzel, debut novelist Escoria chronicles the emotional breakdown of an adolescent girl. Giving the main character her own name invites autobiographical assumptions from the outset, furthered by the insertion of what appears to be actual ephemera (hospital records, notes to family members) from the author’s own life. At one point, Escoria addresses the tension between memoir and novel in a meta aside to the reader, in which she muses about the best way to address “how the fictionalized version of myself should lose her virginity.” The book follows her 1990s descent from model daughter and star student into mental illness, self-harm, drug abuse, and attempted suicide, through hospitalizations and involuntary admission into a residential school for troubled teens. The short chapters feature suggestive titles and striking imagery, evoking Escoria’s status as a published poet.
VERDICT For sophisticated readers, this novel offers an insightful and haunting portrait into a disintegrating mind, featuring visceral descriptions of a girl’s self-loathing and self-destructive behaviors. Yet the difficult subject matter is tempered by the wisdom of the adult author and, for the reader, the knowledge that she has made it through to the other side.
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