Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Like the Red Panda by Andrea Seigel


I really hate the blurb on the cover calling this an "antidote to chick lit," even though when I read this book as a teenager for the first time, I probably would have agreed with the sentiment. LIKE THE RED PANDA is a desperately unhappy book, featuring a desperately unhappy protagonist. Stella lost both her parents when they died of drug overdose (they were cocaine addicts). Despite her adversity, she lives with her foster parents in Irvine and is Princeton-bound. But then one day, something in her brain shifts. She gets the idea that nothing really matters. She cuts off her friends and family, she stops attending classes or taking care of herself; she is planning to end her life.

LIKE THE RED PANDA is a difficult book to read because when I had really bad depression as a teen, I related pretty strongly to the heroine. I think the author does a good job showing how depression kind of transcends sadness. There's a gnawing emptiness to depression, that nothing can really fill. The more you try to pour in, the worse you feel. The heroine has really dissociated from her life and the way she disconnects from herself and everything is painful to read because it's so well done.

As an adult who has my depression managed, I liked this book less. Mostly, because it made me feel so sad for the heroine, and how all the adult figures in her life failed her. LIKE THE RED PANDA doesn't romanticize suicide-- the heroine's grandfather, Donald, also seems to have depression and is also trying to end his life in his retirement home, and as the heroine struggles with her own decision she refuses her grandfather's attempts to enlist her in his own-- but it kind of feels like a cautionary tale. Privilege doesn't protect you from depression, and adult figures who are supposed to be guardians for the kids they manage can sometimes be so wrapped up in their own securities that they never really move on from their own internalized adolescence. It's a bleak, sad book with a miserable ending. I don't think it's an "antidote" to anything, except maybe that feeling of loneliness and isolation.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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