On the edge of the Chicago medical district, the Harrison School for Exceptional Youth looks like a castle in a snow globe. Janina has been there since she was ten years old, and now she’s fourteen. She feels so safe inside its walls that she’s afraid to leave.
Devante’s parents bring him there after a tragedy leaves him depressed and suicidal. Even though he’s in a different place, he can’t escape the memories that come flooding back when he least expects them.
Dr. Gail Thomas comes to work there after quitting her medical residency. Frustrated and on the verge of giving up on her dreams, she sees becoming a counselor as her last chance to put her skills to the test.
When he founded the school, Dr. Lutkin designed its unique environment to be a place that would change the students’ lives. He works hard as the keeper of other people’s secrets, though he never shares any of his own.
But everything changes late in the winter of 1994 when these four characters’ lives intersect in unexpected ways. None of them will ever be the same.
Firstly a huge thank you to the author Tiffany Gholar for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!
A Bitter Pill to Swallow is a book that brings together four very different characters. The premise of this book was intriguing and was one of the reasons I wanted to read it. Books about mental illness are important and something I want to read more of. This was actually the first novel that I’ve read that revolved around mental health.
There are many things this book does well:
A diverse set of characters with diverse issues. Tiffany Gholar did a great job including racial diversity in the book. And not only that but I liked seeing all the different types of mental health issues that were represented. The book explored depression, PTSD, OCD and Schizophrenia among others and how deeply they can affect and disrupt kids.
Character relationships. A Bitter Pill to Swallow is ultimately also a book about connection and all the different ways humans can change other humans. The four main characters help each other grow and mature and are each other’s support system. It shows how one person’s actions towards another can have some profound effects in their lives.
If you’re someone who wants to start reading more YA contemporary about mental health issues, I think A Bitter Pill to Swallow would be a nice introductory novel into this trope.
That said, I did not love this book. If I were to only rate the first half of the book, I would’ve given a one star rating. The story started off slow, I felt no real connection to any of the four main characters, and I’m just SUPER picky when it comes to writing style. I need a perfect balance of description, world building and character development and I felt like I wasn’t getting enough of any of those.
BUT the second half of the book surprised me and some parts I thoroughly enjoyed. The plot picked up and I felt like I understood the characters more. The writing bothered me less and less as I got more used to it.
Overall, it was a nice read but it wasn’t anything exceptional. I understood what the story was trying to do and the feelings it was trying to provoke, but I personally didn’t connect with the story enough to truly feel for the characters and their situation.