Justin is going to Heartland after an attempted suicide, which he claims was really just an attention-getting stunt. He's got some pretty severe depression that needs worked on, and he's apparently got some sexual issues going on.
Once at Heartland, the new kids fall in with their anger-management group, figuring out ways to get around the rules that they hate. Along the way they find ways to help each other with their issues, while also going on one heck of an adventure and even making a few friends along the way.
A Really Awesome Mess actually ended up being a really awesome mess for me. I realized pretty quickly that this book is better off read without thinking too much. The more I learned about Emmy, Justin, and the rest of their crew and therapists, the more I decided it just wasn't worth analyzing whether the things in this book could ever actually happen: They Couldn't. While this book features some pretty heavy issues (depression, suicide, rape, eating disorders), it's NOT an issues book. Those issues are not meant to be delved into. This book is about a journey for 2 kids that are stuck in a place that is extremely hard to be in. It's about how they adapt to being in this rigid environment, and how a bunch of delinquent-type kids are able to still find a way to be kids in a place where that isn't supposed to happen.
If you read it at face value and take some of the events just for entertainment value, the book can be quite enjoyable. The kids basically poke at their issues, their main goal being getting around the rules at Heartland. During the first half of the book, I was completely engaged, but about halfway through the gang goes on a field trip that basically ends up being a ridiculous free-for-all fantasy and from there I was just ehhh.
It's hard for me to 100% endorse this book because I felt like a lot of the important issues weren't taken seriously enough. For instance, Emmy has a pretty serious eating disorder. She's constantly being name-called over it and the powers that be seem to think the way to fix her problem is to force her to eat 3000 calories a day. To me what that was saying is, eating disorders are grounds for ridicule and once a person gets to a healthy weight, they're cured. I doubt this was the authors' direct intention, but that's the way it came off. Depression, suicide, eating disorders are not issues that should be glossed over and laughed at IMO.
So yeah I wanted to really love the book (I really really love the cover), but I am too much of a serious person to just give in to the adventure, which seemed to be the focus. None of kids at Heartland seemed to be getting much out of the actual institution. The things they seemed to learn were how to get around the rules and tricking people into thinking they are well so they can leave. Another problem for me was that none of the characters actually grew on me that much. Most of the kids were thoroughly unlikable, and it wasn't because of their issues... it was just their attitudes and lack of growth. Diana for instance was the youngest and should have been easy to like. She was angry and harsh, but once her problems came out, I understood why. BUT she never stopped being harsh and selfish... and she just made it so hard to like her. All the characters were sort of like that.
OVERALL: I would totally recommend this for late middle school/early high school. It has some cute parts and it was nice to see some friendships formed, but it definitely could have been better.
This Book Contains:
- Problems like depression, eating disorders, pathological lying
- Adoption and race issues
- A state fair
- Family issues
How I got this book: Thanks to Netgalley and EgmontUSA for allowing me to read and honestly review this book
Date Published: 7/23/2013