In the latest from Milflores Publishing, author Katrina Martin reaches to tweens and teens with a sensitive story about mental illness and its impact on a family – and sparks an interesting discussion on the millions of children in the Philippines helping care for parents with mental disorders.
At Home With Crazy is Martin’s first novel. In an interview, she said she began writing the book over ten years ago while taking her MA in Creative Writing degree at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. When prompted to write a work about deep issues that are experienced by the protagonist and later resolved, Martin decided to tackle the problem of mental illness.
“This was something that came to me because someone very dear to me mentioned that they did not want to live anymore,” she said. “I was already in my 20s at that time, but this person was so important to me and I didn’t know how to deal with it.”
The problem of children living with parents who are mentally ill is more common in the Philippines than many think. Martin said there are some four million children in the country who are helping care for parents with mental illness. She also mentioned the struggles of a friend whose mother has bipolar disorder. All these personal encounters inspired Martin to shed light on the topic and perhaps help others in similar situations.
In Martin’s story, Cayt Vergara, 14, moves to Manila from the Ilocos region with her family. An honor student, she transfers to a good school that accepted her as part of its program for students from the regions. On her first day, she makes new friends while dealing with life at home with her dad, mom, and younger sister Sam. But it’s rough going for all of them as the mother can’t seem to recover from the death of her newborn son. She exhibits mood swings, erratic behavior, and all other signs of being what Cayt (pronounced ‘kite’) writes as “—–.”
Cayt sees life through her inner lens as a filmmaker. She puts this penchant into practice by shooting a zombie movie with a couple of her classmates. While she’s having fun with her friends, a part of her mind is still anxious about her mother’s condition.
When she gets home, will Mom be acting normally or not? Will it be a good day, with Mom puttering about making champorado? Or will it be a zombie day, with Mom locking herself in her room, as she did once for eight weeks after baby Miggy died? Or will it be a violent day, with Mom’s temper aflame as she hits Cayt and Sam over the most minor of misdemeanors? And how does Dad cope with all of this and work too?
Discussing mental illness is important so that we will know how to deal with it, particularly when we have relatives struggling with it. At Home With Crazy is significant because it was written for tweens and teens, a segment that is often overlooked when sharing information about mental illness. But as Martin said, millions of Filipino children, if not more, are having to deal with a parent who has mental illness. (It’s a fact I can’t stress often enough, that’s how important it is.) A story such as Cayt’s, that shows how a particular situation may unfold and how it can be dealt with, will give readers an idea of what it’s like to live the experiences of many others.
Martin handles the story deftly without sugarcoating or dumbing down the topic, but doesn’t unnecessarily harrow feelings either. She shows skill in crafting a balance between the storyline and the bigger theme of children dealing with parental mental illness. It’s a story that’s written with compassion and understanding, and is a valuable addition to the genre of mental illness literature in the country.
At Home With Crazy also destigmatizes mental illness and shows that rather than meeting it with mockery and ridicule, patients suffering from it should be treated with love, patience, and proper medical care.
The book will be a good addition to a school library or home and can be gifted to eager young readers, as well as those actually dealing with this particular problem. It can let kids in such situations know that they are not the only ones going through this and that there is hope for things to get better.
You may reach the author on Facebook and Twitter: @DrJennyO
At Home With Crazy
By Katrina Martin
2022, 280 pgs, pb, Milflores Publishing