Review Blog

May 05 2017

Sorry to disrupt the peace Patty Yumi Cottrell

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Text, 2017. ISBN 9781925498431
(Age: Senior secondary) Recommended. Helen Moran, the first person narrator in this first novel by Patty Yumi Cottrell, lives in a shared apartment in New York. She has a part-time job caring for troubled young people and sees herself as an organised and functioning member of society. However, there are signs that her life is not as controlled as she suggests. As proof of her competency she presents a pamphlet that she wrote purporting to give advice on how to survive in New York. The advice includes stealing, lying and distorting the facts. When her uncle rings with the news that her adoptive brother has committed suicide Helen decides to return to her adoptive parents to investigate his death. Her parents are astounded and uneasy to see her, an odd reaction, it seems. The reader begins to understand that Helen is not what she believes herself to be. As she reminisces about her upbringing she reveals to the reader a difficult and friendless childhood. In her home in Milwaukee her behaviour indicates both euphoria and depression as she swings from mood to mood in her search for information. There is black humour in her extreme actions; she puts the funeral flowers in buckets containing bleach, she eats all the cake intended for the wake, on the way to the funeral, in the car in which her brother killed himself, she gets a flat tyre and has to walk, so missing the funeral. She interrogates her brother's friends in search of clues about his decision to kill himself, but ultimately it is the document that he has left on his computer that gives her answers, and gives the readers more evidence about Helen herself. Her brother felt that he could be of most use to the world by donating his organs; he suggested in his document that he believes Helen to have undiagnosed bipolar disorder. His reasons for dying are not totally convincing but his understanding of his sister seems accurate. Despite her possible disorder Helen is a perceptive commentator on her adoptive parents' lives and the values of both her home town and those she associates with in New York. It is also possible to see the novel as a discussion on the difficulties of being Korean adoptees, in this case their adopting parents offering charity but not a lot of love, it seems. The book is written in deceptively simple prose and so is a quick read but offers rewards to a more sustained look. It does discuss suicide and the difficulties faced by those with mental differences so perhaps should be recommended with care.
Recommended for senior students.
Jenny Hamilton

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