Checkers by John Marsden: A-

From the back cover:
Tonight before I started writing this, it was me confronting Jack. It was so real I could smell it.

Suddenly, according to my imagination, I’d be on my feet, screaming, “Why didn’t you leave us alone? Why did you have to drag us in? You’re scum, filth. I hate you. Go away. You deserve everything, everything, you understand? Everything that you get. It’s not my fault. IT’S NOT MY FAULT.”

She has everything going for her: good looks, a nice school, friends, and a silly dog to remind her not to take life too seriously. But suddenly her life spins out of control. Nothing seems to make sense anymore. It takes confinement in a hospital—and a lot of time to think—before she can once again get a handle on life.

If I had read that description (and seen the creepy goth girl staring at me from the cover) without any prior experience with John Marsden, I’d probably have gone, “Ooookay” and put it back on the shelf. Since I have, however, read the excellent Letters from the Inside, I knew that most likely, it would turn out to be good.

The main protagonist is a high-school-age girl from a well-to-do family, and is keeping a sort of journal while she’s in the Adolescent Unit of a psychiatric hospital. We never learn her name. The narration alternates between description of life in the hospital, the staff, and the other six teens in the unit (one of whom reminds me a lot of Luna Lovegood) and her life before, her easily stressed, perfection-seeking mom, workaholic dad, materialistic brother, and the family dog she adored, Checkers. She’s a voluntary patient at this place, and it seems is using it as a bit of a hideway, unable to face something mysterious and terrible that has happened.

It’s a short little book, but isn’t lacking for impact. In fact, I would say it is downright disturbing. The story is still a good one, and it’s definitely unforgettable, but once all the secrets are revealed of why this girl is where she is… Let’s just say that I think I’d probably be there, too, were I in her place.

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