Little Panic – Amanda Stern

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Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Publication Date: June 19th, 2018

Page Count: 400 (hardcover)

From the Jacket:

In the vein of bestselling memoirs about mental illness like Andrew Solomon’s Noonday Demon, Sarah Hepola’s Blackout, and Daniel Smith’s Monkey Mindcomes a gorgeously immersive, immediately relatable, and brilliantly funny memoir about living life on the razor’s edge of panic.
The world never made any sense to Amanda Stern–how could she trust time to keep flowing, the sun to rise, gravity to hold her feet to the ground, or even her own body to work the way it was supposed to? Deep down, she knows that there’s something horribly wrong with her, some defect that her siblings and friends don’t have to cope with.
Growing up in the 1970s and 80s in New York, Amanda experiences the magic and madness of life through the filter of unrelenting panic. Plagued with fear that her friends and family will be taken from her if she’s not watching-that her mother will die, or forget she has children and just move away-Amanda treats every parting as her last. Shuttled between a barefoot bohemian life with her mother in Greenwich Village, and a sanitized, stricter world of affluence uptown with her father, Amanda has little she can depend on. And when Etan Patz disappears down the block from their MacDougal Street home, she can’t help but believe that all her worst fears are about to come true.
Tenderly delivered and expertly structured, Amanda Stern’s memoir is a document of the transformation of New York City and a deep, personal, and comedic account of the trials and errors of seeing life through a very unusual lens.

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I just started this a few days ago, but once I picked it up I couldn’t put it down. I stayed up until 130 in the morning and then set my alarm early so I could read the last few chapters. I had so many emotions while reading this book and it opened so many questions for me. About who I am, how I was raised, my own anxiety, what kind of parent I am versus the one I want to be, how I interact with those around me, especially my wife. I’m not sure if reading someone else’s memoir should make one introspective, but this one resonated with me in so many different places and ways that it did. Amanda’s life is incredible and the courage with which she opens herself up in such an honest and raw way is humbling. I loved reading this book. I loved learning about her life and how she interprets the world, especially as a child.

Little Panic opens in Amanda’s elementary school classroom, where the students–all except for her–have earned watches by learning to correctly tell time and are now playing a game to test their knowledge. Amanda’s best friend Melissa has been asked to sit out the game and help her catch up so she can join the rest of the class. As she asks frantic–and in my opinion, very valid–questions to make sense of it, Amanda can feel her friend’s frustration that she does not get it and her desire to just go join the game. My reaction to this first chapter was visceral and heartbreaking and plunged me back into my own childhood school experiences. While the writing style and language change as she gets older, it is perhaps these first chapters, written in this simple, honest, and straightforward voice that are my favorite.

After her parents divorce when she was only 2, Amanda’s mother move her and her siblings into a townhouse in the city that backs up to a shared outdoor space referred to as the secret garden by the residents. It is in this idyllic space that much of the story unfolds and Amanda shares the dichotomy of her life safely ensconced in her garden and the many terrors she faces on the street side. There are so many things to be afraid of on the street side, but it is the disappearance of Etan Patz from a bus stop near her house and the ensuing search for him that helps to shape and sharpen her many anxieties. I grew up without a knowledge of this case and the slow revelation of facts throughout the story added an air of mystery not resolved until the book concludes.

Little Panic spans Amanda’s childhood up through the present time. She discusses her deep attachment to her mother, the turbulent connection with her father, the relationships she has with her siblings, her failed romantic relationships, and everything in between. Interspersed with memories and anecdotes are questions from the many psychological tests she took and notes and observations from her doctors. I’m not a psychologist, but I do hold a degree in psychology and was so incredibly frustrated by the fact that no one suggested a panic disorder until she is 25 years old. As a child, she’s always trying to find something wrong with her on the outside that will help everyone understand what is wrong with her on the inside. Receiving her diagnosis doesn’t magically fix her, but it does finally give her the words needed to voice her anxiety.

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I was ecstatic beyond words when Amanda reached out to me to see if I would be interested in reviewing her book. One of my favorite parts about the book community on Instagram are the connections I’m able to build not only with the other readers of the books I love, but their writers too! Of all of the author interactions I’ve had, my exchanges with Amanda have been some of my favorite. She is incredibly kind and thoughtful and has written a truly incredible account of her life growing up in New York City with an undiagnosed panic disorder. I’ve read a lot of reviews about this book, and several suggest that anyone with anxiety read this book. While I think there are many reasons why a reader with anxiety would find maybe a sense of community here, they’re not the only relevant audience. I think Little Panic should be required reading for anyone sharing their life with a person who suffers from panic disorders–parents, partners, healthcare professionals, even friends–as it provides invaluable insight into an anxious mind.

The hugest thank you goes out to Amanda and Grand Central Publishing for this copy in exchange for my honest review.

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Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon Wrap-Up-ish

Oh what a day it has been! I set my alarm so I could be awake and bundled up on the couch with my book stack and a fresh cup of coffee by the time this kicked off this morning. My children however, had other plans for me. One of the twins woke up at 5 to go to the bathroom, and in the process woke up everyone. Needless to say, I was up long before go time. Ah, motherhood.

If the beginning was rough, it was nothing compared to the next few hours where I read a total of 7 pages. I knew it would be tough to participate this round because we had other stuff going on today so I just made the best of it and laughed at the chaos. I was finally able to get some good reading time in after our morning commitments were finished and I dropped my children off with their grandparents for the rest of the day. I had some housework that had to get done today, so I spent that time listening to the audio version of The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee. I read A Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue last year and absolutely loved it and this one is proving to be just as enjoyable so far.

Later in the afternoon I was able to settle in again with Fruit of the Drunken Tree, which I’ve just finished in hour 18. This was a very heavy read for a readathon, but I needed to finish it for book club this week so I powered through. Contreras writes really beautifully and I flew through it despite the dark subject matter. It’s one of several books I’ve read this year based on true people and events. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for the next book she writes.

It’s a little after midnight where I am, but I’m going to try to read for a couple more hours to make up for the lost time of this morning. Next up is the newest installment of Lumberjanes and then if I’m still awake after that I’ll be starting Little Panic by Amanda Stern. Despite the craziness of mom life and the less than stellar planning this round, I still really enjoyed today and I made some new book friends too. I typically post all of my updates here on the blog, but decided to stick mostly to instagram this time. You can find me there @whatsjennareading. Did any of you participate? What did you read?

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