Review of "Stop Pretending"

Stop Pretending Review by Catherine Baty

Sones, Sonya. 2000. Stop pretending.

Sonya Sones or Cookie, as she is called in this autobiographical account, takes the reader through a few months of her life at the end of age 12 and turning 13 when her sister has a nervous breakdown and is admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Sones writes about how her sister’s mental illness affected her life. At first, her bedroom is less warm without her sister on the other side of the too pink room and the backseat of her parents car suddenly feels too big, “…and my sister wasn’t there, the backseat seemed huge and I spent most of the time just trying not to cry”. Then, once she tells her friends about her sister’s illness, they stop speaking to her and her parents withdraw from offering the support and communication she had received before. She she becomes “…tired of having a crazy sister.” and of feeling, and being, alone. Soon, things begin to look up. She stops caring about her old friends who ditched her. Then her art teacher loans Cookie a camera and, after showing her parents her photos, they give her a new camera “And it’s not even [her] birthday!”. She meets a new boy at school who doesn’t care that her sister is sick and introduces him to her parents. She goes on her first date. Her mom has a girls night in. She goes out with her dad. Things start to be okay. Her family continues to visit her sister in the hospital. The book closes with a poem about playing scrabble in the hospital as a family.

Stop Pretending is a novel in verse. Sones uses the format of poetry to take the reader through a difficult time of her life. Though each of the poems can easily stand on their own, together they weave an epic story of loss, fear, love and family. Cookie’s family and Cookie herself are portrayed honestly, both good and bad characteristics are present. This lends authenticity to the book as a whole, in that others going through a similar time in their lives might find solace in these pages. The plot is evenly paced, never overwhelming with the rhythm of each poem flowing evenly into the next. Sones’ word choice breathes life into the setting of each of her poems allowing for the reader to easily build pictures as the events unfold in their mind. Her expert use of spacing to add emphasis to words and phrases and does not disallow the poem to be read aloud rather, it aids the reader, as shown here, “I hug my parents/ and they hug me back,/ holding tight/ like feathers to the wing of a bird.” My heart felt raw and open during my reading of Stop Pretending. I was so close to Cookie, I felt her loneliness at losing her friends and closeness with her parents and I felt her shy joy at falling in love for the first time. Though this book is recommended for 5th through 8th grade, I think that it would be appropriate for use in a high school setting as well because of how it tackles a heavy subject like mental illness with grace and honesty. This book would work well as an introduction to a poetry module for high school students who could also take the time to analyze the subject matter much more deeply.

“The poems–some as short as five lines, none longer than three pages–have a cumulative emotional power that creeps up on the reader, culminating in a moving, unexpected line or phrase: “I blink / and there you suddenly are / inhabiting your eyes again. . . and I’m feeling all lit up / like a jar filled / with a thousand fireflies.” Such small moments become large in the context of their promise of healing and their demonstration of life’s power to continue.” – Contributor, Booklist on November 15th 1999

“An unpretentious, accessible book that could provide entry points for a discussion about mental illness-its stigma, its realities, and its affect on family members. Based on the journals Sones wrote at the age of 13 when her 19-year-old sister was hospitalized due to manic depression, the simply crafted but deeply felt poems reflect her thoughts, fears, hopes, and dreams during that troubling time.” – Sharon Korbeck, School Library Journal in October 1999

This could be used as a safe way to discuss mental illness in the classroom. Leading up to the reading of this book students can be encouraged to discuss feelings. Picture books, even with older classes, can be used to encourage the open discussion.

  • Moundlic, Charlotte and Olivier Tallec, The Scar, ISBN 9780763653415
  • Malcolm, Deborah, Meh: A Story About Depression, ISBN 9781634110037
  • Dr. Seuss, My Many Colored Days, ISBN 9780679893448
  • Huebner, Dawn Ph.D., and Bonnie Matthews, What to Do When You Worry Too Much, ISBN 9781591473145

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