Taking place in the year of 1967, Girl, Interrupted is a nonfiction book that follows the life of Susanna Kaysen, who was admitted into a psychiatric hospital. The original plan was to stay only a few weeks, yet somehow she wound up in the facility for two entire years. And the kicker? She was only interviewed for 20 minutes then her doctor forced her to admit herself into the hospital. 

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Girl Interrupted: Synopsis

Girl Interrupted is a nonfiction book written in a non-linear format that almost seems like dazed memories. Even though it was written as an autobiographical book, Susanna Kaysen allows the time line not to be completely straightforward. Kaysen blends the past and future together while at taking the time to comment on the cultural aspects of the 1960s, and how mental health was treated at that time. Girl Interrupted is written in such a way that the readers practically forgets about the fact that it’s nonfiction. The memoir is so chock full of personal sorrows and a broken system that it can be difficult to believe that this woman actually underwent this treatment.

Girl Interrupted

Kaysen details her relationships with the other girls who are in the hospital along with her. There’s Polly, who had disfiguring burns covering her face and body. Lisa, who was always attempting to escape and having bouts of anger directed towards the hospital staff. Georgina, Kaysan’s roommate who is in a relationship with another mentally unstable patient in the other ward, and finally Daisy, a new patient who has obsessions with roasted chicken and laxatives. 

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People ask, How did you get in there? What they really want to know is if they are likely to end up in there as well. I can’t answer the real question. All I can tell them is, it’s easy. And it is easy to slip into a parallel universe. Most people pass over incrementally, making a series of perforations in the membrane between here and there until an opening exists. And who can resist an opening?

Girl Interrupted: Review

As the story unfolds, we learn that Kaysen had the opportunity to leave the hospital and run away with a man named James Watson, but she had been so completely convinced that she needed to stay at the hospital by the staff, so she never took him up on the offer. As the book moves on, we’re provided a behind the scenes look at the incredibly regimented rules of the hospital, the arduous routines that patients were expected to follow, and the total lack of freedom that the girls had. These are what made James come see her and offer to take her away in the first place; he viewed the hospital as more of a prison than a place of healing.

mental-health-matters

While in the facility, Kaysen continued forming relationships with staff and patients alike. These interactions would in part shape the rest of her life. During a moment of clarity in the middle of her stay, she begins to reflect back about how she wound up in the facility, and the mental health professionals who diagnosed and categorized her so quickly, without a second though. It’s a poignant moment, and one that many people of the time would have related to with their mental health being categorized as “crazy” and nothing more. 

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At the very end of the book, after Kaysen’s release from the hospital, she explains the thought behind the title of the story and its significance. Reflecting back on everything that happened to her, how she wound up institutionalized and how the place affected her life after leaving, Girl Interrupted is a name quite fitting for this book

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This book has inspired a film, also named Girl Interrupted, that went on to win awards, and was widely critically acclaimed. The book its self was viewed as a breakthrough look at mental illness at the time of publication, and has continued to do function as a teaching tool for the mental health community.  

If you are looking for an easy to read nonfiction book, Girl Interrupted is a great start. It’s insightful, well developed, and is a great addition to any TBR. 

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8.0
Score

Pros

  • Insightful
  • Fascinating
  • Easy to read

Cons

  • Non linear timeline

Final Verdict

Overall this book is a great read! Easy and yet impactful -- you get a look into the looking glass at another world and time.