After hearing many positive reviews (Globe Books and CBC Books), i thought that I would give this Canadian author another read. Reading about the challenges growing up in a Mennonite community in A Complicated Kindness was not the most engaging read but with all the positive reviews, i picked up All My Puny Sorrows. This book was not an uplifting choice to ring out 2014. Although it is a fictional story, the author is said to have based much of the materials on her own experience of losing both her father and her beloved sister to suicide. The topic is very serious in a time when mental health is a prime focus in health care.
The story is narrated by Yolanda (Yoli) and shares her experience growing up with her sister Elfrieda (Elf) in a Mennonite town in the Canadian prairie province of Manitoba. Elf is the elder sibling, a talented pianist who struggled with happiness and was striving to end her suffering by ending her life. After dealing with multiple hospitalizations and unsuccessful suicide attempts, Yoli took responsibility to try and keep Elf alive – flying back and forth from Toronto to Manitoba and trying to convince Elf that life was worth living. While she acted as caregiver, Yoli struggled with her own life, leaving two teenage children at home, dealing with her divorce and sleeping with a man in each province. It seemed that each family member in the story was dealing with their own challenges.
In the end, Elf was successful in her quest and the family had to learn to deal with her decisions and heal. The book was serious and melancholic but not my best choice to end out the year. It was a powerful and honest account of mental illness and the struggles that some families deal with but it was not inspiring and was not a book that I struggled to put down. My heart goes out to the author who has clearly struggled with her own loss and hope that help is available for others going through similar situations.