Title: Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets
Author: Evan Roskos
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: March 5, 2013
“I hate myself but I love Walt Whitman, the kook. Always positive. I need to be more positive, so I wake myself up every morning with a song of myself.”
Sixteen-year-old James Whitman has been yawping (à la Whitman) at his abusive father ever since he kicked his beloved older sister, Jorie, out of the house. James’s painful struggle with anxiety and depression—along with his ongoing quest to understand what led to his self-destructive sister’s exile—make for a heart-rending read, but his wild, exuberant Whitmanization of the world and keen sense of humor keep this emotionally charged debut novel buoyant.
In my post about YA lit in 2013, I wrote about waiting for a “wow” book, a book that would make me feel as excited as If I Stay and The Sky is Everywhere did. To compare these books would be wrong because they’re all so different, but to say Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets made me as excited as the others did would be right.
I loved everything about this book. It was smart, funny, and deep in all the right ways, and I can’t believe I haven’t heard more about it.
To start with, I loved James. His struggles to celebrate himself and learn to be comfortable in the life he has read so genuinely to me, and he was just a great character in general. He’s definitely made it onto my YA book crushes list, with his dry humor, literary knowledge and abilities, and general sensitivity.
I don’t think I’ve read a book that depicts the ups and downs of anxiety and depression as well as Evan Roskos’ debut did. I related to James’ struggles a lot, and was moved by how he dealt with them. The fact that he gets a job to pay for therapy because his parents refuse to was very interesting and moving to me because that does differ from my own experiences with mental illness. James is an incredibly insightful young boy and his knowledge of what he needs and his drive to get it made him a standout character for me.
This story was also different in that both parents were abusive. In other stories with abuse I’ve read, it’s just one parent (typically the father), so this also contributed to the book’s uniqueness. I also thought it was cool that even though abuse is present in the story, the book isn’t about abuse. James realizes that what happens at home isn’t right, but Roskos makes it seem “normal” enough to not let it overshadow the overarching issue of mental illness. Roskos managed to discuss a lot of issues with a grace that made me surprised he was a debut author.
Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets is a quirky, powerful debut that marks Evan Roskos as an author to watch, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.