Holly Bourne tackles mental health issues in YA novel 'Are We All Lemmings & Snowflakes' [Book Review]

A troubled teen goes to a voluntary camp that provides mental health treatment

John Millen |

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By Holly Bourne

Published by Usborne

ISBN 978 1 4749 3361 2

Holly Bourne is a YA novelist who takes on teen issues and turns them into thought-provoking works of fiction. She never aims for sensationalism, as a lesser writer might, nor throws in shocks just for the sake of keeping readers on their toes. Her novels are painfully honest about the issues and obstacles teenagers face in this crazy world.

Fiction based on fact or social issues is a difficult thing to pull off, but Bourne is skilled at creating protagonists that readers can’t help but identify with. Olive, the troubled teen at the centre of Are We All Lemmings & Snowflakes? is one of Bourne’s strongest creations.

A Bourne book does not offer easy solutions to the issues that drive it – but then, neither does life. And it is life that is weighing Olive down when we first meet her. She just wants to be normal, but something in her head prevents that. When things become too much, she hides and refuses to participate. She has the support of her parents and a very understanding best friend, but sometimes that’s not enough to pull Olive out of a period of black despair.

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After yet another bad episode, Olive’s doctor throws her a lifeline, suggesting that she enrols at a new voluntary facility called Camp Reset. Here teens with mental problems are given intensive treatment and support to get them back on track.

At this point, the plot is in danger of skidding off the rails into unreality. Olive is a real teenager in trouble, and the sudden convenient appearance of this camp is a bit of an unlikely plot turn. You can’t but desperately hope Bourne hasn’t created a Hogwarts-type mental health unit.

Luckily, things remain realistic. Life settles down once Olive arrives at the camp. But the path to becoming “normal” does not appear as quickly as she would like, despite the number of medical experts on hand.

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It doesn’t help that a number of the other camp mates take a dislike to Olive. But contrary to expectations, this helps her to see her issues more clearly. She bonds with a troubled maths genius called Lewis, and the pair begin to question the difference between “sanity” and “insanity”. What is it that makes a mind “unwell”? If Olive could unlock this answer, she could heal herself.

Are We All Lemmings & Snowflakes? is a powerful exploration of teenage mental health and the failings of the world. It is a novel for older teens and deals with some disturbing issues. But at the centre of it all is a very worthwhile character with a heartfelt, humorous and challenging story.

And at the end of it all, there is a message of hope for Olive – and for the rest of us.

John Millen can be contacted at [email protected]

Edited by Karly Cox