What Natalie Roman does not need in her life is more stress. Her family has just moved to a new city to take care of her schizophrenic grandma who’s stopped taking her medicine. Natalie’s far away from her friends and doesn’t know anyone but her brother in the new town. And she just got out of Winter Oaks, the psychiatric hospital, after she had her own experience with hallucinations.
When her brother David convinces her to join a summer theatre group, Natalie tries to make new friends, fit in, and forget about what’s happened. Then another patient from Winter Oaks joins the summer group, and Natalie can’t sort out the confused feelings she has for him.
But when old superstitions about the theater are exposed and weird things start happening, Natalie has to grapple with her past, her present, and her grip on reality.
If this book is about anything, it’s recovery. It’s about piecing yourself together, letting others help you and helping others. It’s about forgiving and moving on.
A lot of the forgiving Natalie has to do is of herself. Before she can really start living her life again, she has to accept her past, her mental health, and the decision she made to bring her to her current situation. This element of the novel is on the most graceful and rewarding to experience. Every reader will be able to connect with Natalie on some level through the emotional growth she undergoes.
As much as The Form of Things Unknown is Natalie’s story, it’s also the story of her family and new friends and their own recoveries. Natalie’s grandma is still mourning the loss of her husband, who died recently whose funeral she didn’t get to attend. Natalie’s dad just lost his father, and Natalie’s mom gave up her bakery—something she loved—to move to Savannah. Natalie’s entire family is trying to recover from the scare they had when Natalie had to be hospitalized. As they go on this journey together, their relationships grow, and their family bond is one of the strongest aspects of the novel.
Then there’s Lucas, the other patient from Winter Oaks. He’s got his own story and character growth. I don’t want to say too much because the mystery of his family and his path is a major point in the novel, but his character and story builds both a strong parallel and contrast to Natalie’s own circumstances.
As a narrator, Natalie is smart, snarky, and vulnerable, and I really enjoyed reading about her story. The plot finds a good balance between fun and emotional, and even in the few weak moments, it’s incredibly engaging.
If the book falters anywhere, it’s in its characterization. At times, characters just seemed a little flat or made decisions that furthered the plot but didn’t seem to align with my understanding of them. Lucas, as much as I felt like he had a strong background and potential, never really grew to be more than a stock character.
Even with that, I couldn’t put the book down at the end. Robin Bridges’ tells a completely captivating, poignant, and ultimately uplifting story about recovery and acceptance.
Thanks to Kensington Press, who gave me a copy in return for an honest review!
Release date: Aug 30, 2016