Stop Pretending, my first novel-in-verse, is autobiographical. It tells the story of what happened when I was thirteen years old and my big sister, who was nineteen at the time, had a nervous breakdown and had to be hospitalized.
While I was working on Stop Pretending, I never really thought it was going to be published. So I didn't even tell my sister I was writing it. Then, when HarperCollins bought my manuscript, I knew I'd need to ask my sister how she felt about it. I was worried about what her reaction would be. I was even prepared to use a pen name if she didn't want her privacy invaded.
But when I told my sister about the book, she was thrilled. She said, "A book like this could be used in schools to open up discussions about mental illness." My sister and I are hopeful that the people who read Stop Pretending will come away from the experience feeling more compassion for the victims of mental illness.
And in case you are wondering how my sister is doing, I'm happy to report that she's doing great. She was diagnosed as bipolar, and was on medication for many years. But recently, she’s gotten off the drugs and has been getting regular ECT (shock treatments) instead. ECT has a bad reputation, mostly, I think, because of how brutally it’s been portrayed in movies. But more people suffering from mental illness should try it! It remains a mystery how shock treatments work, but they certainly have miraculous results for my sister. She’s feeling better than she has in a very long time…
It’s been nearly seventeen years since Stop Pretending was originally published. In that time, I’ve written many more novels in verse. But Stop Pretending has always held a special place in my heart because of all the wonderful letters I’ve received from my readers, who have been trusting enough to share their own very personal stories with me—stories of pain and of triumph. They’ve told me that reading this book made them feel less alone in their struggles, and their words in turn, have made me feel less alone in mine.
I’ve heard such moving stories from the siblings and parents and children and friends of people with mental illness, and from people who are suffering from mental illness themselves. I’ve also heard from teachers—who have told me that they’ve used this book in their classrooms to begin conversations about mental illness with their students. Which is exactly what my sister hoped would happen. I like to think that this book, in some small way, has redeemed some of my sister’s own suffering.
Hearing so often, from such kind and openhearted people, has left me feeling that those of us whose lives have been touched by mental illness are part of one big family, helping each other to survive. And I’ve been enormously grateful to HarperCollins for never letting Stop Pretending go out of print, and for reissuing it now, breathing fresh life into it with this striking new cover.