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by Susan Shaw
Front Street, 2002
Review by Amy Ridley on Apr 22nd 2008

Black-eyed Suzie

Suzie is in her box where she feels most comfortable. She no longer speaks or eats. She sits with her knees drawn up to her chest and her family does not seem overly concerned. Her mother calls it going through a "phase." Her father is too busy working to really notice and her older sister tells her that she will be okay. Finally her uncle acknowledges that there is a problem that needs to be addressed by medical professionals. Suzie is taken to a hospital to get better against her mother's wishes. Once there, she is forced to interact with other patients such as Karen and Joshua. Karen is a bully who likes to beat up the mute Suzie while Joshua tries to get Suzie to open up and trust him.

The story moves back and forth from present day to the past and the cause of Suzie's trauma is slowly revealed. The dialogue is simple but the format is gripping. Shaw's decision to tell the story from Suzie's viewpoint is brilliant. The stream of conscience allows the reader to see Suzie putting herself back together. Shaw's ability to put the reader n Suzie's head is similar to Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time which told the story through the eyes of an autistic child. The reader is able to see the thinking of someone who processes information differently Suzie's voice is completely original.

In her own way she knows that her behavior is odd. She is able to realize that her hair is dirty and she has not eaten but she is not able to move herself to asking for help. In her own way she ignores what is going on around her, hoping that it will just take care of itself. Her family members are doing the same thing which has not helped Suzie. Everyone around her is ignoring the root of the trauma in order to protect themselves.

Suzie only starts to look at what has caused her strange behavior once she is at the hospital. It is through her meetings with her extremely patient counselor Stella and her sweet friend Joshua that she finally starts remembering what caused her to become quiet. It takes a very long time for her to get to the turning point. A visit from her sister Deanna makes her realize that ignoring what happened and letting the person get away with what they did may result in something bad happening to her beloved older sister.

Suzie gets help from some unexpected people along the way but ultimately she is the only one that can help. The guidance she receives at the hospital allows her the security that she needs in order to face her demons. Shaw's story shows that the greatest help someone can receive often comes from within.

This book is appropriate for ages 12 and up. This contains scenes of child abuse and discusses mental illness.


© 2008 Amy Ridley

Amy Ridley received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Boston University.

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