A Bitter Pill To Swallow by Tiffany Gholar

Date Read: February 15th 2017

Published: 2016

PublisherBlurb Books

Pages: 315

 

 

 

 

The Blurb 

Winner of the 2016 Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year Award for Fiction, Non-Traditionally Published.

On the edge of the Chicago medical district, the Harrison School for Exceptional Youth looks like a castle in a snow globe. Janina has been there since she was ten years old, and now she’s fourteen. She feels so safe inside its walls that she’s afraid to leave.
Devante’s parents bring him there after a tragedy leaves him depressed and suicidal. Even though he’s in a different place, he can’t escape the memories that come flooding back when he least expects them.
Dr. Gail Thomas comes to work there after quitting her medical residency. Frustrated and on the verge of giving up on her dreams, she sees becoming a counselor as her last chance to put her skills to the test.
When he founded the school, Dr. Lutkin designed its unique environment to be a place that would change the students’ lives. He works hard as the keeper of other people’s secrets, though he never shares any of his own.
But everything changes late in the winter of 1994 when these four characters’ lives intersect in unexpected ways. None of them will ever be the same.

 Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)

A Bitter Pill To Swallow is a young adult novel set in 1994 Chicago that closely follows three characters as they battle with various stresses life brought them. Devante is a young black high school student, suffering from intense PTSD; Janina is a quirky young black high school student, who has been diagnosed with some features of schizotypal personality disorder; Dr. Gail Thomas is a determined young black women who is finally a medical resident after taking a break from her residency program, due to family issues. All three characters have their own bitter pills to swallow and eventually meet at a therapeutic boarding school- The Harrison School, run by a kind and gentle psychiatrist, Dr. Lutkin.

Each chapter alternates between the three characters’ or Dr. Lutkin’s point of view; no, it’s not confusing – Gholar does a great job at allowing the story to flow quite nicely. The characters have their own storylines, which eventually merge towards the end, making this an absorbing, suspenseful read. Dr. Gail’s chapters were bold and readers see black girl magic at work in her character. In my opinion, she’s the heroine of this novel – you’ll have to get your copy to find out why!

The Harrison School is not your average therapeutic boarding school. It is an ideal environment for anyone – not just students who battle with mental illness. Tiffany Gholar’s palpable descriptions of various rooms decorated in tones like amethyst purples, sapphire blues and emerald greens as well as descriptions of students having their own comfy bedrooms with medical staff always on call, made me wish this sanctuary actually existed. Since Tiffany Gholar is an artist (she designed the four different book covers for this novel), writer and interior designer, trust and believe that her descriptions are impressively vivid and vibrant. Vivid descriptions + great storytelling sprinkled with suspense made this an enjoyable read.

Tiffany Gholar’s A Bitter Pill to Swallow is a reminder of why we need to support more Indie writers. I would give this novel 5 stars, but the words ‘crazy’ and ‘normal’ were over-used for a story of this nature. Maybe the use of these words were intentional, but it made me a bit uncomfortable. One theme that’s constant in this novel is the theme of mental health awareness. Each character is dealing which his/her own stresses that have an effect on their mental and emotional health. From reading the blurb, one may think this novel is super heavy and dark, but it’s not at all. Readers will encounter a blossoming romance, crazy pharmaceutical politics, issues surrounding race, funny commentary on various students and events. Be prepared to enter a time-capsule as you travel back to 1994 when singer Tevin Campbell, Digable Planets (hip hop group) and the film ET were still popular. The novel isn’t bogged down with excessive depressing happenings – trust me on this one!

Lately, there is more and more talk in the Black community around mental health and ‘self-care’ to the point where it’s even (unfortunately) commercialized. Black/African communities rarely used to speak on the issue of mental health because they/we think everything can be prayed away. But I strongly believe seeking help through psychotherapy or finding a counsellor can be the first step towards healing – Devante, Janina, Dr. Gail and Dr. Lutkin are proof of this! I hope this novel gets the attention of various middle and high schools because Gholar’s sensitive writing is a great tool for discussing various personal issues, with young adults of color.

Special thanks to Tiffany Gholar for sending me the Dr. Gail Thomas edition of the book!

 ★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

Purchase A Bitter Pill To Swallow on Amazon

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National Poetry Month 2015 – 3 poems

National (USA) Poetry Month is slowly coming to an end! In honor of this month dedicated to poetry, I’ve decided to showcase some of my favorite poems.

I’m not a huge poetry fan, but below are three poems: (one each) African-American, Caribbean and African poems that I love. Hope you enjoy!

 

African-American poem

In 2008 during my freshman year of undergrad (Middlebury College), my first year seminar class was on Urban Chicago (shout out to Prof. Will Nash!). We learned a lot about Chicago and read a lot of literature from there as well, including the works of Richard Wright, Ida B. Wells and Gwendolyn Brooks. The poem below was my favorite from Brooks. It’s speaks volumes on society’s warped perceptions of beauty and colorism even among children. Enjoy!

 

The Ballad of Chocolate Mabbie by Gwendolyn Brooks

It was Mabbie without the grammar school gates.

And Mabbie was all of seven.

And Mabbie was cut from a chocolate bar.

And Mabbie thought life was heaven.

The grammar school gates were the pearly gates,

For Willie Boone went to school.

When she sat by him in history class

Was only her eyes were cool.

It was Mabbie without the grammar school gates

Waiting for Willie Boone.

Half hour after the closing bell

He would surely be coming soon.

Oh, warm is the waiting for joys, my dears!

And it cannot be too long.

Oh, pity the little poor chocolate lips

That carry the bubble of song!

Out came the saucily bold Willie Boone.

It was woe for our Mabbie now.

He wore like a jewel a lemon-hued lynx

With sand-waves loving her brow.

It was Mabbie alone by the grammar school gates.

Yet chocolate companions had she:

Mabbie on Mabbie with hush in the heart.

Mabbie on Mabbie to be.

 

GBrooksGwendolyn Brooks was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, professor, and lived in Chicago all her life. This poem was taken from her collection of poems: A Street in Bronzeville (1945).

 

 

 


 

Caribbean poem: Saint Lucia

The next poem is one I recently stumbled upon by Saint Lucia native, Derek Walcott. I loved it’s calmness and reassurance. Enjoy!

 

Love After Love by Derek Walcott

The time will come

when, with elation

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror

and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

 

and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

 

all your life, whom you ignored

for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

 

the photographs, the desperate notes,

peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life.

derekwalcottDerek Walcott is a Saint Lucian playwright and poet. In 1992 he received the Nobel Prize in Literature, amongst other awards throughout his successful career. Source: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/love-after-love/ (accessed April 22nd 2015).

 

 

 


 

African poem: Uganda

My two friends from college – Harrison Kihonge, from Kenya and Motlatsi Nkhahle, from Lesotho used to call me ‘Lapobo’. It used to irritate me because I didn’t know whether ‘Lapobo’ was a compliment or an insult! I finally got them to tell me what ‘Lapobo’ meant and they told me it’s a name/term used in a poem they studied back at their respective United World College (UWC) high schools by Cliff Lubwa p’Chong. Enjoy!

 

The Beloved by Cliff Lubwa p’Chong

Lapobo,

Tall but not too tall,

Short but not too short,

Lapobo,

Her teeth are not as ash

Nor the colour of maize flour,

Her teeth are as white as fresh milk.

The whiteness of her teeth

When I think of her

Makes food drop from my hand.

Lapobo,

Black but not too black,

Brown but not too brown,

Her skin colour is just between black and brown.

Lapobo,

Her heels have no cracks,

Her palms are smooth and tender to touch,

Her eyes—Ho they can destroy anybody.

Lubwa p’Chong was a playwright and poet from Uganda. This poem can be read in a 1960’s anthology: Poems from East Africa edited by David Cook and David Rubadiri.

 I actually really love this poem! Now I know ‘Lapobo’ surely is not an insult. My friend Harrison Kihonge recently posted it on my Facebook wall, hence my access to the full poem.

 

What are some of your favorite African-American, Caribbean and/or African poems? Please do share!