#521 Elephant in the Sky by Heather A. Clark

Elephant in the Sky by Heather A. ClarkElephant in the Sky by Heather A. Clark

When there’s something wrong with your precious baby, you don’t want to believe it, but you’ve got to face reality and admit that something is not right, only then can your child get the help he or she needs.

Nate is nine years old and he really, really needs gum. In fact, he needs gum so bad that he just can’t stand not having gum. He goes to the nearby store in two pairs of underwear and steals gum. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened.

Ashley, Nate’s mother, is a high-powered advertising executive while Nate’s father, Pete, stays at home and takes care of Nate and his sister Grace, who is twelve. Nate has trouble at school. Ashley is really starting to worry about him, but she also has to worry about her career. Pete doesn’t want to admit that something is wrong with Nate. He says kids just do kid things.

It’s not until Nate runs away that things get a little more serious. Nate only runs away for a little while and sprains his ankle is the process, so he couldn’t run any further. He was out with Noah. Noah is the boy who lives four doors down. At the hospital, Nate has a full-blown panic attack. One of the doctors raise the possibility that Nate could have depression. Pete doesn’t want to hear about it.

Ashley goes on with her advertising campaigns while Nate gets worse. Noah runs away again and this time he’s gone for much longer. Police get involved. Finally it comes out that there is a family history of bi-polar disorder. Ashley’s father is bipolar, but she didn’t know. Nate goes on and on about elephants in the sky that are going to get him. He is checked into a psychiatric hospital. The boy Ashley loves is not the same boy in the bed. Nate is completely different.

The process of trying to get Nate to a livable level of therapy and medication starts, but it isn’t without its hiccups along the way.

What I liked

Sometimes we don’t think kids, our kids, can be subject to certain diseases, but we’re wrong. We might be in denial about a child having a mental illness until it’s too late. The thing is, we have to be on guard, all the time, from the time our children are born. Today’s world is so filled with mental illness and other diseases that we have to be the ones to be preemptive about the whole thing. We have to watch. We have to catch whatever it is before it gets too bad. We have to make our child’s life livable with whatever condition they may have.

There are people who would tell me that kids don’t deal with things like major depression or mental illness, but they would be wrong. All of us need to be on the watch for depression in children and mental illness in children. If your child is a psychopath, as much as it may hurt to admit it, you’ve got to admit it and get the kid help.

Ashley and Pete are good examples of a couple who don’t want to admit that something is wrong with their child, but they have to. In fact, they waited too long to admit it. I think books like this are good reminders to parents that you can’t dismiss those odd things that your child may be doing.

What I didn’t like

First of all, Heather is a name-dropper. She does it throughout the entire book. What do I mean by this? Let me give you an example.

I ran up 51st Street to 6th Avenue, and past the AJ & Emerson New York office where all of my meetings would be held later that day. By the time I got to MoMA, I had fallen into my stride and let my stress from the day before erase itself with each step. Once I’d finished my run and gotten ready for the day, I grabbed my usual latte from the Starbucks near the Waldorf and managed to resist the pumpkin scone that seemed to be calling my name. I knew my back-to-back meetings would be filled with catered baked goods, and I had a dinner meeting booked for that night at a restaurant that promised a rich meal with lots of wine.

I know you may not be able to tell entirely, but I bolded a few of those words. What’s wrong with those words? Heather constantly calls out very specific, seemingly high-priced things. She mentions Prada bags, Miu Miu shoes, and so on, a lot. This was two paragraphs in the book. She drops prestigious locations and names constantly. By the way, I think most people generally say “the MoMA” instead of just “MoMA,” but I’m not from New York and I could be wrong. You may think there isn’t a problem with this, but to me there kind of is. This is Heather’s description of her surrounding and of the things her characters are wearing. Look this is all very nice and well, but usually when I’m describing something in writing I don’t have to say, “It’s a Prada bag.” I would say, “It’s a medium-sized purple leather bag.” I wouldn’t have to drop a name nor would I see any point to be gained by doing so; Heather obviously sees a point in doing this. I don’t know who she’s trying to impress.

Most people don’t walk around with Prada bags or care to. When Heather writes her character going to these specific places and doing these specific things, she’s alienating a certain part of her would-be audience. Not everyone goes around eating pumpkin scones, carrying Prada bags, and constantly going to Starbucks to get expensive lattes. I hate to be this way, but that’s something rich white people do. How many of us are both rich and white? A small percentage of the world.

Let’s move on from that. Let’s talk about what happens in the book and not just Heather’s descriptions. Heather is trying very hard to tell an important story. It’s obviously important to her because I skimmed her acknowledgement section and she genuinely cares about children and people with mental disorders, I think. It’s such an important lesson and message.

If it’s so darn important why does Heather use so many clichéd things to get her point across? Ashley is a high-powered advertising executive woman who wears expensive things and carries around expensive handbags. She drinks expensive lattes and obviously cares about high fashion. She is such a feminist that she thinks it’s ok for her husband to stay home and raise the kids. Even though the husband is the one raising the kids, he obviously knows nothing about the kids. He thinks Nate is just fine. He’s obviously an idiot, because he’s a man, and clearly not as observant of the children as Heather would be. The children also need Heather more than they need Pete because she’s the mom. Nate does not ask for his father in times of trouble; he asks for his mother. Then of course, there are clichéd arguments about how Pete was talking to Ashley’s father behind her back and Ashley didn’t know about it. Then there’s the name Ashley, which is in and of itself a cliché name. I’m sorry, but it is.

Maybe I’m being too harsh on this book, but when I read all of this I was like, “AH, COME ON!” Look here, Ashley is a stereotype. She’s this stereotype we create of the American businesswoman who can have it all. Pete is the stereotype of a man. We stereotype men all the time. We say they’re not as observant or nurturing and that the mother is always going to be more observant of her children. I’m sorry, that’s just not the case. Pete is the primary caregiver in this story. He’s going to be the one addressing the concerns of how Nate is acting, not Ashley. He’s going to be the one coming to his spouse and saying, “Honey, I think there’s something wrong with our son. He acts weird. I don’t think this is normal.”

In my opinion, Ashley is also an unsympathetic character. She seems spoiled to me.

Another thing, Bi-polar disorder, I don’t have it and I am not closely enough associated with a person who has it to know all of its ins and outs, but this sounds more like schizophrenia. I could be totally wrong, Psychosis associated with bipolar disorder may be a common thing. Nate sounds more messed up than bipolar disorder to me. Bipolar disorder, while not pleasant, isn’t that bad on a scale of mental illnesses, if you were going to rank all of them in their severity from least severe to most severe. It’s something that can be managed fairly well, with the proper medication and therapy, still not pleasant or easy, but not so bad as being a psychopath.

Oh, and when Ashley and her father are talking about bipolar disorder it sounds like something out of one of those corny medication commercials that come on tv. There’s one I remember distinctly. It was about some form of birth control or the other. A woman was talking to her friends about her birth control, because that’s what we women do every time we get together. We discuss all the ways we’re not getting pregnant because we’re such die-hard feminists and we need to be not getting pregnant all the time. This woman went on to talk to her friends about her birth control and then she rattled off all the side effects like it was part of the conversation. She was like, “Oh, you may experience nausea and blah, blah, blah.” Nobody does that. Nobody sits down and talks about anything like that, but that’s how Ashley and her father were talking about bipolar disorder. It was like something out of some terrible pamphlet. “People with bipolar disorders can live normal lives with the proper therapy and medication, just ask my doctor, who is also bipolar.”

Oh, and, there’s more…remember how I said that Ashley did the things rich white people do? It was just a few paragraphs ago. Mental health care is expensive. State and federal health, where provided, aren’t very good at mental health care. In fact, they’re pretty bad at it. If you want any semblance of good mental health care you must have insurance and lots of money to cover what insurance doesn’t cover. How expensive do you think Nate’s stay in the mental hospital was? How about those meds? How about the tranquilizer that knocked him out for a day at a time? How about that special school he goes to? How about all those psychiatrists that he sees? EXPENSIVE! MUY CARO!!!!!

Look, here’s the thing, we know people have mental health issues and a lot of them aren’t being treated as they should be treated. Why? It’s freaking expensive. The state and federal governments don’t yet recognize how severe the need is and as a result don’t make legislation and funding available to treat mental health care on the scale needed. The people who can afford adequate mental health care are generally A) rich and B) white.

Nate’s story, while possessing a good ending for Nate, as good as could be anyway, is a story of a rich white boy. It’s not the story of a poor black kid from the ghetto who needs treatment for his bipolar disorder. It’s not the story of an immigrant family whose daughter has bipolar disorder. It’s not the story of a Native American girl living on a reservation who severely needs mental help. It’s not even the story of a poor white family living in a rural community whose child severely needs mental help. It’s the story of a rich white kid who has the means and family resources to get the help he needs. That’s great and all, but it doesn’t do squat for the rest of us who can’t afford that type of care.

Overall

Nice try, but no cigar.

Weigh In

Do you think Nate would have received the same medical attention if he had been black, or Latin, or Native American?

Do you care that Ashley has a Prada bag? Seriously, I want to know. I want to know how important this actually is to people.

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