Starred Review from Publisher's Weekly:
By Sarah Elizabeth Schantz
(McElderry; ISBN 9781481423588; April 2015; Spring 2015 catalog)
In a novel rich with metaphors, newcomer Schantz explores the tender, heartwrenching relationship between a schizophrenic mother and her highly gifted daughter. The book, which spans 15 years, begins when Fiona (aka Fig), then age six, first witnesses her mother’s delusional behavior. During her mother’s subsequent decline and long stays in hospitals and institutions, Fig practices various rituals and self-destructive acts, believing her sacrifices will restore her mother’s sanity. Meanwhile Fig’s patient, hardworking father tries to maintain a sense of normalcy but is plagued by worries. He relies heavily on his mother, who wants to turn Fig into a proper young lady, and his brother, who understands Fig in ways no one else can, to help with Fig’s upbringing while he farms the land. The beautiful and remote rural setting underscores Fig’s isolation among classmates who view her family as strange and her joy during fleeting moments when her mother appears to be cured. Readers will get a strong sense of the powerful bond of love between parents and child as Fig’s family strives to navigate the quagmire of mental illness.
"Somehow both lyrical and searing, "Fig" portrays all the fear and confusion and loneliness of living with an unstable parent. And yet, this book offers a redemption that is as honest as it is believable. A remarkable debut."—Patricia McCormick, Author of Cut and Two-time National Book Award Finalist for Sold and Never Fall Down
"A thought-provoking debut that gives voice to children coping with the hardships of being raised in families afflicted by mental illness. By merging reality and fantasy, Fig delivers an authentic portrayal of sacrifice, strength, and, ultimately, love. This is a story that needed to be told."—Kristen-Paige Madonia, author of Fingerprints of You
"Sarah Elizabeth Schantz's words are so beautiful they hurt. This is an astonishing debut novel--and one not only for young adults, but for all adults. At the heart --and very much the soul--of the book's powerful narrative is Fig, her voice as authentic at six as it is at eleven. I felt a sense of loss at the end and wanted to keep on reading and reading..."Fig" is destined to become a classic. Truly the most memorable book I have read in years."—Agatha Award-winning author, Katherine Hall Page
"In Fig, Sarah Elizabeth Schantz has written a spectacular debut of rare beauty and courage. This fascinating journey into a young child's mind is both haunting and electrifying. Fig is one of the best books I've read in years, and Fig's unique voice will stay with me forever."—Lauren Sabel, author of Vivian Divine Is Dead
From Jeffrey Pfaller, Author and Editor at Midwestern Gothic:
5 of 5 Stars
Bittersweet has never been as beautiful, heartbreaking, and provoking as it is in Sarah Elizabeth Schantz’s coming-of-age tale, Fig.
When Fig realizes Mama is sick, the deep love she bears for her mother becomes her burden as well. She takes on the fierce battle to help Mama reclaim her mind from a disease as constricting as barbed wire, schizophrenia. An insurmountable task for a six-year-old. Over the course of the novel, Fig makes daily sacrifices, ones she fully believes will make Mama whole again, but instead ends up losing herself in the process.
Schantz’s writing style can best be described as evocative, lovely and heartbreaking. She achieves clarity in communicating the raw emotion of her characters in a way that feels unrushed, yet there are no wasted breaths in Fig. Each word, sentence and paragraph reveals the unplumbed depths of the novel’s layers in a way that makes you want to gather the young Fig into your arms and say, “There, there. It’s going to be O.K.,” even though you can see no way out of the despair her family is trapped in.
While the book centers around characters with mental disease, I felt Schantz avoided making an overt, unearned commentary on mental illness, aside from that the people it affects are so much more than their condition. Schizophrenia and OCD manifest in Fig and her mother in good and in bad ways, and both are people that are worthy of compassion. Often, those who struggle with these types of conditions are ignored or broomed into the corners of society – Schantz shows us that these people are our mothers, our daughters, our fathers and sons. We should not relegate them to the edges.
The novel also explores the nuanced relationship between daughter and mother, girl and woman, self and other. It’s a rare debut from an author that bares the soul not only of the characters, but of the reader as well.
If you want to read and remember one book this year, make sure it’s Fig.
From School Library Journal:
Fig is six years old and spends a lot of time worrying about her mother, Annie. Her mother talks of fairy land, feral dogs lurking in the woods, and the importance of rituals. It is only after her mother attempts suicide that Fig learns the truth: her mother is schizophrenic. The story unfolds over the next 11 years, detailing the many ways Annie's schizophrenia changes her and affects her family. Through it all, Fig remains determined to save her mother. She begins sacrificing trinkets, thinking this will somehow make her mother get well. She also sacrifices her own needs and creates a Calendar of Ordeals, dictating what she must refrain from each day. The teen exhibits many troubling behaviors and is eventually diagnosed with OCD, but her health is overlooked as the focus remains on her increasingly unwell mother. Fig is often left in the care of her icy grandmother and has no support system. When her uncle catches her cutting herself, she is relieved that someone finally sees her and will hold her accountable, but Fig never stops thinking she can save her mother. This beautifully written story is a painful look at mental illness. An element of fantasy weaves throughout the narrative, with Annie's tenuous grip on reality and Fig's magical thinking, and references to fairy tales, The Wizard of Oz, and Alice in Wonderland abound. This dense, literary tale starts slowly, but builds to become an incredibly haunting story about mental illness and family bonds.—Amanda MacGregor, formerly at Apollo High School Library, St. Cloud, MN
"Fig’s narration epitomizes showing without telling. From wildflowers to animals to the blooming blood of her self-inflicted injuries, everything Fig describes is wildly poetic and tender. Schantz’s exquisite prose brims with nature, blood, literary references and intense emotional silence . . . Achingly gorgeous."
From The Horn:
Fiona, known affectionately as Fig, is only six years old when her mother is diagnosed with schizophrenia. Following a period of hospitalization, Fig’s mother returns to the family farm changed; medication has tamped her artistic spirit. Sensitive and intelligent, Fig internalizes her mother’s struggle, developing self-abusive coping strategies inspired by magical thinking; these grow more extreme as her mother’s condition deteriorates. Told from Fig’s perspective, Schantz’s first novel is a measured and bittersweet account of Fig’s life from age six to nineteen, and pays the same attention to the natural world as it does to Fig’s mother’s decline. It is this world—which consists of the family farm and its animals, a wild dog that becomes a kindred spirit, and the flowers that grow wild at the edge of the family’s property—that emerges as Fig’s salvation, and her mother’s eventual deliverance. Amy Pattee