Where do I start… When Jenny from Jenny in Neverland wrote on her twitter that she’s looking for bloggers to review a book, I was immediately intrigued because, come on, you can never have enough books, and I’m always on a lookout for something new to read, especially if it also involves discovering a new author. But when she sent me the book blurb, I was totally sold.
Because this book is about mental health. And I don’t think we talk about it enough, even though it’s such an important topic.
So, what’s the story?
Seph, the main character, is an artist, and lives what appears to be a normal life. She has loving parents, a great boyfriend and a successful career. Everything starts to go down when she receives an email from a man who claims to her real father.
The story is set in two times – in the present day and late 80s, and touches on issues of family life and mental health.
What Goes Down is Natalie K Martin’s third novel. Natalie is a bestselling author who has done something many of us will dream of doing at some point in our lives – quit her corporate job and went backpacking. Apart from being a writer, she’s also a yoga instructor. Pretty cool, I say.
But what’s so special about What Goes Down that made it hard for me to put the book down?
First of all, it’s simply a well written book. It has real characters, people that you would actually meet in real life, with flaws, and problems. They’re not black and white, rather many shades of grey, as all of us in real life.
Secondly, as I’ve already mentioned, one of the main themes of the the book is mental health. As you might already know if you’ve read my post about depression and writing I myself have struggled with a mental health problem in the past. Although depression is now a thing of the past, merely a bad memory and a year of my life sacrificed to fight it, the topic of mental health is still incredibly close to my heart. I get unbelievably irritated when I see people say terribly hurtful stuff like ‘You just need to think positively, eat well and go outside! Everyone is sad from time to time, but it doesn’t mean you have to stay in bed all day’, implying that mental health problems don’t exist, or that they’re nothing serious. There is just so little awareness about various mental illnesses, and it harms those battling them.
The mental illness around which Natalie’s book is centred is bipolar disorder. Now, I will admit here and now, that I didn’t know much about bipolar before reading Natalie’s book, and I’ll risk a guess that most people who will read What Goes Down will not have much knowledge about this illness, either. That’s one of the reasons I liked this book so much – it sheds a lot of light on bipolar disorder. It treats the topic in a serious manner, showing how damaging and serious this illness can be if it goes untreated, but also doesn’t stigmatise it. In no way does it make you feel that people touched by it in the book are ‘crazy’ (I hate describing mental health issues as ‘craziness’, plain wrong) – they’re still normal people, they’re just ill.
I also really liked how Natalie touched upon the relationship between mental health and art. Seph is a painter, and she takes a lot of her mania and depression to simply be creative states related to the paintings she’s preparing for her next exhibition. I know a lot of people think that suffering from mental health problems is near enough a rite of passage for artists, but that is, quite simply, bullshit. I love that Natalie showed it in her story.
Another big theme in What Goes Down is the focus on family. It goes back to the roots, reminding us how important the support of our loved ones is, but also how vital it is for most of us to know where we come from. The book starts with Seph’s life being upended – she finds out that the man she grew up calling her dad isn’t actually her real father. It made me wonder how I would react if that ever happened to me, and I just couldn’t. My dad is such an integral part of my life, that I couldn’t imagine learning that he’s not who I think he is. Seph’s reaction to the news is very heated and emotional, but I found myself sympathising with her. I don’t think I would have taken the news any better than she did.
But family is a theme that continues all throughout the book. It’s Seph’s mum and dad, but also her biological father, her beloved uncle and, in the parts set in the 1980s, Laurel and Nico’s families. All of them play an important role in the book, reminding us how important our loved ones are, and how much we can rely on them in the times of need. It made me stop and appreciate the massive amount of help I got from my family and Mr Arguably Honest when I was battling depression. I couldn’t have done it without them.
There is one more thing about What Goes Down that I want to mention from a slightly more writer than reader perspective. And that’s the way Natalie engages your senses. As a writer you might have noticed that the easiest sense to evoke is sight. We describe things, sometimes in great detail – their shape, colour, even the lighting. But what Natalie did was go a step further. There was smell in her book, there was texture, there was sound. She described things in more than one dimension, and that’s something I was thoroughly impressed with as a writer, and something I definitely want to learn from her. If you’re a writer, I’d recommend you pick this book up even if you’re not very much interested in the subject matter, purely to learn from Natalie about using senses in your descriptions. I definitely have taken a lot from this book.
Summing up, What Goes Down is a book everyone should read. It’s very well written, it makes you feel a lot of things, and it is a great lesson on mental health and family. You don’t want to miss out on this one.
If What Goes Down sounds like a book you’d like to read, you can buy it on Amazon. Just click here and you will land in the right place. However, you can also win it in an absolutely amazing giveaway. In the giveaway you can win a £10 Amazon gift card, a copy of the book AND a stag necklace, just like Seph’s. To enter the giveaway, click HERE.