I just finished January First: A Child's Descent into Madness and Her Father's Struggle to Save Her by Michael Schofield. This memoir focuses on the Schofield family, but primarily the father (author) and how he feels, thinks, and interacts with his daughter January, who is thought to have a mental illness. It’s really a page turner, but not for the reason some books are. There’s suspense, there’s love, there’s imagination and creativity, but really this whole book is that family’s life.
When I added this book on Goodreads, I saw all the varying reviews, but didn’t read them fully until I finished the book. I cannot believe the awful thoughts, insensitivity, and downright hatred people show towards the father/author. The book is written in an honest fashion, and he handles various situations with his child in the way he sees fit. I find it repulsing that people reviewing the book could even imagine that they could do better without any prior experience or knowledge of mental illnesses or medication involved. From my point of view, which is all it is, until someone is put into the exact situation with the exact same responses day after day after day, there’s no way to know how it would work out. It’s possible the readers could have better ideas, be able to engage Janni in different ways, and create a seemingly ok life. However, on the other hand, they may grow annoyed, frustrated, and upset with the ways things are happening and the outcome could grow much worse than depicted in the book.
Anyway, a review: January (later called Janni and Jani) is a young child when the book begins. She has many imaginary friends that other children her age do not have or understand. She creates better relationships with these seemingly fictional beings than with real humans. Her father plays along with her for the most part, feeding her creativity, or so he thinks at the time. As she grows older and the imaginary friends multiply, Janni becomes more detached from the world.
Her father and mother grow increasingly worried about her mood swings, false reality, and most recently, violence. Towards the middle of the book, they have a second child, Bodhi, and things take an unsafe turn for the worst. Janni “has to hit” people and items if they do her wrong. Bodhi and their dog Honey often end up the source of her frustration, thus her punching bag. After going to see psychiatrists, doctors, and other professionals, the couple is forced to look within themselves for the solution to their discomfort, frustrations, and overall unhappiness.
The book does a nice job of showing the father’s emotions throughout everything. It felt very honest and I hope getting it down on paper helped him forgive Janni, all the while trying to maintain hope for her condition. Overall, I rate this book a four out of five. It’s a very touching story of a family in difficult circumstances, a healthcare system that was failing them, and a little girl lost in her own little world.