This month, our Book Club discussed Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell. The book has two main themes, racism in the Deep South and mental health.
Trigger Warnings: Racism, Graphic Violence, Deaths, Anxiety, Alcohol Use, and Depression
Kay King, Community Educator at NAMI Minnesota, facilitated this Book Club discussion and provided discussion questions to guide the conversation.
One question prompted the group to discuss how many people still believe that people living with mental illnesses should just “snap out of it” and “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” The causes of mental illnesses are not simple ones. Kay and the group discussed that we don’t know what causes a mental illness. We know environment, genetics, biology, brain chemistry, life experiences, and trauma can be factors. The present theory is that some of us are born with a predisposition and something puts it into motion (a second hit). That trigger could be something like trauma, poverty, deaths in the family, war, losses, other illnesses, the birth of a child, a lack of sunlight, major long- and short-term life stresses, etc. The group discussed what some of the triggers may have been for Hazel in the book.
Another question highlighted how Hazel’s husband, Floyd, could have been more supportive of her recovery from depression and alcohol-use disorder. In the book, Floyd is often saying something about thinking positively. After Hazel loses her son Davie, she becomes very depressed and turns to alcohol. Floyd thinks that Hazel can cure herself from her depression and alcohol-use disorder by positive thinking.
The group continued to discuss Floyd's response to Hazel's illness. Hazel is hospitalized in a place called Whitfield for her co-occurring disorder. Toward the end of the book, Floyd says to Hazel, “Do you want me to send you back to Whitfield? You know I could have you committed again.” The group discussed how Floyd could have been more supportive toward Hazel and some of the other things that he could have said to her. One of the things that Floyd could have said was, “I am worried about you. How can I help?” instead of threatening to send her back to Whitfield.
Miss Hazel in the Rosa Parks League is a very complex book, and the group enjoyed discussing it.
Join us on Thursday, August 19th for another rousing discussion. It will be on the book, Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. We hope to see you there!
Author: Ann Resemius
Ann Resemius is an advisor on the NAMI Ramsey County board and has earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Minnesota.
Five of us got together to discuss the book The Weight of our Sky by Hanna Alkaf. It describes a teen with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) who is trying to find her way back to her mother during the race riots in Malaysia in 1969. She believes she harbors a djinn inside her which compels her to complete an elaborate ritual of counting and tapping or else be threatened with horrific images of her mother’s death.
**Content warnings: Racism, graphic violence, on-page death, OCD and anxiety triggers.**
We started with a discussion about the geography of southeast Asia and the political and racial climate in Malaysia during the 1960s. The book is set in Kuala Lumpur, a very densely populated city in Malaysia which shares a border with Indonesia. The racial conflict stemmed from differences between the Malay and Chinese people and resulted in the devastating killings of hundreds of people.
We also discussed our own understanding of OCD: a mental illness characterized by obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviors. OCD often occurs in conjunction with, or exacerbations by other mental illnesses like depression or anxiety. In this month’s book, the main character’s compulsive behaviors are tightly linked with her spiritual and cultural beliefs evidenced by their connection with her djinn. A djinn is a supernatural being in Islamic mythology and theology.
Each participant shared their thoughts about how cultural and spiritual beliefs can affect an individual’s understanding of mental illness and their ability to seek mental health services. We agreed that spiritual beliefs, while important, may stigmatize mental illness or wrongly attribute symptoms to spiritual occurrences or wrongdoings. This may also influence how those around people with a lived experience of mental illness view their symptoms, further adding to the stigma.
Join us on July 15 for another rousing discussion. It will be on the book, Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell. Click here for the discussion questions. We hope to see you there!
Author: Kayla murphy
Kayla, a volunteer with NAMI Ramsey, is a fourth year medical student at the University of Minnesota planning to apply to psychiatry residency.
This month we returned to reading children’s books on mental health and our group of fifteen people adored this month’s subject matter for a couple reasons.
First, there is absolutely zero preparation required in order to participate in this type of a meeting, and so people all come to the meeting well prepared! The second reason is a direct result from having a children’s book read out loud to us-–we hear the reader, we see the pictures, and we get to take a pause from our daily responsibilities to react and respond with others who are also reading these books.
From the two books we read together on May 20th, there was a rousing discussion on therapy dogs, service dogs, psychiatric service dogs, emotional support animals, recovery, big feelings, and learning to live a life of stability through reliance on the support of a canine companion.
Charlie the Therapy Dog, written by local author Sandy Clark MS, LPC, LADC, NCACII, SAP (DOT Qualified) was the first book we listened to together, heard Charlie’s perspective on his work, and saw pictures of his life on-the-job! Charlie even introduced us to a psychiatric service dog who was formerly utilized by one of this month’s book club attendees!
Our other book, The Boy with Big, Big Feelings, written by Britney Winn Lee, was read to us with compassion and zeal by this month’s moderator, Emily Zhao! The May participants were delighted by the artistic portrayal of emotions. Many could relate with the boy and were pleased that the story resolved well in community support as friendships were established, which dispelled the sense of being different from others, which has a tendency to generate isolation.
An exciting round of conversation followed the readings with points made about support dogs aiding service members and veterans, congressional bills, lowering the risk of suicide, sustaining people’s health, and housing. The distinction between a therapy dog and a service dog was stated for us as well.
Join us on Thursday, June 17th for our next Book Club meeting when we look at life in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1969 and how a young teen copes with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Author: Carrie roach
Carrie is a NAMI Ramsey County board member and chair of the Book Club Planning Committee.
The April NAMI Ramsey Book Club meeting featured guest author Jane O’Reilly and her middle grade book, the Notations Of Cooper Cameron.
This novel is written from the point of view of a very bright but troubled young boy, Cooper, who just completed 5th grade and lives with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). His condition became apparent two years earlier around the time of his witnessing his beloved grandfather’s bizarre death. It is now two years after this traumatic death and the family is staying for the summer up at Grandpa Mill's old cabin.
The book club had a lively discussion with author Jane O’Reilly, who was inspired to craft Cooper as a character based on her older sister. Growing up, the author’s sister experienced OCD and grew up to be the editor of the Star Tribune Travel section for over 30 years, traveling all over the world. Originally intended to be a picture book, Jane O’Reilly’s novel was also inspired by an essay her sister wrote, entitled, “Fire Child,” that provided insight into her sister’s early childhood OCD experience that never fully left her.
Participants discussed having family members who live with mental illnesses, and many people could relate to the stress, worry, and care they feel when someone they love is exhibiting symptoms.
AUTHORS: Peter Jarnstrom & Debbi Gunsell
Peter serves as an advisor to the NAMI Ramsey County board and Debbi serves as a director. Debbi is also a member of the Book Club Planning Committee and hosted this month's discussion.
On Thursday, July 15 from 7-8 p.m., the NAMI Ramsey Book Club will be discussing the book Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell. The discussion will be led by Kay King, Community Educator at NAMI Minnesota.
Here are some discussion questions to consider prior to the meeting. You can download them here. Learn more and register at our Book Club page.
A second favorite line is what Vida says to Hazel when Hazel suggests a friendship between the two of them, “That makes me your maid, not your friend. You get to pick me as a friend and I ain’t got no say about it.”
Community Educator at NAMI Minnesota
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