They’re more than their problems.
Obsessive-compulsive teen Clarissa wants to get better, if only so her mother will stop asking her if she’s okay.
Andrew wants to overcome his eating disorder so he can get back to his band and their dreams of becoming famous.
Film aficionado Ben would rather live in the movies than in reality.
Gorgeous and overly confident Mason thinks everyone is an idiot.
And Stella just doesn’t want to be back for her second summer of wilderness therapy.
As the five teens get to know one another and work to overcome the various disorders that have affected their lives, they find themselves forming bonds they never thought they would, discovering new truths about themselves and actually looking forward to the future.
The amount of books I’ve read where teenagers living with mental illnesses go on “recovery camps” is ridiculous. Maybe it’s because I’ve never encountered anything like this in Australia (not to say they don’t exist; I just haven’t heard of them here), or maybe it’s because the idea of going on a camp that is portrayed to “cure” teenagers by the end of a few weeks is problematic, but these books generally don’t sit well with me. However, I was excited to give this one a go because I hoped that it would be different. Spoiler alert: It didn’t. I felt like this book took on more than it could chew, writing from the points of view of five teenagers all dealing with different mental illnesses, and perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if there was more of a plot. To me, this book felt like one that simply showed the lives of these teenagers throughout four weeks, and even that wasn’t done well as it felt like it didn’t have any real direction. There was just a lot wrong with this book.
Tagline: “They’re more than just their problems.”
Let’s stop right there. This book is written from the points of view of these five teenagers, each with their own mental illness that is almost used as their “descriptor”. It’s seen as the thing that differentiates them for readers because they just lack character. Sure, one guy is in a band and another loves movies, but these “hobbies” are only used to exemplify their mental illness. Besides that, these characters are basically carbon copies of one another, complete with their indistinguishable voices. So if the book is trying to portray that a person is more than their problems, it’s not doing a very good job at it.
Apart from being so similar that it was difficult to remember which character’s point of view I was reading from, these people also lacked development. I didn’t get to see them grow as people, aside from awfully cliched realisation that “life is okay!” in the end. Such an ending is always expected in books like this one — books that think they’re being original in writing about mental illness when really, they’re just employing every trope known to readers and wiring about people who are defined by their illness. But what’s worse is that I never even got the chance to feel connected to these characters because we’re always alternating points of view, and their backstories were glossed over. It’s hard to empathise with people that all sound the same and seem to have no substance to their personality.
Teenagers Acting Rebellious
And of course, it wouldn’t be a clichéd teen mental illness novel without the characters rebelling! The fact that they drank alcohol on this camp was quite concerning, especially because there was no consideration with how their could affect them in conjunction with taking medication. It’s not that I’m opposed to teenagers drinking in novels, because some teens do drink. What I’m against is the blatant disregard that the author has in portraying healthy situations. This is an event that has no repercussions, but has the possibility to influence impressionable teenagers into thinking that it is a good idea to mix drugs and alcohol.
Everything Felt Meaningless
When I started reading this novel, I had hoped it would be one filled with meaning that wove poignant realisations about life seamlessly into the narrative. However, what I found was that much of what happened was just “filler” for the “twist”. Everything these characters did felt without purpose, and many of these “projects” they undertook didn’t even get completed by the end, and I was left wondering what the point of it all was. As the end of the book grew nearer, I realised that everything that came before was simply leading up the what happened, and then that became the central focus of the narrative. A lot of the situations just felt fake to me, and I didn’t enjoy this novel because of that.
Overall, I didn’t enjoy reading Four Weeks, Five People because of all the problematic elements it contained and because I couldn’t connect with the characters and they didn’t undergo any dramatic character development. If you’re looking for a great YA novel that talks about mental health in a raw and candid way, this isn’t the one for you. It was just a time-filler, and a poor one at that.
Trigger warning for suicide, depression, eating disorders and OCD. Please be cautious if you decide to pick up this book.
Looking for books with good mental health representation? Check out these ones!
What are some of your favourite books with great mental illness representation? Are there any books you really connect with? Have you read many books set in a kind of “recovery camp”? What do you think the most important thing to consider when writing books that contain characters living with mental illness is? I’d love to know!
Thanks to Harlequin Australia for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Book graphic used in header sourced from Mulpix.