Kimberly Russell’s The Truth about Lilly Barnes is one of the most realistic depictions of depression I’ve ever read, and it’s also a story you won’t be able to stop reading once you start. I really think anyone who has experienced depression themselves, or knows someone who’s struggled with depression and/or abuse, should read this book—and really, isn’t that almost everyone?
At the risk of getting too personal, I will say that I have struggled with depression myself, and a lot of fictional (and heck, even nonfictional) accounts of depression read somehow “off” to me. With The Truth about Lilly Barnes, I never had this problem. I’d say the author either has some personal experience in this field or did very detailed research, because everything about this book felt realistic, from Lilly’s internal thought processes at various stages in her journey, to the description of the psychiatric facility, to the characterization of the therapist. In addition, Lilly’s reaction to the incident that prompted her suicide attempt was VERY real, complex, and well-defined.
This novel draws you in from the very beginning as Lilly tells us that she plans to commit suicide, but doesn’t reveal her reasons. This tactic forces readers to keep turning pages…but it also forces me to be a bit vague in my review, so sorry about that! The other factor that draws you in right away is Lilly’s vivid voice. Lilly’s depression comes through loud and clear, but so does her dark sense of humor, which keeps the narration from becoming overdramatic or maudlin. Here’s a great example, when Lilly sees her IV in the hospital:
“It seems sort of unnecessary to prolong my life but I guess they can’t just let me die. I’m sure there would be paperwork.”
As the story continues, we also get the POV of Lilly’s friend Buddy. While Buddy’s POV isn’t quite as memorable as Lilly’s, it’s still distinct and gives us a necessary break from the intensity of Lilly’s worldview.
Since Smashwords gives word counts on its website, I know that The Truth about Lilly Barnes is a shorter book, at just over 30000 words. However, it didn’t feel short to me, and definitely not too short. If anything, I think the sparseness and compactness of the writing really helped to avoid any potential melodrama. And the ending was perfect—hopeful and sweet without being unrealistic.