This book absolutely devastated and shattered me … into about a million pieces. In fact at one point I couldn’t even read it with my family around. I went out and sat in a coffee shop and read it there. I needed some anonymity around me to ground me and to remind me to breathe regularly.
Told with bare, open-faced honesty and authenticity, this is the heart-breaking story (I hate calling it a story, because that implies that it’s fiction and it certainly isn’t that!), of Josiah (Josh) Hartley’s life with depression: what it felt like, what it did to him, how he experienced it and how it very nearly led to his suicide. Simultaneously, Amanda Prowse (his mom) gives her own perspective of how she was prevailing under the very same circumstances … except that they weren’t really the ‘very same’, were they? Because she wasn’t the one having to deal with the thoughts and feelings that were going on in Josh’s head. Amanda may have been going through a parallel experience, but it was a wholly different one. We hear from both of them in alternating chapters.
To read this unflinching account of the all-consuming pain, suffering, fear, numbness, desperation, dread, anxiety, despair, and utter hopelessness that depression causes, not only to the person who is attempting to navigate life with what seems like a permanent dark cloud surrounding them, but also to those who love them, is like being given a tiny peek into what life must have been like for this family. Because I have no doubt that if other readers feel one iota of the sorrow I felt reading this book, then for Josh and Amanda, it definitely felt thousands of times worse having to live through it!
But … this is isn’t just a telling of what happened during that time in their lives. They didn’t decide to write this book just to share it with others – they wanted to share the hope that they discovered by being able to work through this illness together, and yes … depression is an illness. As is repeated numerous times in the book, would you tell someone with cancer to just go for a walk or have a to cup of tea and they’ll feel better? Obviously you wouldn’t! People who don’t understand the situation are quick to offer flippant advice: “He needs to find a proper job” or “If he just exercised properly” or “He just needs to pull himself together” (if I had five pounds for every time I myself have heard the words “He just … ” from others when referring to my own son!) So just as with any other debilitating illness, one needs to find out if there is medication that can work for you; are there lifestyle adjustments that need to be made? There usually isn’t a quick-fix or even a cure, but there’s often a lot that can be done to make some positive improvements if you have the right support. And this is the objective that Josh and Amanda hope to achieve with this book.
The points that are made in the book about mental health support specifically for university students in England were disturbing. As is pointed out, for ‘Freshers’ (what we refer to in SA, simply as ‘first years’), the amount of pressure that’s put on you to ‘live your best life’ because you’re constantly told that it’s the best time of your life, can be all-encompassing. And if ever there was a ‘right’ time for everything to go wrong, then this would be it! You want to enjoy this newly gained freedom, but you need to maintain a healthy lifestyle, attend classes, get passing grades, do your shopping, eat right, possibly also pay your student loans, which might mean finding a part-time job … the list is endless and the building pressure seems never-ending! This is spoken about in-depth. It certainly wasn’t something I’d thought about before and was an eye-opener!
This is a must-read! Not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination, but for anyone with children it should be prescribed reading! Don’t ever, EVER think that something like this can’t happen to you!
I don’t have enough words to thank Josh and Amanda for writing this book. Not only is it incredible that they’ve shared this in their own open, candid way, but the advice that is contained in these pages is invaluable – even when it’s not actually being portrayed as advice, believe me, the lessons are there for all of us to learn!
What do you even say when 5 stars just aren’t enough??! Thank you to Love Books Blog Tours for inviting me on this special tour. It’s been a privilege.
Josiah (Josh) Hartley lives in an isolated farmhouse in the West Country, but close enough to Bristol to enjoy its music scene. He is an animal lover and servant to two French Bulldogs. Equally happy at a music festival or watching rugby with his mates, he likes the outdoor life and with Devon only a short drive away often heads to the sea to surf and sit on the beach watching the sun go down. After a stint at the University of Southampton and another at the University of Bristol and one unsuccessful suicide attempt, Josh decided to write about his descent into mental illness and the depression that has held him in its grip for the past few years. The Boy Between carries the overriding message that things can and often do get better. It’s a book of reflection, raw, honest and full of hope: the proof being that Josh is still here and now excited about what comes next. He is ready to catch any opportunities that life throws his way, quite a thing for someone who only three years ago was living in a world gone grey, ready to disappear from the face of the earth…
Amanda Prowse likens her own life story to those she writes about in her books. After self-publishing her debut novel, Poppy Day, in 2011, she has gone on to author twenty-five novels and six novellas. Her books have been translated into a dozen languages and she regularly tops bestseller charts all over the world. Remaining true to her ethos, Amanda writes stories of ordinary women and their families who find their strength, courage and love tested in ways they never imagined. The most prolific female contemporary fiction writer in the UK, with a legion of loyal readers, she goes from strength to strength. Being crowned ‘queen of domestic drama’ by the Daily Mail was one of her finest moments. Amanda is a regular contributor on TV and radio but her first love is, and will always be, writing. This is her first work of non-fiction.
I’m also including this pic of Amanda and I, taken when she visited South Africa in November 2015 – this is pretty much exactly a year before Josh’s suicide attempt.