I was in some ways relieved when I read Paper Weight. There’s always a danger, I think, that a story about mental health and mental illness is going to be disappointingly… Offensive? I think offensive is the word. It seems to be such a lazy trope within fiction (mainly tv and film, I will admit, but books aren’t always exceptions) to use mental health as a gratuitous plot device and not explore it in a meaningful way. So reading Paper Weight was a a great experience in that sense.
The narrator, Stevie, is flawed as a character. Not because she’s mentally ill, but because she’s a lost teenager dealing with trauma. She grows as changes and learns from her mistakes- of which she makes several- and she remains flawed, but trying, like an actual person. Her mental health problems aren’t written as something to overcome, as such, as if she can throw off the shackles of an eating disorder and be a ‘normal’ girl again. But we see her fighting against, and eventually working with, the people around her to get to a place where she help herself.
I liked the inclusion of LGBT relationships and the confusion of figuring out sexuality as a teenager. Again it didn’t feel like a gratuitous plot device. It was thought out and included for a reason, not as a token. I also liked the underlying message that we can’t know the struggles of others- that judging someone on outward appearances, or comparing experiences and traumas, is a recipe for disaster. It’s a lesson we learn alongside Stevie as she watches things fall apart and come together again.
I can’t speak for whether the nature of inpatient life was captured well. But it felt like a sympathetic portrayal. It wasn’t glamorised or glorified, nor did the characters feel like stereotypes or caricatures. It was a good read.