Stacy, the seventeen-year-old semi-autobiographical protagonist of How I Made It To Eighteen by Tracy White, is struggling. From the outside, her life seems fine, but she privately struggles with drugs and an eating disorder. In an attempt to get her undiagnosed depression under control, she checks herself into a psychiatric hospital.
Told in a series of chapters framed by a therapist questioning four of her friends, White gives you snapshots of her treatment. Each chapter opens with a count of how many days Stacy has been in the institution – six days, eighteen days, forty days - followed by a scene from her life in the institution. The chapters end with an unseen therapist asking each of her four friends a question. Through their answers, you get a sense of Stacy, how she portrays herself in public or hides her problems, and also of her friends’ personalities – the friend who was clueless, the friend who is very self-centered, and so on. The book ends abruptly with a little afterward paragraph saying Stacy transitioned into semi-institutional living.
In many ways, this book is a long vignette. While White gives an introduction telling the reader that her story is a semi-autobiographical account of her personal experience in a mental institution, it begins and ends abruptly. You never really get an understanding of why she is there or that any real progress of change has been made. You only know she has checked herself in voluntarily through a flashback scene. White shows her resistance to admitting any problems but very little movement forward. She has unsatisfactory therapy with her mother, stubbornly resists everything her therapist is saying, and barely manages to stand up to her abusive boyfriend.
Some of this lack of forward movement may be because White herself is still so young. She’s only a couple years away from this event as of publication. This work is more like reading her journal, than a fully realized story. She does not seem to have distance from the event. There is no feeling that her time in an institution gave her insight into her life or helped her later on.
The art is very elegant. It is ink drawings with strong lines. Her work is clear, not sketchy. There is no shading but White is very expressive in her minimalism. She does a lot with a little, which fits the pared down story. Recommended for older teens and above because it deals with drugs and suicide.
How I Made it to Eighteen: A Mostly True Story
by Tracy White
Roaring Brook Press, 2010