Dismantling Evan is a moving and harrowing novel about coping with bipolar disorder – not just the disease itself, but how everyone reacts to those who suffer from mental illness. Evan Phillips is moved to a small town in Texas after suffering a nervous breakdown. Her parents hope that a new setting in a calmer environment will help her recover. All does not go as planned, as Evan’s family moves next to Gavin Ferguson, a teenager who has mental illness problems of his own. A group of gifted, but troubled, teenagers bond together, but become vicious targets as the town outcasts.
Though the book is laden with issues facing contemporary teens – bullying and mental illness, among others – the novel is never preachy or reads like an after school special. These issues enhance the plot and character development, and so seem all the more real. What binds it all together is the quality of Kimball’s prose, which manages to be both concise and lyrical, and the empathy she has for her characters. Make no mistake, this is a page turner, resting on the strength of the characterization.
What makes the novel particularly effective is that Kimball doesn’t cut corners on portraying mental illness. Evan and her friends aren’t just victims, they are frustrating, even maddening, at times, a more realistic portrayal of mental illness. Far from this making them unsympathetic, it makes them fully realized and relatable, and compels you to keep reading.
Mental illness is one of those issues that people are too often afraid, or embarrassed, to confront. Venessa Kimball has written a brave and important book that should hopefully reach a wide audience.