Review: January First by Michael Schofield

Title: January First

Author: Michael Schofield

Published: Hardie Grant Books September 2012

Synopsis: Michael Schofield’s daughter January is at the mercy of her imaginary friends, except they aren’t the imaginary friends that most young children have; they are hallucinations. And January is caught in the conflict between our world and their world, a place she calls Calalini.   At six years old, January Schofield, “Janni,” to her family, was diagnosed with schizophrenia, one of the worst mental illnesses known to man.  What’s more, schizophrenia is 20 to 30 times more severe in children than in adults and in January’s case, doctors say, she is hallucinating 95 percent of the time that she is awake. Potent psychiatric drugs that would level most adults barely faze her.   January First captures Michael and his family’s remarkable story in a narrative that forges new territory within books about mental illness. In the beginning, readers see Janni’s incredible early potential: her brilliance, and savant-like ability to learn extremely abstract concepts. Next, they witnesses early warning signs that something is not right, Michael’s attempts to rationalize what’s happening, and his descent alongside his daughter into the abyss of schizophrenia.  Their battle has included a two-year search for answers, countless medications and hospitalizations, allegations of abuse, despair that almost broke their family apart and, finally, victories against the illness and a new faith that they can create a life for Janni filled with moments of happiness.

Status: Read on September 12, 2012 — I own a copy {Courtesy Hardie Grant Australia}

My Thoughts:

Sometime last year I watched a television documentary about a child called January who had been diagnosed with child onset Schizophrenia. I was fascinated, horrified and heartbroken in equal measure witnessing January’s daily struggles with her disease and her parent’s desperate attempts to provide the best care possible for their precious daughter. Written by Janni’s father, January First shares the family’s harrowing journey during the first 9 years of January’s life. As a newborn January barely slept, by eighteen months she could talk in complete sentences and grasp abstract concepts, at 4 she was assessed with an IQ of 146 and scored off the charts with her verbal, spatial and numerical skills. Dreaming of his gifted daughter’s bright future, Michael ignored her more unusual behaviours – the violent outbursts, her inability to relate to other children and her frequent escape into her imaginary world of Calalini – until their son’s birth raised the stakes for all of them.

January First is told from Michael’s point of view, in the present tense, with brutal honesty about his fight for his daughter’s well being. It’s easy, with emotional distance and hindsight, to judge Michael and Susan’s actions in parenting Janni. They made mistakes, of that I think there is little doubt, but exhausted, isolated and powerless to get the support they desperately needed they tried and kept trying, despite being overwhelmed, to do the best by their daughter. I think it is extraordinarily brave of Michael to share the less palatable details of his relationship with Janni in his attempts to “fix” his daughter. He is also honest about the strained relationship with his wife who bore the brunt of his frustration, anger and fear. That their marriage survived is an incredible achievement. Michael also confesses the truth of his own mental health issues, something that wasn’t mentioned in the documentary but provides insight into his own reaction to Janni’s challenges.

January First also reveals the inadequacy of mental health support services in the Unites States. The system fails January and her family repeatedly, exacerbated by the business of managed health care insurance whose eye is on the bottom line rather than the well being of those that need medical assistance. To be fair, the Schofields’ were not an easy family to deal with in their search for a diagnosis for January – resisting medical advice and reluctant to comply with treatment options at times – yet easy and early access to quality care could have made a huge difference in all of their lives.

Much of what is revealed in January First has already been shared in the family’s contact with various media including the hour long Discovery documentary, a guest story on Oprah and other television appearances and interviews. It’s Michael’s perspective that has dominated all media contact so I was somewhat disappointed that Susan has no voice in this book.

January is about to celebrate her 10th birthday at the time of this book’s publication. Caring for and protecting their daughter, and son Bodhi, continues to be a struggle for the Schofields’, and it is one with no end in sight. Confronting, heartbreaking and achingly raw, January First is not an easy read but highlights the spirit of one extraordinary child and her loving parents doing the best they can.

Available To Purchase

Australian Edition: @Hardie Grant Books I @Boomerang Books I @Booktopia I @Amazon Kindle

via booko

@Amazon I @Book Depository


15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ashley Prince
    Sep 17, 2012 @ 07:25:54

    I am a wee bit obsessed with books that tell about the lives of those with mental illnesses and those who love them. I have a twelve year old sister who has been diagnosed with so many things, so it’s really interesting to read about what other families do in similar situations.

    I definitely want to read this book.



  2. Nicola
    Sep 17, 2012 @ 08:06:08

    I want to read this!



  3. Tea Time with Marce
    Sep 17, 2012 @ 08:10:41

    I really want to read this also. Interesting enough I don’t know many programs that are amazing for mental health clients and or families. I think it would be hard to hear her voice, but you never know, she may one day.



  4. laurelrainsnow
    Sep 17, 2012 @ 08:21:27

    This book is on my list. Great review!



  5. Teddyree
    Sep 17, 2012 @ 09:52:19

    A gut wrenching read! I’m sure the mental health care system in Australia could always be improved upon but having some appreciation of it with my own family, I have to say I’m glad we live here and not in the US. Excellent review Shelleyrae



  6. Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting
    Sep 17, 2012 @ 10:54:54

    I have this one to read, and I’m torn between leaping into it and looking at it warily. It looks amazing, but also very challenging.



  7. therelentlessreader
    Sep 18, 2012 @ 00:00:19

    I’m so looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of this!



  8. Kate Loveday
    Sep 19, 2012 @ 14:00:00

    A great review, Shelleyrae. This book goes on my TBR list.This is such a heart-rending subject, that every parent must empathize with. I have also read Anne Deveson’s book, ‘Tell me I’m here’, in which she reveals the story of her son Jonothan’s fight with schizophrenia. It haunted me for a long time. Unfortunately it’s not only in the US that more needs to be done in the mental health sector but also here in Australia. Perhaps this will help.



  9. Jennifer Hartling
    Sep 26, 2012 @ 01:26:54

    I’ve been wanting to read this and I just got an email that a copy is waiting for me at the library, yay! Thanks for the review 🙂



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