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13 May 2021

#Review - Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses by Kristen O'Neal

Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses
Kristen O'Neill
Quirk Books, 27 April 2021
Available as: HB, 384pp, e
Read as: ARC
ISBN(HB): 9781683692348
More info: On the Quirk website 

I'm grateful to Jamie and Stephen at Black Crow PR for an advance copy of this book.

Priya has worked hard to get into the pre-med course at Stanford, but it looks as though all her dreams will turn to dust. Infected by Lyme disease, she's forced to return home as she struggles to cope with chronic symptoms which make the simplest tasks into major challenges. While her parents are loving and sympathetic, and her younger brother and sister put yup with her, she doesn't want sympathy, she wants her life back.

The only thing that makes things tolerable is the online support forum she joins ("off ouch my bones") and in particular, Brigid ("bigforkhands") who shares about the monthly affliction from which she suffers. Then one night Brigid stops answering the chats...

This is a warm, life affirming book in which Kristen O'Neal brings together (virtually, of course - they're spread round the globe) a disparate but welcoming group of mostly young (one is 26, is that young any more?) people. Their chats are rendered visually, creating a fast moving story that allows each to explain their challenges, share their high moments and receive support in their low points. 

But you can only do so much online and when Brigid enters her crisis, Priya decides rot test just what she can do, pinches her mum's car, and heads over to help out...

There are then two main threads of story. the evolving relationship between the two young women which is great to follow. Their experiences have left both of them vulnerable and simply "having been in a bad place" isn't, it really isn't, enough for them to get everything about each other. "I understand", one may say, to someone else, but can you, can you really? O'Neal's too wise to simply say "these two people help each other and everything is fine from then on". It isn't. it can't be. But you do sense that they are trying.

The other thread - and the two cross of course - is the Thing that is Brigid's problem. What can I say here? I don't want to spoil anyone, but the book's title... and that cover... may be pretty big clues. Let's just say, Brigid has problems with a part of herself that she doesn't welcome. That's also true for the other members of the group, of course, but there are... aspects... of Brigid's situation that mark her as different. Dangers that her situation poses, to others. And risks she runs, if the truth becomes known. So the story follows a roller coaster of peril, rescue and risk, comedic at times (once Spencer comes on the scene, he, Brigid and Priya make a fun triple act), scary at others and always, always, providing a thoughtful commentary on difference, acceptance and growth.

It's often not easy. There are some furious flare-ups and some hard truths to face.

But it's, in the best sense, a story of change and discovery.

Overall a really fun book, one with real heart. I'd recommend. (In a time when many are enduring and coping with the still poorly understood long covid, I think a bit of representation of those living with chronic illness may be rather timely).

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