Image description: Book cover for the novel Dancing with Ghosts by Emily Gillespie. The bottom two-thirds of the cover is black with the title and author’s name in white text. The top features a galaxy background with pinks, purples and blue speckled with stars. On the left side, three ballet dancers are captured in silhouette.
I have written before on the dangerous and problematic pitfalls of people writing about marginalized experiences that they do not experience. I am a huge supporter of not only diversity in books but more importantly diversity of people writing those books. So I was pleased to hear that my friend Emily Gillespie had written a book and that it was going to be published.
Emily has lived experience with mental health* and wrote a novel that deals directly with a character who is experiencing what is possibly depression and anxiety.
The synopsis from Goodreads is,
Freshman year of university was supposed to mean freedom.
It was supposed to be her escape from parents who didn’t understand her – who turned Patricia away every time she reached out for help. New city, new school, new friends, fresh start – wasn’t that how it’s supposed to work?
Instead, when Patricia moves from her small, isolating hometown to the bustling, sprawling cityscape of Toronto, she finds herself more alone than ever. When she meets Derek – an intriguing yet mysterious classmate – she’s instantly drawn in by his worldly knowledge and easy charm.
For a while, things between them are perfect. For a while, it’s thrilling being invited into a world unlike anything Patricia’s experienced before.
But this isn’t a love story and not everyone is what they seem.
Dancing With Ghosts is technically classed as adult fiction, though could be considered a young adult novel. The protagonist, Patricia is eighteen & nineteen throughout the novel and though the book does deal very frankly with issues of mental health, sex, and various kinds of abuse (sexual, emotional, medical); the story is very much something that can and does happen to young people.
The book is a first-person narrative written in semi-journal style (by which I mean the narrator will occasionally address the reader directly). As a result of the casual narrative style, the protagonist occasionally breaks off into tangents. This was a bit jarring at first but as you get to know the character it becomes natural and I eventually stopped being aware of it.
I really appreciated the way Emily approached mental health in the novel, from how it isn’t always strictly labelled as a specific diagnosis but the impact is still real. This indefinability is not only realistic it also really highlights the issues that Patricia has in trying to set up official support systems when she doesn’t fit neatly into a box. The book also challenges that smug Canadian lie that seems to crop up anytime that a Canadian is trying to prove their moral superiority (usually to an Americal) “Yeah? Well, I’m going to have my feeling checked for free”.
Emily effectively weaves a story about someone who tries and fails to seek timely and meaningful healthcare and the emotional fallout of being failed by a system that horribly ill-equipped to deal with the volume and reality of the needs it should be meeting.
Dancing With Ghosts is not the kind of book you read all in one sitting. Not because it isn’t good or engaging. It is both but it deals with issues of abuse so head on and frankly that sometimes I had to take some time to sit with what I had read before I could continue.
This is the benefit of a writer who has experience of the thing they are writing about. Eve when they write fiction, it feels more real. I feel the shared frustration of a medical system that frequently underserves or fails disabled people. I struggled with Patricia’s frank attempts to make sense of how the various factors in her life contributed to what happened. I searched for those answers with her.
This is why we need more voices from the margins. Not people speaking for the margins.
Dancing With Ghosts is currently available for purchase in ebook form through Kobo.
There is currently no official print release date (I will update when one is available) but print copies will be available on Amazon and at the York University Bookstore in Toronto.
Dancing With Ghosts is being published through Leaping Lions Books a small independent publisher run by York University’s fourth-year Professional Writing program.
The official book launch will be on March 9th. If you are in Toronto and are interesting in attending you can find information here.
*Her current preferred label