Finished this book: The Stormchasers (by Jenna Blum)

Cover of The Stormchasers by Jenna Blum.

Cover of The Stormchasers by Jenna Blum.

Spoilers below, but I’ll warn you again before I get there!

I like books about people with mental illness, whether they’re the protagonist or someone else important to the story. In this book, the third-person protagonist (Karena) is a journalist whose twin brother has bipolar affective disorder and who is also fascinated by storms. This story shows the love between the twins and how that love is tested and sometimes seems broken because of the disruption of Charles’s illness. The author manages to avoid a lot of the stereotypes and misconceptions about mental illness, managing to make Charles a fuller and more well-rounded character than you often get when the “Crazy Person” is only there as a plot device.

Some of the stuff around the illness was a little far-fetched, but Charles’s inner conflicts about taking meds, and the side effects of those meds, were portrayed with more compassion than I have seen elsewhere. How he makes meaning of his illness is nicely done, and his sister has some respect for that, which is also a pleasant surprise. There is a distinction drawn between the person and the illness, with the understanding that of course the person is still intertwined with the illness.

The descriptions of stormchasing, the emotions and technology involved, and the different kinds of people who do it, were pretty cool. It’s so much fun to learn about something new! Although I have always loved thunderstorms, the whole tornado thing kind of freaks me out, but it was interesting to learn more about it from a safe distance.

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Spoilers ahead:

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You’re still here? Okay, here goes: Karena is a 38-year-old woman who is craving a husband and a baby and feels her time is running out. Sure, I get that some women are actually in this situation, but as soon as you introduce that, I know we’re destined for some kind of la-la-la happy ending. Sure enough, the love interest (Kevin) was swiftly introduced. He seems like a nice guy, but whereas Karena is initially uncomfortable with him driving her rental car because he’s not even on the insurance, within a couple of days, he is the default driver (because she is too tired or too hungover or too stressed and she trusts him to drive better than she can, sigh). He is directive and verging on bossy. Within a short time of them starting to have sex with each other, she is already pretending to have had a better sexual experience than she really did. Due to “trust issues,” he demands that she be completely honest with him—the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth kind of thing. And then a very short while into their relationship, he has a complete and utter meltdown when it turns out she hasn’t told him the deepest, darkest secret of her life, which is actually her brother’s secret as well. Kevin keeps putting Karena in positions where she has to prove her loyalty to him by splitting from her brother.

I get that he is not actively abusive, but there is no interrogation whatsoever from either a narrative point of view or from Karena’s perspective that this is problematic behaviour.

And in the end, of course, one year later, Karena is in a relationship with Kevin (who has magnanimously forgiven her), and close to giving birth. Thank Dog she avoided childless spinsterhood, because we all know there’s nothing worse than being an independent woman, for fuck sake. And Charles? Charles is managing his bipolar affective disorder with holistic medications, it is implied, and everyone is hopeful that he is better for good. And Karena literally turns away from her brother and toward Kevin at the end of the book. It just felt like a pat ending on too many levels, and I wish the author had not relied on such simple tropes for her ending, and for the portrayal of the relationship between Karena and Kevin.

The Stormchasers by Jenna Blum. 2010. Plume.

ISBN 978-0-452-29713-5.

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