New Adult Tropes: 20
“You know, I’m learning a lot, and there are times when it’s hard to love myself, but every time I think of you, I always think, if someone else can dig deep and fall in love with even my damaged side, then there is hope for me after all.”
Few things are as stigmatized as having a mental illness. I've met people who don't know how to react when hearing someone is diagnosed with a mental illness. Even when specifying what disorder it is, such as depression or bipolar disorder, they're still uncomfortable despite the two aforementioned are two of the most common disorders discussed openly. There are many misconceptions about mental illnesses going about, which is why it's so important to, when writing (or talking) about them, do it accurately to not feed these misconceptions.
It's also important - and I can't stress this point enough - to not romanticize mental illness. Which brings us right back to this book, Perfectly Damaged.
Jenna is a young woman who's lived with her parents her whole life. She's also diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, which has made her parents incredibly protective of her, almost believing she isn't able to do things on her own. Jenna, to some extent, agrees. Although she'd like nothing more than to get out from under their watchful eyes - but they're almost never home - she still doubts herself and her abilities most of the time due to her mental disorder. Add the fact that her sister died a few months earlier, Jenna has now lost her most important supporter. When Jenna's mother decides to build a guesthouse, she hires a company to do it. Enter does Logan. After an awkward meeting where Logan saves Jenna's life, and then Jenna demanding he kiss her, they now spend the days rather close to each other. Jenna is hesitant to let him in due fearing he'll leave when he finds out about her diagnosis. And so the story goes.
It's sad to say, but this is exactly the same story as any other new adult story there is. We have all the usual elements: hot guy saving a damaged heroine from her insecurities and past. A heroine with a tense relationship to her parents. A best friend that's obsessed with sex (and unfortunately that's as much personality this woman gets). Both the heroine and the hero constantly slutshames, and their thoughts (and comments) are filled with misogyny. For good measure there's also the topics of suicide and rape as well as death of a close family member (actually, there are two).
So where does the mental illness join the story? To be perfectly clear: The mental illness aspect of this story appears to be more of an afterthought than the crucial aspect it should be. As said, this story is nothing different from a lot of other new adult stories, but instead of rape or past abuse - two of the most common devices in new adult - the mental illness takes their place. Jenna is damaged because of it. It causes the tension in the family. It's what holding Jenna back from pursuing a relationship (of any kind). And yet, the focus is always on the romantic tension between Jenna and Logan. The illness isn't a big part of the story and could've easily been replaced by something else as an excuse for Jenna to be "damaged".
That said, I'll be the first to admit I'm not familiar with Jenna's disorder. As far as I gather, it's a disorder with the same symptoms as schizofreni, but also of a mood disorder. In this story it means Jenna hear voices, has hallucinations, and has periods of depression. It needs to be mentioned that Jenna's episodes (as she calls them) often seems to be convenient plot devices to progress her relationship with Logan and little else. Anyhow, Jenna hears voices at times (although I only recall two instances in this novel) and sees hallucinations (also two, if my memory serves me right). These scenes were very generic, but that's all I can say.
However, I feel more confident talking about her periods of depression. To be blunt: they sound nothing like depression. Jenna, as it's written, is not depressed. She whines, complains, and is just plain pissed off. Which is not what depression is, and I'm speaking from experience here. Given how inaccurately portrayal of her periods of depression are, it's hard to determine if the other aspects of her mental illness are portrayed this way. Accurate portrayal of the mental disorder or not, the story nevertheless romanticizes the condition. Jenna focusing on Logan accepting - and loving - her "damaged" part. Logan being portrayed as something akin to Jenna's savior. It all adds to painting a romantic picture around the mental disorder. Instead of a story about a young woman learning to live with her disorder, it's a story about a woman waiting for a man to love her despite her mental disorder in hope of accepting herself by accepting his love.