Borderline by Mishell Baker (Saga Press, March 1, 2016)-Millie has already tried once to take her life, and lost both of her legs in the process. Now, she’s living in the psychiatric hospital she was sent to during recovery – not because she necessarily needs to, but because she simply has nowhere else to go. Millie is a Borderline – someone who lives on the edge of personality disorder, and one who has already walked off that edge once. Then, she is offered a position with the Arcadia Project, a position that her therapist specifically warns her against. A project that utilizes only patients with mental issues, and that works closely with magical creatures commonly known as fairies.
Weaving severe mental illness into a story, and making it a large part of that story, could go one of two ways. It could be absolutely horrible, either making light of the issue or perpetuating stereotypes that are far too prevalent already…or it could be surprisingly good. Thankfully, it works to strong advantage here. Millie’s mental illness is unapologetically *there*, and Baker does an incredible job of portraying Millie as a person who has this mental illness, but is not defined by it. She works to mold her life around her symptoms, and is extremely straight-forward about it. There is no pity party, nor is there some sort of separate standard for her. Baker is to be commended for her open-eyed treatment of both the illness and the person, maybe allowing for a new understanding for those who read this book.
As for the rest of the story – it is just as compelling and clear-eyed as its treatment of mental illness. In fact, it has a bit of a noire-ish feel to it…blunt, occasionally bleak, and sometimes extremely cynical. The characters are all written unflinchingly, both the positive and the negative, and they are definitely *not* caricatures. Even though the story does revolve around a shadowy organization that works with fairies and things that go bump in the night, it all seems reasonable and even the most unrealistic aspects make sense within the context of the tale – including the “monsters” that visit and make their home-away-from home within the realm of the Arcadia Project.
Overall, I was very impressed with the book and I was thrilled to find out that this is the first in a planned series. Baker has a way with words and characters that portray them as simply their own flawed selves, sometimes trying to do the right thing, sometimes aching to do the wrong thing. They are real, raw, and only sometimes human – and that is what makes them special. Definitely a book worth reading, and an author worth following!