Brain on Fire

July 13, 2018

 

I have studied many different genres while in college. My favorite thing that I have come across, however, is when a piece of writing rides the genre line. Recently I rediscovered a book found in an airport to occupy my mind for the six-hour flight ahead. When I first read it, I could not put it down, and I decided it was one of my new favorites. It converted me from an avid fiction-only lover to a Nonfiction enthusiast as well. After furthering my education and being exposed to more genres, namely Nonfiction, I picked the book back up.The book was even more amazing than I had realized, because of its journalist perspective mixed into a Creative Nonfiction base genre for the telling of the story. I believe everyone should read this book and experience the wonderful creativity the author presents within it.

 

Brain on Fire, written by Susannah Cahalan, tells the true tale of a life-changing experience that sent her to the hospital and to the brink of death. A healthy young woman very abruptly becomes sick, showing signs of various mental disorders. Her condition is so rare, doctors cannot do much more than watch her deteriorate before their eyes while looking for a diagnosis. What is unique about this book, however, is that Susannah is a journalist, so within her writing the journalistic approach of researching and discovering new information intertwine to create a fresh new perspective on story-telling. We are Susannah through and through because of her openness within her writing; she is telling and later discovering information and creates an open dialogue within the book so that we feel connected to her. We see the confusion of medical terminology, her and her parents’ perspectives, and how she never fully understood what was happening until she was cognitive enough after recovering to research it for herself.

 

Memories are replaying for the reader to see inside the mind of Susannah while unknowingly having seizures and showing potential signs of mental illness. Images from tests conducted on Susannah during her deteriorating state, definitions of terminology essentially calling her insane, and vivid recounts of videos taken from a camera above her bed give further proof that this is indeed her month of madness. These experiences also let us into the experiences this young woman and her family endure in the scariest moment of their lives. The combination of these things and the story-telling ability of the author create a well-rounded full circle experience for the reader, making us feel crazy with her due to experiences such as one where Susannah can see herself from an above angle. She describes the way the top of her head looks, and the concern felt within the moment for the physical body. This separation of identity is a clear indication of an issue, namely with the brain. Knowing this is happening, and not knowing why, is the reason we feel entranced with the story and equally insane.

 

This book was adapted into a film because of the uniqueness and intrigue of its content. Susannah Cahalan is portrayed by Chloë Moretz, such a well-known young actress playing the main role in the movie expanded the audience that will view this film, but most reviews deemed the film less than worthy in comparison to the great reaction to the book. The appeal in the book is not only the creativity behind the mixing of genres, but the opportunity to go crazy with the author. In the film, we watch as the main character goes crazy, and although the audience may be curious what is wrong it is hard to make them care if they are not more personally involved. For this reason, I think you should read the book, watch the movie, and then decide for yourself how it all makes you feel.  


I find the book inspiring. Whenever I am feeling the dreaded writer’s block I know I can look to the words of Susannah Cahalan for inspiration because of her fresh and new perspective. Expanding your horizons is healthy, and I think whether you like it in the end or not this book provides opportunity for growth because the reader can feel empathy for the experiences of another individual. Besides the inability to put the book down, there is so much opportunity for taking away inspiration from this because it can appeal to such a variety of audiences and interests. This book can be for anybody as it is just about a young person and a scary journey they are forced to embark upon, which I am sure everyone can relate to on some level. Susannah is relatable and inspiring, and Brain on Fire deserves to be read by as many people as possible.

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