Book Review: The Existence of Amy by Lana Grace Riva

The Existence of Amy by Lana Grace RivaTitle: The Existence of Amy

Author: Lana Grace Riva

Publisher: Self-published

Publication date: July 31, 2019

Genre: Fiction

One Sentence Summary: One woman’s struggle with mental health issues that start to take over her life.

There was a time when I thought I’d be working as a clinical psychologist right now. I even have my Master’s in it. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. When Lana Grace Riva contacted me for a review, I couldn’t pass it up. I’ve never struggled with mental health issues, but I wanted to work with people who do, and it’s stories like this that offer a window into what life is like for them. The Existence of Amy turned out to be exactly what I thought it would be, and more.

One Woman’s Daily Struggle

Every day is a struggle for Amy. Some days or worse than others. But at least her co-workers Ed, Sally, and Nathan care about her and are her friends. It’s not always enough, though. She misses out on social events, on getting to work on time, on living a normal life.

Going in to work is a daily struggle. Going on a two week trip to Australia seems impossible. Being pushed to date seems impossible. Telling anyone what goes on in her head at any given moment is impossible. But it’s her day-to-day life, and this is her story.

The story opens with Amy detailing her daily struggle to just get out of bed and ready for the day. From there, it winds it’s way through an untold amount of time in her life, from the good days to the bad, from the highs to the lows to the really low lows. It details her thoughts, her struggles, her daily fights with herself, her inability to really understand what it’s been doing to her. She’s undiagnosed for most of the novel, which seems to make it even more important to her that she try to mask it at work as much as she can. It made my heart ache for her.

At the same time, The Existence of Amy is also something of a love story. It’s about Amy’s winding journey to learning to understand and love herself, to accept what her life has become and emerge to find a beacon of hope. It’s about her becoming able to give permission to herself to live and love and try to shape life to her terms. But it’s also about the affection she feels for others and how it complicates her already complicated life.

At it’s heart, this is the story of what mental health struggles is likely like for many. It puts the reader into the head of someone who suffers with symptoms that have a heavy impact on their daily life. It showcases how difficult it is to have anything resembling a normal life when one’s guard needs to be up every second of every day.

Amy’s Story

The Existence of Amy is about Amy and her life. She’s a professional woman living in London who suffers with undiagnosed mental health disorders. The reader is deep in her head for the entire novel, through the good days and the bad days and the really bad days. We’re reading her thoughts and the lack of control she feels. Oddly, she comes across as detached and unemotional. She rarely mentions how she feels about anything, other than just a general sense of being out of control. The fact that so much of it is focused more on thinking states than emotional states makes it difficult to connect with her, but I also wonder if that was intentional. As someone who has never struggled with mental health issues, I’ll never know what it’s like to have it as a part of my daily life, so perhaps being so wrapped up in one’s thoughts instead of feelings is normal, though also dependent on the diagnosis.

I found that my heart really went out to Amy, both as a reader and as someone who once studied to work with individuals like her. It broke my heart that she suffered so much, but I can also appreciate the stigma and the unwillingness to know the truth. Even though Amy was written in such a way that I had a hard time connecting with her, my heart really hurt alongside her.

A Mental Landscape

The Existence of Amy is physically set in London and Australia, but it really takes place in Amy’s head. The reader is shown the world the way Amy sees it, so it’s colored by her anxiety and what she actively avoids. It means details are a little sketchy and strong feelings, mostly that of avoidance, surround just about everything.

Amy’s mental landscape is fascinating, though. The reader is dropped right into Amy’s head from the first words, almost as though we’re sitting right there, seeing and experiencing the world as she does. It’s confusing and dizzying and often overwhelming. It’s easy to feel her anxiety, to feel the way she feels about everything she comes into contact with. As a reader, I was immediately drawn into her world, which was not necessarily the actual world she lived in.

An Incredible, Important Novel About Mental Illness

The Existence of Amy, while relatively short, is a heavy read since it’s whole focus is on mental illness and a fictional character’s experience with it. As a reader who was trained to be a therapist, this novel struck a heavy chord in me, making me feel I can start to understand the mental map of a person with mental health struggles. I also found myself wanting to scream at Amy to go and see a therapist, but I do understand the stigma linked to mental illness and the inability of many to not recognize the need for help until the breaking point. So, reading this made my heart hurt while also expanding my mind and understanding.

Great if you enjoy: books about mental health, character studies, focus on mental health

Not great if you’re looking for: a plot driven story, mainstream fiction, light reads

How many cups of tea will you need?

5 cups of tea

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    • kat

      It’s hard to tell if it was the author focusing more on describing the daily struggles or if it’s a commonly occurring thing or a separate issue Amy was also dealing with. She only ever has one diagnosis, but I suspect there’s more.

      • Autumn

        Obviously you’ve read the book and I haven’t so you have a much larger picture, but the introduction sounds like the author is deliberately illustrating how severe Amy’s disconnect from her own emotions is. At the end of the first chapter, instead of describing herself as scared/shocked/paralyzed/etc, she says, “I feel a wave of something similar to what I imagine someone might feel when a car is hurtling towards them, and they’re not quite sure if they have enough time to get out of its path.”

        I’m curious to know what she gets diagnosed with (but don’t spoil it).

      • kat

        It’s hard for me to tell whether it was intention or accidental as many self-published books often strip out the emotion and focus on the action, but I’d feel weird walking up to someone with the same diagnosis and ask if it’s normal to live that way. I’d love to know your thoughts on it as I think mine might be a little too colored.

        Personally, I think it’s more than one diagnosis, but only one is given, which also made me wonder how well the author fully grasped it, but I also believe she’s in the UK and their diagnoses are a bit different than here.

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