Review of "Perfect Chaos"

By Linea Johnson
St. Martin's Griffin, 2013
Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H. on Nov 5th 2013
Perfect Chaos

Perfect Chaos is a dual narrative book.  One of the narrating coauthors, Linea Johnson, is a woman with mental illness; the other narrator, coauthor Cinda Johnson, is her mother.  Linea graduated recently, from Seattle University; and Cinda is a professor and director of the special education graduate program, at Seattle University.  The enthralling personal narratives of Linea and Cinda are forged in the fire of real life.  As they write, Linea and Cinda describe very candidly bits and pieces of their personal lives, encompassing importantly Linea's personal experience with mental illness, and Cinda's utmost efforts to help her daughter.  The two narratives are steeped in emotion; and indeed, the sensitive as well as poignant tears of heartfelt emotions sensitively as well as poignantly wet the pages of the narratives.  Notably, by sharing forthrightly their personal experiences with readers, Linea and Cinda may help draw broader attention to metal illness, and myriad associated issues extending to diagnosis, care, treatment, caregiving, and social stigma.  Truly, the reading appeal of this fascinating and sobering book is vast.

The distinctive structural custom that is followed is to join together seamlessly, in the "introduction", in the book's twelve chapters, and in the "epilogue", substantive parts (comprising collectively the substance of the book's dual narratives); at the start of each substantive part, the particular narrator (either Linea or Cinda) is identified; and typically, the narrating (of the various substantive parts) alternates between Linea and Cinda.

The book is laden profusely with substantively enlivening biographical details, which anecdotally add flesh to the bones of the substantive corpus.

Likewise, a profusion of anecdotal fragments, in the form of quotes, anecdotally infuse the book's corpus with animating life.

With skilled strokes of her writing brush, Linea crafts, for readers' rapt viewing, a highly revealing picture of her life with mental illness.

Readers will also quite likely view raptly the picture crafted by Cinda, revealing Cinda's unrelenting efforts to help her mentally ill daughter.

Both of the narratives are glued firmly to real life in a fascinating albeit often sobering way that is of greatly absorbing reading interest.

As the pages of the book are turned, the reader learns in absorbing fashion that Linea, in high school, was an accomplished musician, student, and athlete.

Cinda's belief is that the door to Linea's depression opened when Linea learned that her best friend was cutting herself.

Following high school, Linea enrolled at Columbia College, in Chicago,  to study music.

A college counselor tells Linea that she may have bipolar disorder; and a psychiatrist tells her that she may have bipolar II.

Exhibiting the candor that permeates the book in its entirety, Cinda describes candidly her multi layered relationship with Linea as including:  all encompassing love; a clinical professional layer; a paranoid alert layer; and a layer of terrifying fear.

After Linea tells her psychologist that she can't keep herself safe, she is evaluated further by a team of providers who evaluate Linea as being critically depressed, and suggest electroconvulsive therapy ("ECT").

Linea subsequently receives ECT, at Harborview Medical Center, in Seattle.

Cinda comments about the inability of Linea's providers to positively diagnose bipolar, absent evidence of manic episodes.

Eventually, Linea returns to college, in Chicago.

At Northwestern Memorial Hospital, in Chicago, Linea receives treatment, after overdosing on anti anxiety medication.  The belief of Linea's doctors is that Prozac put Linea into a manic state. 

As Cinda explains, because Linea had now had a manic episode, Linea's doctors seemed more certain that she had bipolar disorder.

Strands of substance abuse issues are interwoven in the tapestry of the book.

Linea decides to transfer to Seattle University; and moves back to Seattle.

Cautious readers may caution that the unique life story of a particular person with mental illness, and likewise the unique life of the parent of a mentally ill person, cannot be extrapolated reliably to others.

But certainly, the personal narrative penned bravely by Linea, as well as the brave personal narrative of Cinda, focus sharply the eyes of readers on real life, including real life issues relating to mental illness.

And unquestionably, a vast expanse of persons may potentially garner better real life understanding of mental illness by reading this greatly attention gathering book.

At a professional level, mental health professionals, reaching to therapists, clinicians, and researchers, will very likely be held in thrall, by the book's enthralling real life contents.


© 2013 Leo Uzych


Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University.  His area of special professional interest is healthcare.  Twitter @LeoUzych


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