Review: Defective

05Nov14

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 2.6% of the adult population of the United States has bipolar disorder. While bipolar can be a challenging illness to diagnose and manage, it’s also possible to live a full, satisfying life once a person has found the right combination of treatments. Susan Sofayov’s novel, Defective, fictionalizes the process by which many people are diagnosed and cared for, and shows the impact mental illness can have on families, friends, and other loved ones.

The protagonist, Maggie Hovis, is a Pitt law school student who’s just been dumped by her fiance, Sam, because he can’t deal with her extreme mood swings. Being dumped sends Maggie into the tailspin that ultimately leads to her seeking help, being diagnosed with bipolar, and researching the (until-now secret) history of mental illness in her own family.

Click through to read an excerpt of Defective

Photo taken from the author’s webpage. Click through to read an excerpt from Defective.

Because the story is told from Maggie’s point of view, she is not always the most reliable narrator, but that’s precisely the point: having bipolar can distort perception of self and others, so it’s almost necessary to take the journey from her pov, or else the impact of the story is lost. Sam, for example, is pretty much a jackass, and Maggie is definitely better off without him. However, from where she’s sitting, life has no meaning unless it’s got Sam. Being mired so deeply in Maggie’s perspective might be frustrating, but it’s an accurate representation of the thought processes to which many people are subject.

As Maggie learns to manage her illness, her focus shifts from Sam to her family history, a healthy inquiry that starts some good conversations within her family circle. Though not always pleasant, the things Maggie learns about her family history help her realize just how lucky she is to be living in a time where mental illnesses carry far less stigma than they used to. Arguably society has a long way to go in that regard, but Sofayov’s choice to emphasize the positive meshes nicely with the reappearance of Maggie’s old flame, Nick. Nick’s arrival, heavily foreshadowed in earlier chapters, will relieve readers who have grown weary of Maggie’s fixation on Sam. It’s at this point that the novel switches gears from problem novel to contemporary romance as Maggie sorts out her unresolved feelings about Nick.

There’s definitely a lot to chew on here, and the novel will be most interesting for readers who are willing to bumble through a whole lot of darkness before seeing the light. It will definitely be helpful to people who are themselves struggling with mental illness, or want to understand what’s going on with somebody they love. Therapists might want to check it out, too, to see if it might make good formal bibliotherapy or recreational reading for their clients.

Although we’ve made a lot of progress in the way we discuss mental health issues in contemporary culture, we’ll get even better if we read and listen to stories that feature patient-protagonists. Get your hands on a copy of Defective so you can see for yourself what Sofayov’s novel contributes to the conversation.

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One Response to “Review: Defective”


  1. 1 New Review | DEFECTIVE

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