By Suzanne Jenkins
***** - 5 STAR AMAZING
The Savant of Chelsea by Suzanne Jenkins is an incredible read. Despite my initial reservations, I would have done myself quite a disservice had I not given this piece of fiction a shot.
Although there wasn't that initial grabber at the beginning of the book, my first impressions were that I found myself thoroughly intrigued and curious where things were headed--a lot of that, I'm sure, based on the description of the book (which without spoiling anything definitely did not disappoint).
Alexandra Donicka grew up in New Orleans to a mother, Catherine, with untreated or diagnosed mental illness. It’s safe to say that she grew up fending for herself in a renovated chicken coop provided by her father, Dube, who is married with a family of his own. Although we don’t know the extent of Catherine’s mental illness it doesn't take long for you to despise the woman.
Although Alexandra does well in school, there is no doubt to those around her that there is something amiss about her. She spends much of her time alone, roaming the streets of New Orleans—which is what facilitates the event that will change her life forever.
Despite all she goes through, Alexandra makes a life for herself in New York City, which is an amazing feat if you ask me. However, with the death of her mother she returns to New Orleans where it all began. And just as her life was forever changed by the events that took place there in childhood, New Orleans again changes her life forever when she returns.
The honesty with which Ms. Jenkins splays open Alexandra's insides and exposes her so deeply through the telling of her troubling tale is not only refreshing and honest but poignant to say the least. The writing is quite successful. Alexandra is such a complex, yet simple character.
Alexandra’s return home to New Orleans changes not only the part of her life that is noticeable on the outside--perhaps up to that point readers might consider to be of a helpless, challenged adult--but completely and thoroughly changes her internally. The transformation is tremendous. As someone who was not all that familiar with the characteristics of a Savant, I found it extremely interesting to learn about the manifestations of Alexandra initial symptoms that first begin to appear in childhood after what I would deem significant trauma-although they were slightly present before that but there wasn't truly anyone to notice. They continue into adulthood. Although most might assume this condition would cause her to be disabled and unable to function at all, she's quite successful in the medical field with the help of a dedicated team of employees that keep her afloat..
I must mention that throughout this book there are dealings with suicide and sexual/mental/physical abuse of a child as young as 10-years-old. The abuse is one of the central themes.
I have to say again that this book was incredible and did not disappoint, despite a bit of a slow start. Although tragic throughout, people can overcome and life can be different. I truly cannot believe the ending and can only imagine what would happen next. But that's just the way Ms. Jenkins leaves it - for you to figure out. I typically don’t enjoy books that leave you having to try and piece things together on your own after you've put the book down, but this one was truly perfect. I highly recommend The Savant of Chelsea and would read it again myself.