January First by Michael Schofield
By the time January Schofield is two years old, she can do multiplication and division problems, knows the periodic table by heart, loves to read, and has imaginary friends that tell her to hurt herself and others.
January First by Michael Schofield is a father’s true account of his child’s mental illness. Diagnosed with schizophrenia at age six, Janni is caught between our world, and her imaginary world of Calalini.
From Calalini comes a cacophony of imaginary characters: 400 the Cat, Low the dog, seven rats named after the days of the week, and two girls: Magical 61 and Ninesly. Some are kind, some are mean, and Janni always gets angry if her “friends” are not treated as real people.
When Janni gets angry, she gets very, very angry and lashes out with her fists at whatever is closest to her – her mother, father, store displays, clerks, the family dog, and even, shockingly, her baby brother.
In fact, when her baby brother is born, Janni hates him on sight. The sound of her newborn baby brother’s cries sends her into fits of rage, and she informs her parents that she hates her brother and she wants to hurt him. In one incident in particular, Michael and his wife Susan are unable to sooth their son, Bodhi, in a timely manner and Janni proceeds to hit her mother so hard that she falls to the ground.
When her father tries to detain her, she punches and kicks him and when he succeeds in restraining her, she bites his chin hard enough to draw blood. Eventually, her parents decide to rent a second apartment, using one to raise Bodhi, and the other for Janni.
Throughout the book Michael tries to hold on to the belief that it’s Janni’s IQ of 147 that is causing her to act this way – that because she is mentally on par with a ten year old, her five-year-old body is rebelling in violent ways. He gets angry when his wife calls 911 after violent episodes, after she admits Janni to a psych ward, when she insists on trying to socialize Janni with kids her own age.
Michael keeps comparing Janni to Einstein, admitting that he dreams of her going to Harvard and receiving the Noble Peace Prize. It seems as though Michael is also stuck in an imaginary world – one where Janni’s intelligence far outweighs the physical damage she is doing to herself and others.
This book is a true life realization of those creepy kid horror movies. It’s fascinating and sad and hopeful and disturbing all at the same time. I appreciate the author being so open about his family and what they have gone through, and it has given me a different view on mental illness. The book does end on a slightly positive note, but you have to wonder what challenges the family is going to face in the future.
Or you can find out. Follow Michael’s blog at http://janisjourney.org/
About the Author
Elena McVicar is the Youth Services Librarian at the L.H. Bluford Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. When she's not at the library or catching up on her reading, she can be found playing with her dog, making cookies or watching way too much TV.