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The Museum of Us

Review

The Museum of Us

THE MUSEUM OF US by debut author Tara Wilson Redd is a thought-provoking and beautifully written ode to the secret worlds of imagination that occupy the minds of authors, readers and dreamers alike, as well as an acknowledgement of the dangers of such worlds.

Sadie Black occupies two worlds. The first is her real life, with her parents, her boyfriend Henry and her best friend Lucie. She’s an average high school student who loves Harry Potter and old movies and runs cross country. The second is the one in her mind, where, with her friend George, she can be a wizard, a spy, a detective, preparing for the Triwizard Tournament or escaping an ambush from deadly enemies. She and George are best friends, inseparable. The only problem? He’s not real, and no one else knows about him.

Both of Sadie’s worlds come crashing down when she’s in a car accident and is found calling George’s name. Now the world that has brought Sadie solace from the stresses of her real one is threatened.

"Tara Wilson Redd has written a beautiful, important debut novel about mental illness."

The structure of the novel is something that is immediately unique. The chapters alternate between the days that Sadie spends in the hospital after her accident, told from her point of view, and chapters either spent with George, Henry or Lucie in the past, told from a third person narration. At first, there seems to be several components missing from the story; several aspects of the present don’t quite make sense, but the two narratives weave together perfectly, filling in the missing puzzle pieces as the novel progresses. I’ll admit that the two narrative styles were jarring at first, but as I grew used to them they blended together seamlessly, and it makes sense why the author chose to vary the style later on.

Sadie is a great character. She is quirky and odd, but in an endearing and relatable way. She loves old movies and reads nonstop, able to quote hundreds of different films and authors on a dime. She’s awkward and beautiful. The narrative style works such that when we hear from Sadie directly, we are able to understand her point of view, her coping mechanisms and how hard it would be for her to give up George and their imaginary world. Though this, we are able to sympathize with her. Her relationship with George is equivalent to a really good book that you never want to end. She’s convinced that she is nothing special, so she’s cooked up this world where she can be anything she wants. Who hasn’t wanted to do that before? Redd shows through Sadie, however, that when it comes to mental illness, the true key to getting better lies within one’s own willingness to do so. The novel is about Sadie’s journey to accepting help.

The little details that Redd incorporates into George make him just as real as the other characters, if not more so. By the end of the novel, readers come to recognize his little habits and sayings. The relationship he and Sadie have is heartbreaking in that we know that for Sadie’s sake, it has to be fleeting.

But Redd developed Sadie’s relationship with Henry, as well. Henry is such a sweet character who clearly loves and cares about Sadie. He was also really well fleshed out considering that he sometimes had to take a backseat to George.

One aspect of the novel that might have been a little bit more developed is Sadie’s other relationships. Her parents are kind of absent for most of the novel, and I think for the ending it would have been more powerful to explore the dynamic among the three of them more. The same goes for Lucie, who only gets to be present in three chapters. Overall, I would not have minded if the novel was longer in order to allow for the developments of these characters and their relationships to Sadie, though I understand that George and Henry are clearly the two most important people to Sadie’s story, so they needed to be the most prominent.

Tara Wilson Redd has written a beautiful, important debut novel about mental illness. The way that Sadie has come to use her imaginary world to cope with traumas from her real life will speak to anyone who has ever wanted to escape their own reality. In other words, she wrote a book that resonates with real readers. I would recommend this novel to fans of Rainbow Rowell and Francesca Zappia, or anyone who has ever felt lonely in their need to escape reality sometimes. If that’s you, then I hope you pick up this book if only to discover that you are not, actually, alone.

Reviewed by Cat on July 11, 2018

The Museum of Us
by Tara Wilson Redd