Review by Kaila Johnson
Guernica Editions/University of Toronto Press, 2022
268 pages, Paperback, $20 CAD, 9781771837323
Grades 8+, Ages 14+
Content warning: This review discusses mental illness and abuse.
I had to tear myself away from her. When I got back to my room, I sat on my bed, with hand-written screenwriting notes and pocket-sized science fiction novels strewn all around me, and I felt a deep, paralyzing emptiness. I wanted to run back to the sixth floor and hold Adèle until she woke up, cook her breakfast, make her laugh, stroke her hair one more time. I felt sorry that I had left, but I had begun to feel something horribly familiar starting up again inside me, and I was afraid of what might have happened if I had stayed.
It is difficult to open up to others about what you’re going through or how you’re feeling, even when you know it will help.
Liana Cusmano’s novel Catch and Release follows Lucca, a twenty-one-year old college student, as she navigates taking care of her mental health and being in love with her friend Adèle. The non-linear timeline, moving between the past and the present, unfolds the complexity of Lucca’s relationship to her queerness.
The first-person perspective provides readers with a full understanding of how painful unrequited love for a straight girl can be. Repressing her feelings for Adèle is part of what pushes Lucca to see therapist Dr. Franklin through her university.
The depiction of depression, anxiety and hesitancy to start medication showcases the amount of stigma and misinformation around mental health. This novel acknowledges that there is often no “clear, compelling reason” for someone’s depression and gives insight into what a panic attack can look and feel like:
“My mom, my dad and his brother were in the kitchen, banging pots and pans and laughing loudly. The sounds and smells, the whole happy, harmonious environment that was my home, made my chest seize up. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.”
Lucca is resistant to seeking professional help and gives a realistic account of how difficult it can be to take that first step towards healing. With the subject matter of this novel, there may be times when the reader needs to take a break from the content. For instance, Lucca comes to the realization in a therapy session that her relationship to former teacher Angela Damon was inappropriate. Through therapy, Lucca recognizes this power imbalance and how she made excuses for the way Angela treated her. It takes months before Lucca opens up about Angela to Dr. Franklin. After following Lucca throughout her difficult journey, this moment makes the reader feel proud of how far she has come.
2SLGBTQ+ readers can relate to Lucca’s situation of unrequited love and how each person has a different relationship to their own queerness.
“He’d known he was gay since elementary school. And within a year, he’d accepted it, and not long after that, he’d embraced it. And not long after that, it stopped being important at all. It was just a part of him, like being a Political Science major or an only child.”
This novel highlights the importance of prioritizing your mental health and allowing yourself to be human.
Kaila Johnson is a creative writing BFA student and has contributed to UBC’s student newspaper The Ubyssey for the past three years. She loves creating stories centred around identity and community. When they’re not writing, she can be found painting, watching reality television, or saying hello to an animal nearby.