T. A. Hernandez
Book Review: Get in my Head - Cameron's Story by S. M. Holland
Of all three books in S. M. Holland's Get in my Head series, this one is definitely my favorite. I admit I may be somewhat biased, and it's honestly a little hard for me to separate myself as a developing professional from my experience with reading this book, so I apologize for that to whoever might be reading this review. I'm currently working on my master's degree in social work with the hopes of starting a career in something related to child welfare in the next year or so. And that's exactly why I believe stories like this are so important. Social workers, foster kids, foster parents - the entire system, really - often get such a bad reputation. Which is understandable to some extent. I'll be the first one to admit that there are some serious flaws with the system. Not all social workers are competent. Not all foster parents are amazing. Within both parties, there are examples of extreme neglect and abuse. We've all heard the horror stories. But until we come up with a better way to address the issue and help these kids, this is the system we have to work with, and it's an important one. Vilifying every social worker, every foster parent, and every foster kid doesn't help anything, nor does sugar-coating the issue and pretending problems don't exist. We need more nuanced portrayals. Holland's story delivers that.
Protagonist Cameron Waters is a young man who has been in the foster care system for several years and has experienced a variety of traumatic experiences that have left him struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (which is not uncommon in foster children). Holland does an excellent job of portraying how this impacts his daily life, his interactions with other people, and the way he copes with his situation. His journey is one of both heartbreak and healing, despair and love, betrayal and trust. I cried tears of sadness, tears of anger, tears of joy, tears of hope, and just about ever other kind of tears imaginable. A fair warning to anyone out there who plans to read this - buy a box of tissues. You're going to need it.
Somehow, even more so than with the other two books in the series, I really felt like I was in Cameron's head as I was reading this. And maybe that's why it was such an emotional book for me. There's no holding back. You see and feel everything Cameron does, and even when you know his perceptions are skewed by the trauma of his past experiences, you still understand exactly why he thinks and feels the way he does. It's incredibly authentic, and it speaks to just how difficult it can be for vulnerable kids in these kinds of situations to learn to trust again and start to believe they are worthy of love.
I had a chance to ask author S. M. Holland about some of her experiences with writing this book and the others in the series. See what she had to say below.
One of the things I love most about these books is that you’re able to really pull readers into the experiences of these characters. How did you go about creating these characters, and where did the idea for their stories come from?
The idea for this series happened by mistake. I was originally trying to write a psychological thriller and was writing parts of Jared’s Story as an exercise to help get me in the mindset for this other manuscript. Then it grew and turned into an outlet for me to pour some of my own personal experiences. After a bit, I realized it was important for me to have my voice heard in the realm of mental illness. I want to help kill the stigma that is associated with mental illness. I did some heavy brain storming with my writing partner, and they helped me come up with ideas for a couple more characters, and then it kept growing from there. I interview and talk with people about their personal stories, on top of my own real-life experiences from struggling with my mental health, as well as working in the health field for a hot minute. I also have mental health professional’s beta reading my work to help with accuracy. The good, the bad, and the just so-so.
What was the hardest part of writing the Get in my Head books? How did you overcome that?
I think the hardest part for me is to make sure I do not allow myself to get pulled in too deep for too long as I am writing. I know in the writer’s world, letting your writing and the world consume you isn’t always a bad thing, but I think once you dive into mental illness, it can take a different toll on you. My husband always likes to joke and say that I am a method writer… but it’s true. Once I get into a character’s head, I need my space. I am living, breathing and thinking like that character. I’ve tried writing other ways, but I can’t do it. Because of this I have to take a long week or longer breaks from writing. Which means either binging on YouTube or Netflix, or lots of walks or painting. I take most of these stories from real life experiences (mine or others), this also means I get a big depressive down sometimes when writing. Which is why me taking breaks from writing is important for my mental health.
You ’ve clearly put a lot of research into writing this series. What was the most surprising thing you learned?
Oh gosh, so much has surprised me. When I published Jared’s Story, I had several friends reach out to me and tell me things like: I stayed in a psychiatric facility for x number of weeks, or even for x number of months. And from that: this happened to me too! Or I saw that happen! I had no idea these people had even struggled to the point where they needed that kind of help. It helped bring the point home that: mental illness is not exclusive to economic status, race, religion, creed, etc. It made me feel justified for writing what I am writing about.
What’s next for you? Can we expect to see more books in the Get in my Head series, or are you going to be working on other things?
At the moment, I have about eight books in the Get in My Head series all together. Most of them are already in the works, but I want to keep it open so I can continue to add new characters as I feel led. However, next I am publishing a stand alone novel this winter sometime. It is set in the same world I’ve built, with a lot of the same background characters, but a full chapter book as opposed to the journal books I’ve been putting out. I am also trying my hand at writing adult psychological thrillers, but we will see how that turns out. It is quite possible they may end up being YA thrillers… We will see! I am trying to stretch myself, and that is always an adventure.
If you could give one piece of advice to new or aspiring writers, what would it be?
Go with your gut, but know that when writing about sensitive topics, there might be others who know more than you, so if at all possible, utilize others knowledge to the best of your ability to make your manuscript as complete and well rounded as possible. Stay humble, you are not the know all and end all over the subject you are writing about. Unless of course you are writing your own memoir-you are definitely the know all and end all of yourself and own experiences. It is okay if people don’t agree with you or understand why you write what you write. They don’t need to. Write for you. At the end of the day though, with all the advice out there, do what you want, and what makes you feel happy and content with the work you are writing-but don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.