Closer to Okay by Amy Watson
for a self-recovery story, for self-love and romantic love, for descriptions that make even a non-coffee-drinker want to try a cup, for folks unfamiliar with mental illnesses and psychiatric help
Also FYI: I got this book from Aardvark Book Club, and I’ve been really loving their selections! They’ve only been up a few months, but if you’re looking for a new book subscription club, try this one out! I’ve passed on almost every Book of the Month club month this year, but Aardvark has had multiple each month I’ve been interested in and their model is very similar.
Kyle Davies is doing fine. She has her routine, after all, ingrained in her from years of working as a baker: wake up, make breakfast, prep the dough, make lunch, work the dough, make dinner, bake dessert, go to bed. Wash, rinse, repeat. It’s a good routine. Comforting. Almost enough to help her forget the scars on her wrist, still healing from when she slit it a few weeks ago; that she lost her job at the bakery when she checked herself in as an inpatient at Hope House; then signed away all decisions about her life, medical care, and wellbeing to Dr. Booth (who may or may not be a hack). So, yeah, Kyle’s doing just fine.
Except that a new item’s been added to her daily to-do list recently: stare out her window at the coffee shop (named, well…The Coffee Shop) across the street, and its hot owner, Jackson. It’s healthy to have eye candy when you’re locked in the psych ward, right? Something low risk to keep yourself distracted. So when Dr. Booth allows Kyle to leave the facility–two hours a day to go wherever she wants–she decides to up the stakes a little more. Why not visit? Why not see what Jackson’s like in person?
Turns out that Jackson’s a jerk with a heart of gold, a deadly combination that Kyle finds herself drawn to more than she should be. (Aren’t we all?) At a time when Dr. Booth delivers near-constant warnings about the dangers of romantic entanglements, Kyle is pulled further and further into Jackson’s orbit. At first, the feeling of being truly taken care of is bliss, like floating on a wave. But at a time when Kyle is barely managing her own problems, she finds herself suddenly thrown into the deep end of someone else’s. Dr. Booth may have been right after all: falling in love may be the thing that sends Kyle into a backslide she might never be able to crawl out of. Is Jackson too much for her to handle? Does love come at the cost of sanity?
Yes, I liked this one! I think it’s a story that’s not often told, one from the perspective of a person in a mental ward assistive living facility. And if I’m wrong about that, please let me know, because I would love to read more books like it! I’ve never had the experience myself, but have had friends who have, and reading this felt like getting to know some of what they might have experienced a little better (especially for those friends who prefer not to reflect on those times). And besides that, it was just a heartwarming and occasionally painful story. Much like life.
In short, this is a book about relationships with the self, romantic partners, friends, enemies, and the ways one person can shift between several of those categories — or fit into several all at once.
Since her mental health is such an obvious focus, I appreciated the way she is focusing on herself and what she needs and wants. The difficulties she has in weighing those two things, especially when they are not aligned — she wants a romance and connection, but is that truly what she needs? — felt incredibly real and like struggles anyone could face. It’s an exquisitely painful kind of challenge to see and admit when something you love is not right for you. In this case it’s not that the relationship is toxic, but that she might not be ready for it. This book has a lot of vibes about being able to love yourself before you can love another, and the way it was presented was quite moving and raw.
Another relationship I was fascinated by was that of her main counselor, Booth. As the man with the legal power over her medical situation, it’s incredibly unbalanced and fucked up in a lot of ways. And yet, as the story goes, she grits her teeth and panders to what he wants to hear while also begrudgingly admitting to herself when he is right about what she needs — and he often is, actually. Booth is a flawed man for sure, and boy does he make some mistakes, but damn if he isn’t remarkably complex in his role in her healing.
And of course her relationship with the others in the house. Even the most difficult people to anticipate and deal with (read: Eddie) aren’t thought of as “oh man I hate that guy” or anything like that. It’s more of a compassionate reading, acknowledging their struggles and simply trying to live around them as best as possible. The others in the house are equally forthright with their struggles, and the conversations are honest even when they’re doing poorly. There’s not much masking in this story or trying to be cheery and falsely optimistic when things are purely shit. There are times when medication is needed and times when it doesn’t feel needed, and I love the honesty of it all.
And a brief note on the romance. It starts off quite abruptly, with very little said between them before things start happening. I was kind of caught off guard, but willing to roll with it since it sort of suited both their characters at the time. The romance is a thread in the story of her work at healing, and while it plays a key part in some of it, it’s also not the main focus. This is very much a love of the self more than a traditional romance novel.
Final note — some of the character details were a bit vague for me. For example, I have no idea how old Kyle is. I assume she must be at least 18 because she has an apartment, job, lives alone, etc. but a lot of the time I got the sense that she was much younger, like 16 or so. She’s probably no more than 22, and I think her love interest was 25 or so? Anyway, things like that were kind of hard to grab so I was missing some context in scenes that I think would have helped.