Selected as one of The New York Times Book Review’s Best Books of the Year and honored worldwide, Lisa, Bright and Dark was an immediate sensation when it was first published.
Detailing how mental illness affects friends and family of the ill, Lisa, Bright and Dark has been in print for more than forty years.
Its value has not diminished over time, and readers throughout the world contact the author regularly to discuss their reactions to it. A straight-through read, it is full of romance, excitement, suspense, and finally triumph.
I first read this novel in middle school as a young teen and found it riveting. Now as a parent with my own teens, I was interested in rereading some of my childhood favorites. The story still holds up, but some of the dialogue left me wondering if my parents’ generation really talked like that. I don’t recall it standing out to me as a teen, but that was also a long time ago. I’m not sure today’s teens will find the dialogue youthful, and many of the cultural references will be very dated. In fact, I had to Google Joanne Woodward’s famous smile, because I didn’t get that reference at all. However, the overall themes of mental illness, adults not being able to clearly see what it so obvious to peers, and the desire and willingness to do whatever it takes to help a friend will resonate strongly with today’s generation.
Narrated by Betsy, the book is about Lisa, a mutual friend, who is crying out for help, fearing she’s losing her mind, and how no one is willing to help her. Times were likely a lot different back then, with teachers unwilling to step in and advocate on behalf of their students, but I think most of the rest of is still relevant today. Lisa goes out of her way to get someone, anyone to listen. Though Betsy is more of a peripheral friend, Lisa seems to trust her and Betsy and her other friends, Mary Nell and Elizabeth, do everything they can to get Lisa the help she needs.
The plot centers around Lisa as seen through Betsy’s eyes. The girls struggle to get Lisa the care she needs despite dismissals and outright denials from the adults in the situation. There’s not much subplotting going on, but considering the subject matter, I’m not sure that’s necessary. The plot itself moves fairly well with short chapters and emotional punches.
Lisa, though not the narrator, comes off as the most well-developed character in the story, followed by Betsy, the narrator, then Mary Nell and Elizabeth. But Elizabeth, I suspect, was deliberately an enigma, at least until the end. While I mentioned above that as an adult now, I didn’t find their dialogue to be particularly youthful, their thought processes definitely were. This made their actions and motivations exceedingly believable. And while the teens were well-rounded, the adults came off looking like idiots, at least in the eyes of the narrator.
What I Enjoyed About LISA, BRIGHT AND DARK
1. Commitment. The way Lisa’s friends are devoted to getting her the help she needs was heartwarming.
2. Lisa. She was a complex character who knew something was wrong with her and terrified.
3. Betsy. She came off as annoying at times, but she always had her heart in the right place.
4. M.N. Mary Nell was an interesting character that was both trying and dedicated, which made her fascinating.
5. Honesty. The book was an honest tale of mental illness and how it can rob someone of everything.
A gripping YA tale of friendship and mental illness.
About the Book
Title: LISA, BRIGHT AND DARK
Author: John Neufeld
Publisher: Perfection Learning
Release Date: November 1, 1970
Genre: Young Adult
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU | Amazon DE | Amazon IT | Amazon FR
About the Author
John Neufeld was born in Chicago, educated at Phillips Exeter and Yale, worked in publishing 1962-1969 when LISA,BRIGHT AND DARK was published (after EDGAR ALLAN).
He lives in Connecticut and is the author of more than a dozen children’s and adult novels. He is a teacher as well as NPR commentator. Neufeldauthor.wordpress.com is his blog.