PLOT: 4/5

Insightful, thought-provoking, and an important representation of key contemporary issues, this novel comes from the award-winning author Jordan P. Barnes, known for works like “One Hit Away.” The narrative is a groundbreaking and awe-inspiring tale that raises pertinent questions about the persistent taboo and stigma surrounding mental health conditions, even in developed and progressive societies.

The underlying themes of the novel revolve around schizoaffective disorder and its profound impact on overall mental health, intricately woven into the social life and well-being of the character Avery West.

Through Avery’s experiences, the narrative aims to scrutinize the Western healthcare and medicine system, shedding light on the challenges faced by individuals grappling with mental health conditions in the long term. Moreover, the story prompts readers to philosophically contemplate the aftermath of being declared not guilty by reason of insanity and the journey one can embark on thereafter.

The recipient of the 2022 Best Literary Book Award from Indies Today, Late Blight in the Koʻolaus boasts a riveting plot that unfolds in the life of Avery West. He grapples with the impending end of his tenure at the Hawai’i State Hospital, where he has spent a significant portion of his adult life. After seven years of pleading not guilty to actions deemed as social crimes, attributed to his unstable mental health condition, Avery finds himself in a unique predicament.

While his symptoms of schizophrenia have receded, hinting at progress and potential recovery, Avery has developed an unexpected attachment to the confines of the hospital—his sanctuary for an extended period. Despite achieving a semblance of stability, he remains uncertain and anxious about the prospect of losing everything he has fought for. His team of doctors and their assistants hold a contrasting view, deeming him clinically fit to move forward with his life.

If the plot of Late Blight in the Koʻolaus were to be summarized in a single word, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to label it highly unpredictable—keeping readers on the edge of their chairs, intense, and gripping, striking a delicate balance between thoughtfulness and emotion.

While the narrative may seemingly center around Avery West, he serves as a mere speck in the larger systemic complexities of the mental healthcare system. These intricacies, challenges, and operational dynamics form the backbone against which the story of recovery and hope unfolds.

Characterization is straightforward, with each character playing a specific function that extends beyond merely influencing plot developments. They also serve to spotlight the broader workings of the healthcare system, approached with both empathy and objectivity. The limited cast of characters ensures a tidy plot without an overwhelming array of minor characters, maintaining the reader’s focus.

This deliberate approach brings attention to aspects typically overlooked due to the social stigma surrounding discussions on mental health patients—how they navigate societal perceptions and their struggles with connecting to the so-called “normal” world.

Despite the complexity, the narrative strikes a balance, offering empathy and objectivity, effectively highlighting key issues and portraying the trauma and dilemmas faced by the characters without overly criticizing the system.

This narrative approach provides a positive perspective on mental health issues and the administration of care, bringing attention to problems, shortcomings, and difficulties while suggesting potential avenues for correction, remedial action, and thoughtful consideration. As Vince Granata aptly observes: “No one is reduced to their diagnosis, or addiction, or tragic past.”

The conflict in the plot unfolds as Avery is relocated to a sober home in his local area, where he grapples with adapting to a new environment. He contends with low self-esteem, heightened reclusiveness, unsocial behavior, and an overarching complexity of being perceived as damaged and useless.

The plot reaches its climax when Avery becomes entangled with a co-worker who staunchly believes that Western clinical medicinal practices have been futile in aiding Avery. It is at this point that Avery begins contemplating the idea of an ideal world devoid of struggles, internal conflicts, and societal disdain for mental health issues.

As Avery takes control of his life, the reader is drawn further to the edge of their seat, as the narrative becomes highly unpredictable regarding the ultimate outcome of Avery’s actions in a story rife with numerous twists and turns.

Spanning 328 pages and 28 chapters, Late Blight in the Koʻolaus is heartfelt, skillfully crafted, and enriched with vivid Hawaiian imagery. Yet, it serves a global purpose beyond mere awareness-raising, aiming to inspire constructive and intelligent action in addressing mental health issues. This makes it a must-read book.

Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of Late Blight in the Koʻolaus right away!