Review – Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

If you read my recent Mid Year Reading Goals post, you’ll know that reading more non-fiction is high on my agenda for the rest of 2018. It was a genre I seemed to be tackling well at the beginning of the year when I discovered my love for audiobooks. I didn’t realise that just a click away I could have amazing, true tales streaming through my headphones. From nitty gritty crime, soothing self-help books and laugh out loud memoirs – I really enjoy the variety of non-fiction. When the lovely team at Bloomsbury sent me some non-fiction selections, they couldn’t have come at a better time. One book of the books I was lucky enough to receive was Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot. I instantly knew it was a book I wanted to read as soon as possible and review.

Let me kick off with a short synopsis of this incredible read. Terese’s memoir documents her dysfunctional upbringing on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest to her failed relationships and battle with mental health. When she is hospitalised and diagnosed with both Post Traumatic Stress and Bipolar II, Terese is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma – the end result being Heart Berries.

At just 120 pages, Heart Berries may be compact but it is extremely powerful and at times, left me with tears. Terese writes so poetically about her upbringing, her pain and how she grapples with finding out who she is as a person – dissecting her life and slowly understanding why she is now where she is. With a chunk of this book written in letter form, it had me gripped and I started to feel emotionally connected to Terese in a way I didn’t expect. The way she wrote her letter to her ex-partner resonated with me in a way I didn’t expect. She perfectly encapsulated some of the unhealthy aspects of a previous relationship I once had, that prompted tears. Sometimes when someone else captures the points that you now see as complete carelessness on someone else’s part, your mind begins to question how you ever thought that was a loving situation. It was a time in my life I put in a little box and Terese’s writing helped unpack that a little. Her writing was so powerful that my mind couldn’t help but wander to that period of my life which caused a tear or two. I also found her frank view towards mental health brutally honest. It is truly candid and raw as it documents some of the challenges those with mental health conditions face. I have to admit, I would give this book a trigger warning – especially to anyone with a mental health condition as there are some small snippets of suicide idealisation. 

One element I found completely fascinating was her upbringing in the Native American community. I must admit, I do not know much about this indigenous way of life but I found the book educational from that point of view. Their particular approach to health I found mindboggling and so incredibly different from our way of life. I also loved her observations of white people or rather, western life. A particular favourite being her view on self-esteem:

“I think self-esteem is a white invention to further separate one person from another. It asks people to assess their values and implies people have worth. It seems like identity capitalism.”

Overall, this book is incredibly brutal and bleak but on the flip side, the poetic prose and snippets of Terese’s personality make it a truly touching read. I rarely get emotional over books. Normally, they are a block out of whatever is going on around me. But I really felt like I connected with Terese and I’m not fully sure why. Was it her frank tale of a dysfunctional relationship that I felt I resonated with? Was it the similar dual diagnosis and the feeling of what does this mean for my life? Or was it simply because for once, I felt like I had stumbled across a piece of writing that made my emotions come out to play? Maybe it is a combination of all three but one things for sure is I won’t forget Terese’s story. In fact, I found myself googling her name after finishing the book to find out where she was now and what she was doing with her life. I was deeply invested in her story and hope that she has found peace and happiness.

Heart berries was an unfiltered tale encompassing so many important topics from mental health, child abuse, poverty, an eating disorder, motherhood and a remarkable life drenched in trauma, pain and hope. I hope to re-read this as the writing was stunning and although small, feel like I would benefit from absorbing such a powerful book in another sitting.

*I received this book from Bloomsbury Publishing for review purposes but all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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