Monday, October 5, 2015

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Finding Audrey is exactly as described on the inside flap of the jacket cover, a blend of "comedy, romance and psychological insight".  Finding Audrey is about a young girl recovering from a terrible situation that has left her with social anxiety disorder, general anxiety disorder and depression.

Fourteen year old Audrey Turner lives with her mother and father, her brother Frank and her four year old brother, Felix on Rosewood Close. Frank is a gamer and he is obsessed with playing Land of Conquerors. So much so that their mother is holding his computer out of her bedroom window, threatening to throw it to the ground. Frank tries to convince his mother that he intends to enter the LOC competition and may win the six million dollar prize.

The story then backtracks one month earlier when Audrey is at home because of something that happened at school. She left Stokeland Girls School in February. It's now May.

Her mom reads an article in the Daily Mail about kids being addicted to computer games and is convinced Frank fits the profile. When her mother asks her about LOC, Audrey explains the game and that it often has gamers who are watched by others. One day Frank has his friend, Linus, who also attends the same school over to play LOC with him. Audrey remembers Linus as the boy who played Atticus Finch in the school play of To Kill A Mockingbird. Audrey's mom switches off Frank's computer, suggesting they play something else such as badminton, croquet or Rummikub. But when she discovers Frank and Linus playing online Rummikub she pulls them off that too. As the confrontation between Frank and his mother continues, Linus walks into the den where Audrey is sitting. Immediately Audrey has a panic attack when Linus says hello to her and asks her if she always wears dark glasses. Apologizing, Audrey quickly flees to her bedroom.

When Audrey meets with her therapist, Dr. Sarah McVeigh, she tells Dr. Sarah that she feels "stuck" and that she's not getting any better. Dr. Sarah tells Audrey that she will be well enough to return to school in September. Hoping to push Audrey to begin making eye contact with other people, Dr. Sarah assigns her to make a film about her family and eventually to move on to interviewing people. Dr. Sarah believes it might be easier for Audrey to make eye contact through the camera.

Audrey begins filming her family. Meanwhile, her mother in an attempt to divert Frank from computer games, insists he begin running with her. It turns out Frank can not only do press-ups but is on the cross-country team too. Since Linus will be spending a lot of time at their house as he's on Frank's LOC team, Frank wants Audrey not to freak out. Linus, upset at what happened the other day, sends Audrey a note. They correspond back and forth, with little Felix as their messenger carrying the "pocket paper" to Linus in the playroom. This correspondence leaves Audrey feeling "...kind of exhilarated. And kind of emptied out."

Still attempting to thwart Frank's gaming obsession, his mother takes the computer power cable with her when she goes out for her birthday. However, Frank has a spare but is quickly caught by his mom who suspects him of trying to bypass her efforts to wean him from the computer. They ban him from computer games for ten days. Frank tells Audrey she needs to get over her anxiety about Linus because after ten days Linus will be around a great deal to practice for the LOC tournament. The next night Frank brings Linus in to visit with Audrey. Immediately she turns away from him and sits at the end of the sofa. Linus however, is calm and understanding, accepting that Audrey finds eye contact difficult but that she can write notes. Linus encourages Audrey, "It won't be forever. You'll be in the dark for as long as it takes and then you'll come out."

The next appointment with Dr. Sarah sees her push Audrey to consider interviewing her family and perhaps outsiders too and to begin leaving the house.This causes Audrey enormous stress and she is resistant. However,help comes in the unexpected form of Linus. While her family is in crisis over the discovery that Frank has been playing online games for hours at night, Audrey finally voices her desire to get well again. Dr. Sarah suggests that Audrey take the next step by inviting Linus to come over to visit her. Determined to take that step, Audrey manages to convince her parents to give her a phone. While she can't bring herself to phone Linus, she does text him and they arrange to meet at Starbucks. Her time with Linus at Starbucks goes well until she suddenly has a meltdown. Will Audrey ever overcome her social anxiety and reclaim her life?


Finding Audrey explores a young girl's recovery from a serious bullying incident that leads her to develop a social anxiety disorder. Kinsella, the best selling author of the Shopaholic series, grabs her readers attention with the hilarious antics and funny dialogue between Audrey's mother and her brother, Frank. Audrey has been home for several months, in therapy and working on her social anxiety. Her mother believes Frank is a gaming addict and attempts to break him of his habit of playing computer games for hours at a time. The first hundred pages of the novel focus almost exclusively on this subplot, while setting the stage for Audrey's meeting of Linus and their developing relationship. It is this relationship and how Linus helps Audrey recover, that is the real story.

Kinsella never fully reveals the details of the incident that led to Audrey's predicament, but she does focus on her treatment and her recovery. Audrey's lost herself after a serious bullying incident, hence the title of the novel, Finding Audrey. Now she has to work to reclaim her life and her place. Like most people in therapy, Audrey finds each step of recovery challenging. For example when Dr. Sarah suggests Audrey begin leaving the house and she is met with resistance, Dr. Sarah tells her, "We've talked about exposure therapy. You can start with a tiny visit. A minute or two. But you need to gradually expose yourself to the world, Audrey. Or the danger is, you really will become trapped." Dr. Sara explains to Audrey that recovery isn't a linear process, but one with ups and downs, with progress and setbacks.

One of the most beautiful aspects of this novel is how Audrey has the courage to open up to Linus about even her most private thoughts and feelings and how Linus, in his own way helps Audrey to take those first steps. He's there even when those steps are not one hundred percent successful.  For example, after racing home from their first meeting at Starbucks , Audrey is stunned to learn Linus is outside pushing notes through the letter slot. When she writes, "I was thinking, 'I'm a total failure, I shouldn't exist, what's the point of me?' " LInus has no difficulty coming up with a list of why Audrey matters and he seals it with a kiss. In this way, Linus is a remarkable character, the kind of guy every girl dreams of having as a first love. But Kinsella doesn't make him perfect; he too wants Audrey to get better - fast.

Once she's started on the path to healing, Audrey begins to gradually loosen the focus on herself and begins to notice for the first time how what has happened to her has affected others in her family, particularly her mother. "Mum is a freelance brand consultant, which means that she does projects all over the country...she's cool. Her job is cool. Only now I"m looking at this photo I'm wondering: When did she actually last work?" "I feel like I'm slowly coming out of a fog and noticing things I didn't before. What Dr. Sarah said is true: you get self-obsessed when you're ill. You can't see anything around you. But now I'm starting to see stuff." Audrey realizes that her mother has given up a job she's really good at, and that she's waiting for Audrey to get better. Audrey decides that "It's up to me to get better." With this, Audrey begins to go out more and even reconnects with her once-best friend, Natalie Dexter.

But while Audrey believes she's "cooked" or cured, Dr. Sarah points out that she's still on medication, she still wears her dark glasses and she hasn't yet returned to school. Audrey is determined to have a straight-line graph, with no valleys, no peaks. "...I'm in charge of my graph. Me. And if I want a straight graph, I'll have a straight graph." Convinced she's better, Audrey lies at her next meeting with Dr. Sarah, suddenly stops taking her medication and even tries to meet with Izzy Lawton, the girl who was the cause of Audrey's troubles. However when things do not go as planned, Audrey is forced to face the reality of her situation and recovery.
"But, I"m sick of this bloody jagged graph," I said in frustration. "You know, two steps up, one step down. It's so painful. It's so slow. It's like this endless game of snakes and ladders."
And Mum just looked at me as if she wanted to laugh or maybe cray, and she said, "But, Audrey, that's what life is. We're all on a jagged graph. I know I am. Up a bit, down a bit. That's life."

Kinsella charts Audrey's journey not only her prose, but also through the film transcript of Audrey's home movie, My Serene and Loving Family. At first Audrey hides safely behind the camera filming kitchen cabinets, bedrooms and her parents. She records family arguments, even Frank explaining the benefits of gaming, and eventually Linus and Felix playing chess. Finally she moves onto actively speaking in the home movies and is eventually filmed by her father playing LOC with Linus and Frank.

Kinsella's witty dialogue and humorous scenes never allow the heavy subject matter of Finding Audrey, bog the novel down. Audrey's mother is the main origin of the humorous dialogue as she struggles to come to terms with her son, Frank's computer addiction. Playing off her is Audrey's father, with his deadpan remarks. This is what makes Finding Audrey so enjoyable, while also sending the message that life has its ups and downs for most everyone. We just have to learn how to deal with them.

Book Details:

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella
Toronto: Doubleday Canada 2015
286 pp.

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