National Alliance on Mental Illness
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The Face at the Window
by Regina Hanson, illustrated by Linda SaportReview by Brenda Bickel, NAMI Literature Committee
The writer of The Face at the Window was born and raised in Jamaica, West Indies, which is the setting of this story of a young girl's introduction to mental illness through the behaviors of neighbor, Miss Nella.
Friends' and the family's observations of Miss Nella fill Dora's head before she ever experiences her own encounter with the woman of "strange and scary ways."
"Anytime Miss Nella show her face at the window, something terrible goin' to happen."
"My mama say Miss Nella.can change children into chickens-chickens with two heads."
"Miss Nella is one powerful woman."
In trying to pick one of Miss Nella's mangoes, Dora's thrown stone hits the woman's door by mistake. Convinced the woman with special powers would make something terrible happen, Dora confesses her misdeed and is reassured by Pappy:
"Miss Nella not bad at all. I don't understand her sickness, but it is inside her head."
Mammy says, "Miss Nella's mind play tricks on her. Sometimes she see and hear things that are not there."
"So how come some people say she bad?"
"Some people afraid of what they don't understand," comforts Mammy.
And Pappy later relates a boyhood remembrance of a kindness Miss Nella had shown his mother during an illness.
At a meeting to offer an apology for her stone-throwing, Dora witnesses Miss Nella's dramatic responses to sounds and voices that only Miss Nella seems to hear and find pervasive and threatening. But Pappy assures a doubting Miss Nella of her real safety. She gifts Dora with one of her home-grown mangoes. Dora is then able to experience a warm and generous Miss Nella-who is much more than just her strange behavior.
The colorful Gauguin-like illustrations help tell this reassuring story about the gap mental illness creates between people and how understanding and compassion can help lessen this distance. Written in the local dialect, this book lends itself to being read aloud to young listeners, yet is appealing to the older reader.
NAMI RDS No. 144. The Face at the Window by Regina Hanson; illustrated by Linda Saport. Clarion Books, 1996. 32 pages. $14.95