Borderlanders

GILLIAN POLACK

Borderlanders is about three friends who are dealing with everyday life issues, but against a backdrop of magical realism. Melissa, the main protagonist, suffers from chronic pain. Bettina is dealing with a family secret and struggling to come to terms with her psychic dreams. Zelda is writing a book while going through a difficult divorce.

I enjoyed how the writer leaves Bettina’s dreams to the reader to decide whether there’s a supernatural element to them.

I also appreciated the way Melissa’s chronic pain was handled. It’s rare you come across a book that addresses the toll physical illness has on a person’s mental health. I particularly loved this passage, 

“She won’t give me tablets for depression because she says it’ll get better as I get better. Then, next visit, she admits I may not get better for years. Or ever. Not until we know more about things. And she sends me for tests and forgets the depression.”

The author doesn’t shy away from the real struggles the chronically ill face when trying to seek recognition and validation for their pain. It’s clear a lot of research has gone into writing this book. 

Some other quotes that beautifully illustrate the chronically ill experience are:

“I’m doing this because I’m wonderful and you’re an invalid. You shouldn’t really exist but I’m making it possible because look, I’m washing your dishes while I tell you how to live.”

“I need to pretend to have a different disability in order not to be yelled at.”

“What I’m not so impressed about was the way he shouldered in front of me for everything. He was so sick. And the family treated him as special. And I sat there at dinner thinking, “Maybe I’m not as sick as he is. Maybe I’m kidding myself.””

One aspect I found jarring at times was that the dialogue felt wooden. Everyone sounded the same. Although the characters are well drawn and I didn’t feel that the dialogue detracted too much from the storytelling.

Overall, if you’re looking for a book that accurately portrays chronic illness, I strongly recommend Borderlanders.

One Reply to “Borderlanders”

  1. Some of the quotes you used here sound exactly how I feel – we’ve had discussions like this before about how we don’t have the “right” disability, or how people treat mental health or neurodivergent brains like they’re different on purpose and for attention, and enough people saying that actually conditions us to wonder the same things as Melissa. This sounds like a cathartic book for anyone who’s gone through physical or mental pain, with one affecting the other, and having ever been told that they were making a big deal out of nothing. In other words, me.

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