‘The Olive Tree’ by Deborah Anderson: A Review

Deborah Anderson’s ‘The Olive Tree’ tells the heartbreaking story of Sindy Black, a young girl struggling with Bipolar disorder and an unsupportive, and seemingly unloving, family. The Olive Tree immediately grips the reader and plunges them into the disturbing web of mental illness, abuse and despair that form Sindy’s life.
The reader is confronted with the brutal ordeals that Sindy endures in a shockingly casual manner, indicating that she has become desensitised to violence and views it as normal and acceptable behaviour. Anderson is brutally honest in her approach and writes about sensitive and controversial topics in such a way that the reader cannot escape them and must instead face the dark subjects of abuse and mental illness head on.
The reader accompanies Sindy as she learns to live with her disorder and in doing so, they are provided with a bleak insight into the reality of mental illness. Anderson’s use of an informal, first person narrative provides those who will never experience mania with the opportunity to witness the internal thought process of someone who is suffering with the illness. The reader sees firsthand the confusion and disjointed thought processes experienced by those suffering from bipolar disorder and the destructive effects that it can have on their lives.
Anderson uses Sindy’s story to highlight the despair experienced by the sufferer due to their lack of control over their own behaviour as their illness spirals out of control and they must face the consequences of the actions they were powerless to stop. By experiencing the frightening and emotional ordeals of Bipolar disorder from a sufferer’s perspective, Anderson provides the reader with a better understanding of mental illness and reminds us that the individuals suffering from them are ordinary people. ‘The Olive Tree’ provides readers with the opportunity to understand mental illness and address any preconceived fears or assumptions they have regarding them. In this sense, ‘The Olive Tree’ helps to spread awareness and oppose the stigma and discrimination faced by those who are mentally ill.
Anderson’s writing style seems to directly reflect the different stages of Sindy’s mental illness as the tone and sentence structure change in accordance to the tumultuous ups and down of her Bipolar disorder. During the transition into Sindy’s manic episodes, the novel’s pace increases in a similar way the speed of someone’s speech would increase if they were having a manic episode. The sentences in the novel become much shorter and they jump from one thought trail to another as they document Sindy’s frantic thoughts.
Through Sindy’s journey for acceptance and peace we are provided with valuable insight into the mind of someone suffering with Bipolar disorder. Such an honest and authentic account of mental illness is rare to find and Sindy’s story, although at times disturbing and harrowing to say the least, is incredibly enlightening and should not be missed.


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