Review – Borderline by Mishell Baker

Borderline is an absolutely brilliant book about mental illness. Millie, our protagonist, suffers from borderline personality disorder, and Baker finds a delicate balance between showing and telling.  This draws the reader into a character who knows why they do the things they do, but are only sometimes able to stop themselves. The details and the asides are so real, from mindfulness lessons to therapy, that I was unsurprised to see the author had personal familiarity with such conditions.

“When a fresh wave of anger hit, it was only a 4: “frustrated.” I was able to do some mindfulness exercises, following my breathing in and out of my lungs. My pulse slowed, and my fists loosened. I turned the corners of my mouth up in a slight smile, as I’d been taught, but it felt ridiculous and I stopped”

In addition, Millie has some physical disabilities, and these are integrated well, if perhaps not as well as the passages about mental illness.

Unfortunately, borderline is a pretty mediocre urban fantasy novel. The premise is absolutely rock solid: what if a supernatural agency hired from the ranks of the mentally ill in LA for plausible deniability. However well constructed the idea, in execution there is a flatness to the world, both supernatural and mundane, that pale in comparison to the vivid sections on mental illness.  This is particularly galling in a book where the supernatural is intimately tied to artistic expression.  None of the characters outside of the protagonist feel well developed, and while this is partially because they are filtered through Millie’s personality, it is also because none of them talk entirely like a human being (even when they are). The fantasy elements also feel a little half baked, with just a little too little of the rules on show to feel coherent. Having said that, the integration of Millie’s prosthesis is a great idea of the sort the book could have used more of.

While this is a book of two halves, the highs of the good half outweigh the failings of the bad, and I look forward to a sequel to see if something really great can cohere.

A great book about mental illness is trapped in mediocre urban fantasy.1

  1. Read February 2017

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