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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

"January First" by Michael Schofield~Childhood Schizophrenia Relived

At age six, January ("Jani") Schofield was diagnosed with one of the most severe cases of child-onset schizophrenia on record. Hallucinating constantly, she is at the mercy of her imaginary friends—some of whom are friendly, while others tell her to scream at strangers, jump out of buildings, and attack her baby brother. Jani is torn between two places: "Calalini," the illusory home of her imaginary friends, and our world. When potent psychiatric drugs that would level most adults barely faze her, the line dividing delirium from reality grows dangerously blurry. 

    Amid Jani's struggle are her parents, who face seemingly insurmountable obstacles daily just to keep both of their children alive and safe. Their battle has included a two-year search for answers, countless medications and hospitalizations, allegations of abuse, despair that almost broke the family apart and, finally, victories against the illness and a new faith that they can create a happy life for Jani.

    A passionate and inspirational account, January First is a father's soul-bearing memoir of the daily challenges and unwavering commitment to save his daughter from the edge of insanity while doing everything he can to keep his family together.
Published by:  Broadway/Crown Publishing
Pages:  288
Then:  Extra Libris w/ A Reader's Guide, A Conversation with Michael Schofield, An Essay from Michael Schofield, and "Behind the Jani Foundation"
Genre:  Non-Fiction
Author:  Michael Schofield
Purchase a copy:  Barnes & Noble
Some videos of Jani and her family: (This may be disturbing content for some...beware!)


I had a visceral reaction to this book.  My heart began to race, I felt sick to my stomach and I felt my eyes widen as I read it...raced through it.  The story of Jani and her family is literally one of the most complex and disconcerting I can remember reading in non-fiction in the last couple of years.  Despite all of that, I wasn't able to stop reading until 3AM.  There's no way you can start reading this book and not go the long-haul.  It's provocative on so many levels.

Michael Schofield is an English Professor who teaches writing courses, so there's little we can say about his exemplary writing style.  It's concise and stellar.  It's the content that is so "in your face" and disturbing.  How can it not be when it's about a baby...5-6 year old with early onset schizophrenia?

I have to say that I went through several sets of emotions about the family members, including Jani.
Michael Schofield isn't one of my favorite people, even now.  I disliked his anger towards his wife, Susan, a great deal.  It really bothered me. Though he did seem to keep it to a minimum with Jani, I don't see how she couldn't have felt his angry outbursts.  But, I have to applaud his honesty in the face of all he's suffered/suffers and has given/gives to the welfare of his child.  His immaturity and his helplessness bled through his account, as well as his ineptness as an ordinary parent.  I felt Susan also was a weak parental figure, though I was more sympathetic to her since she was caught up in a marriage with a raging husband, another pregnancy and a baby to protect, as well as her concerns and caring for Jani.  A lot on both of their plates with finances, work schedules and Jani's complete acting out, whether with childhood tantrums and/or eventual full-blown schizophrenia.

While I had these feelings above, I also had the mixed feelings of compassion for them.  Jani, herself, is a child who engenders a warring response, as far as I'm concerned.  It's difficult to sense the line between "entitled brat" and illness...and Michael brings us into that arena on purpose, I think, just to give us the same confounding feelings he, Susan and the doctors were having.  Jani is nothing if not a complex child.

There is no doubt this is as true an account as Michael Schofield can relay about Jani and her illness.  It's so bare and raw.  It's extreme, but necessary to get the word out for the others who are out there dealing with childhood mental illness. I understand this.  He's done a great service to the community to do this writing.  He's done a great service to humanity to be so open about himself and his weaknesses, as well as his strengths (which are many).

"January First" is a frank and distressing account with light at the end of the proverbial tunnel "for the time being."  It's told in the easiest of reading formats.  It's absolutely impossible to put down once you start reading.

It's the story of "A Child's Descent into Madness and Her Father's Struggle to Save Her."

For those of you who will...it's an amazing read.

5 stars                                  Deborah/TheBookishDame



I saw the documentary of their story awhile back and felt so much for the family. I am very interested in reading this memoir. Thanks for sharing.


I listened to the audio version of this book and, like you, felt a range of emotions. I couldn't figure out why in the world they decided to have another child. A big problem I had with the book was that it seemed to be more about Michael than about Jani.


Thanks for the recommendation! I'm ordering this now!

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