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  1. Book ImagePiece of Mind: A Novel

    Michelle Adelman

    Told with warmth and intelligence, Piece of Mind introduces one of the most endearing and heroic characters in contemporary fiction.

A Note from the Author

Lucy, the protagonist of Piece of Mind, was initially inspired by my older sister, Caren, who, like Lucy, suffered from a traumatic brain injury at the age of three. Our family didn’t specifically discuss the effects of a TBI, and while I had my catalogue of nonscientific observations, it wasn’t until I started researching and writing this novel that I began to understand the profound physical and emotional repercussions of this kind of injury—not just on the person impacted, but on all who know her.

When I began the book, I realized I had never encountered anyone quite like Caren—with so much aptitude and intellectual intelligence, yet so many limitations in the organization of her daily life. I wanted to understand and explore this tension on a deeper level, and thus Piece of Mind started in many ways as a character study, with the idea of capturing the experiences of my main character through an outside lens. Lucy was a woman who could draw, read, and write with great skill and perception, who could connect to animals on an almost cosmic level, but who lacked simple interpersonal skills and major executive functions. She couldn’t follow a schedule, filter her speech, or maintain the cleanliness of any given space. She also found the prospect of a job both daunting and insurmountable. Yet she was funny, compassionate, and richly layered.

As I delved further into her narrative, however, and as Lucy began to evolve on the page, I realized that this was not only the story of a unique individual. Nor was it a story solely for those who had been impacted by brain injury, or by other kinds of disabilities or disadvantages. In fact, all of the characters in this book are flawed and even unhinged by various limitations. This is a story, then, that transcends a singular experience by exploring the complex relationship between siblings, and parents, and different kinds of families; of adapting to new and unfamiliar circumstances; of coming of age and discovering one’s identity and purpose; and of trying to fit in and act “normal” without sacrificing individuality.

The more I learned about Lucy’s specific experience, the more I understood how relatable she was, and how universal her challenges could be.

Discussion Questions

  1. How is Lucy’s relationship with her mother different from her relationship with her father? After their deaths, how do those relationships manifest themselves in Lucy’s life?
  2. Nate finds himself without parents, unable to afford to stay in school, and suddenly in the role of Lucy’s primary caretaker. How does he handle these drastic changes? How does the relationship between Nate and Lucy evolve over the course of the book? What would you have done in his position?
  3. Lucy describes her brain as “a pinball machine lit up with pockets of potential” (17). In what ways is this outlook reflected in her actions?
  4. Lucy’s father makes “to-do” lists for Lucy, but his death throws her into an unexpected situation with more independence and less support. Does this change her goals? How so?
  5. Lucy and Frank first meet in a group for people with brain injuries, and later she goes with him to visit his parents. What are the differences between how Frank’s parents treat him and how Lucy’s parents treated her?
  6. Love takes Lucy by surprise. What do you think draws her to Frank? And why does she decide to leave? Do you think Frank was ready to marry her?
  7. At first, Nate does not believe that Lucy senses their mother’s spirit, but later he has a change of heart. What do you think accounts for this change? What is the role of the supernatural/extrasensory/religion in the book?
  8. Lucy is drawn to Gus, the polar bear at the zoo. Why is she so interested in Gus? What does he represent to her? Why do you think Lucy has a special connection to animals?
  9. Drawing a portrait of Enid’s dog Belle is very important both to Lucy and to Enid. Why? What role does Enid serve in the story?
  10. Holding down a steady job is a challenge for Lucy. At the end of the book, she begins to fill out a volunteer application to work at the zoo, and admits “I was finally ready to work” (297). Do you think her injury was the only thing that hindered her from keeping a job? What do you think will happen after Nate settles back into his life with Lucy?

About Michelle Adelman

Michelle Adelman has an MFA in Writing from Columbia University, and BS and MS degrees in Journalism from Northwestern University. Her work has appeared in Bustle, Fiction Writers Review, Extract(s), and elsewhere. She lives in San Diego.

Books by Michelle Adelman

  1. Book CoverPiece of Mind: A Novel

    Told with warmth and intelligence, Piece of Mind introduces one of the most endearing and heroic characters in contemporary fiction.More