Graphic format, nonfiction

Book Review: Marbles by Ellen Forney


forneyMarbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo & Me

A Graphic Memoir by Ellen Forney

256 pages

Published in November 2012 by Gotham Books

Where did I get this?  Public Library

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo & Me chronicles illustrator Ellen Forney’s years-long struggle to find balance with her bipolar disorder while maintaining her passion for art. Right before her thirtieth birthday, Ellen was diagnosed with biopolar 1 disorder. Highly manic at the time, she had tons of ideas on how to keep working creatively before her depression hits. When it does, things change. Through this chaotic time, Ellen seeks comfort from the fact that many gifted artists like Georgia O’Keefe, Sylvia Plath, and others have gone through similar mental challenges. She also explores the relationship between creativity and mental illness. Told with brutal honesty, Marbles is a book that will appeal to many people.

Marbles starts with Ellen getting a back tattoo. It was something she thought about and the many ideas for her tattoo are coming at her at once. She even kisses the tattoo artist (a stranger to her) after the tattoo is done. Readers see the mania of it. Throughout the book, the author brilliantly illustrates to readers what manic and depression looks and feels like. Readers watch as some of Ellen’s friends distance themselves because she’s so manic and others who help her when she’s depressed. Throughout this four-years struggle, it’s drawing, Ellen’s passion, that helps her.

If the name Ellen Forney sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because she’s the illustrator behind Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. In Marbles, Ellen has a similar drawing style. The black and white drawing adds to Ellen’s writing without bogging down the story in any way.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Something that stayed with me about this book is Ellen’s journey as she tries different medications in various combinations. The side effects for these pills range from anything like hair loss, low blood platelet levels, tremors, memory loss, to skin breakouts. It takes weeks for these pills to work and if they don’t, the person has to start over with a different pill in a different combination. I also learned that most health insurance companies don’t cover prescriptions for these types of medications. Ellen breaks down the costs of her pills while she’s going through this. It was shocking to find out that a month’s worth of one pill could cost her almost $1000. That is ridiculous. So not only is there a pretty good chance that this prescription won’t work, but it’s also so expensive. I would think that insurance companies would know that if a person can’t take care of their mental and emotional health, they won’t be able to take care of their physical health. You can’t have one without the other. I felt frustration about this, right along with Ellen.

With the right pills, her passion of art, and the support of family and friends, Ellen finds balance in the end.

Marbles is a fantastic read. It’s a book that will appeal to people who’ve had their own mental struggles, older teens, lovers of the graphic format, and anyone who likes a good story. My rating: 5 out of 5. I need this in my personal library.

21 thoughts on “Book Review: Marbles by Ellen Forney”

  1. It’s so great that books like this are being written and then blogged about. Mental illness is still considered a taboo, many people are too embarrassed to seek help. Very important issue. And what a bonus when the book is as engaging as you say this one is!

  2. I was wondering where I had heard the name Ellen Forney. Thanks for pointing out that she was the illustrator of Alexie’s book. I have to check this out. It sounds very compelling. Her illustrations in Alexie’s book were really superb.

  3. I haven’t heard of this graphic novel before but it sounds interesting!

    (I couldn’t help thinking of Olive Oyl when I saw the cover)

  4. I would love to read this one, and for various reasons. I know what it’s like to have mental illness in the family, and the cost of prescriptions and all the side effects. It sounds like the author really bares her soul when it comes to these things, and I would be fascinated to see how it all turns out. This was a lovely review.

  5. Great review, as always! I really enjoyed this book, too- I like that it made me uncomfortable in parts.

  6. Off to seek this one out. I know several who will also like to read this. Thanks, Natasha.

  7. I can’t wait to read this. I think it’s waiting at the library for me (I ILL’ed in late January). *fingers crossed*

    Great review!

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