Terri Lynn was popular–she was a cheerleader and a Mauna Loa, a popular girls’ group. She sat by the tiger–her school had a statue of a tiger where the popular kids gathered. Stoners and nerds weren’t allowed anywhere near it.
Despite this, Terri Lynn is deeply unhappy. She contents almost every day with something she calls “the Black Beast.” Under his direction, she alternates between being an people-pleasing overachiever and a teen who drinks, runs away from home, and wrecks her beloved car. She also writes till her fingers cramp, makes out with boys, and cuts herself with knives and pins.
She doesn’t know it at the time but later she learns that “the Black Beast” is bipolar disorder. Cheney, who has also written Manic about her adult experience with bipolar disorder, writes eloquently about her childhood and adolescent battle with the disorder.
During a manic phase, Terri discards the graduation speech she had practiced and creates a new one on the spot. Luckily, her speech is well-received though it does raise eyebrows.
Terri believes her drive is the catalyst for the “Black Beast.” She vows not to strive for perfection at Vassar. As she explains in the afterward, though, and in Manic, her manic phases return with a vengeance.
Few books are written about mental illness and even fewer are written as well as this one.