Black Flowers, White Lies by Yvonne Ventresca

Black Flowers, White Lies by Yvonne Ventresca

I read Black Flowers, White Lies by Yvonne Ventresca in one sitting as we drove from northern California to the Arizona border last week, and it had me, quite literally, in my seat the entire way. The story sketches a young girl’s confusion as she learns that her mother had lied to her about her father’s death many years ago–that her father might not have died because of a car accident but because of some horrible, unnamed “accident” at a psychiatric facility where he was committed. As she turns away from her mother in distrust, and towards her new stepbrother with trust, she also begins to doubt her own sanity. Her apparent descent into insanity–into seeing and hearing things that aren’t there–is fueled by her increasing doubt about her father’s identity, her mother’s love, and the friends she’s surrounded herself with.

For most of the text, I had no idea what was going on and kept wondering how this would be resolved. Was Ella, the protagonist, going mad? Or did she have access to spiritual insights that most of us fail to access? Or was there something else going on? I didn’t see the truth coming and, while it requires a little bit of willing suspension of disbelief, it also was completely satisfying.

Black Flowers, White Lies compellingly and convincingly questions the links between mental illness and reality, revealing how fragile our understanding of and grip upon reality actually is. Ventresca tears apart the wall many of us have built between ourselves and “crazy” and shows that none of us are exactly “normal”, none of us can claim we have all the answers, and our relationships with other people–the trust we’ve built over months or years of interaction–is the key to compassion, love, forgiveness and self-forgiveness.

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