Kathleen Hale isn’t hiding from the controversy that inspired the title of her new essay collection, Kathleen Hale Is a Crazy Stalker. Hale pored over reader reviews—as many authors do—for her debut young adult novel, No One Else Can Have You. A one-star review from a Goodreads user named Blythe stood out. The reader slammed the book based on its first chapter—the only one she’d read—and critiqued Hale’s portrayal of mental illness and sexual assault. (“I shook my head, wondering how I could possibly be guilty of mocking mental illness, when I had it myself, and of all that bad rape stuff Blythe accused me of, when I’d been raped myself.”)
Goodreads urges authors not to comment on their own reviews. Hale ignored the site’s advice and engaged with the reviewer. When the reviewer’s response proved unsatisfying, Hale became obsessed with the woman, whom she learned blogged under a pseudonym. Ultimately, Hale ran a background check on the reviewer, rented a car and drove to the woman’s house to confront her in person.
Hale recounts this experience, and her subsequent psychiatric hospital visit, in “Catfish.” The essay introduces the collection, and throughout the book Hale continues to explore societal norms and her own reactions to them. In “Cricket,” Hale recounts her experience attending the Miss America pageant. When fellow audience members jeer at a contestant who takes a car instead of walking in a rainy parade, Hale joins in—even though she thinks the woman’s decision is reasonable. Hale and a filmmaker travel to Snowflake, Arizona, to learn about a community of people coping with what’s labeled “environmental illness.” Hale recognizes something of herself in these people, though they aren’t certain she isn’t just another journalist mocking them.
The six essays that comprise Kathleen Hale Is a Crazy Stalker will leave readers—book bloggers or not—with plenty to consider. Hale shares glimpses of her psyche and experiences, often without tying experiences into a bow for public consumption. The collection isn’t always an easy read, but it’s a thought-provoking look at society and one woman’s place within it.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Kathleen Hale for Kathleen Hale Is a Crazy Stalker.