Image: Heart Berries, alternate cover design.
Terese Mailhot’s debut book, Heart Berries is a series of essays that tells the story of Mailhot’s experiences while growing up on Seabird Island Reservation in British Columbia. While reading Heart Berries, the reader learns that Mailhot began writing Heart Berries after committing herself to a mental institution after she had a breakdown. Heart Berries tells Mailhot’s struggles with her mental health, growing up with trauma, and learning how to heal from that trauma once she began to realize her traumas. The book explores Mailhot’s family connections, the impact of her family members had on her, and it follows her relationship with another writer, Casey.
Heart Berries is raw, intimate, and full of emotion. Heart Berries has a fragmented structure, but that structure helped tell the story, Mailhot’s story. Heart Berries is a short book in length, but is in no way short in story telling; it is gripping, captivating and heart breaking all at the same time. Mailhot’s telling of her trauma through this book is raw and real, but the realness spoken throughout this book and shows just how a person’s mental state and upbringing can affect so many aspects of a person’s life, including how their story can be shared.
When going through so much and trying to handle and heal from the trauma someone goes through, it is not a clean and easy process to undergo; it’s messy, hard, challenging and Mailhot captures all of that in the telling of her story in Heart Berries. Mailhot is able to tell the story of her trauma in her book by capturing it with a fragmented style with pieces being a journal, letters, and thoughts. The narrative of Heart Berries can be challenging to follow at times with it being written in a fragmented style, however that does a great job capturing Mailhot’s state of mind during the times she writes about. The way Mailhot showcases her state of mind throughout Heart Berries tells readers just how unreliable and inconsistent a person’s state of mind can be while dealing with trauma. Mailhot’s storytelling with the fragmented writing style reflects how our minds can romanticise situations when dealing with trauma.
Heart Berries may not be for every reader and may be triggering for some readers. Some readers say that this book is written poorly because of the jumping around in the timeline, location, and subject, as well as from letter form to memories, to thoughts. However, Heart Berries is a memoir, Heart Berries is a journal, letters, and thoughts of a woman who went through so much and was able to convey to the reader what she went through during the time of this book; the fog, the jumbled and confusing thoughts, the trauma. Not many people, if any, would come out immediately with a clear and concise mind after all of Mailhot’s life events. Heart Berries is a memorable book, whether that it be from the way Mailhot told her story, or the contents of her story sticking with the reader, Heart Berries sticks with the reader one way or another. Terese Mailthot’s style of writing is unique and grabs hold of the reader from the beginning until the end of the book. Mailhot’s wording and phrases are so poetic at times and can make the reader pause and sit with her words for a moment taking in the emotion behind the words before continuing the rest of the book.
Heart Berries is a short book, but such a strong book in the most heartbreaking way; Terese Mailhot masks nothing in this book; she writes as she does self-reflection and that means skipping certain times of her life. Heart Berries may not come across as a memoir with linear story telling, but it is linear in terms of Mailhot’s moments of self-reflection. Heart Berries can be read in one sitting, but requires time to process once completed. Mailhot’s story is intense, raw, heartbreaking, but it’s real. The language in Heart Berries is simple, yet Terese Mailhot’s mind behind the language is anything but simple.
Heart Berries was published by Penguin Random House Canada in 2018.