Borderline/ posted in: Reading Borderline by Mishell Baker
on March 1st 2016
Series: The Arcadia Project #1
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Published by Saga Press
A year ago, Millie lost her legs and her filmmaking career in a failed suicide attempt. Just when she's sure the credits have rolled on her life story, she gets a second chance with the Arcadia Project: a secret organization that polices the traffic to and from a parallel reality filled with creatures straight out of myth and fairy tales.
For her first assignment, Millie is tasked with tracking down a missing movie star who also happens to be a nobleman of the Seelie Court. To find him, she'll have to smooth-talk Hollywood power players and uncover the surreal and sometimes terrifying truth behind the glamour of Tinseltown. But stronger forces than just her inner demons are sabotaging her progress, and if she fails to unravel the conspiracy behind the noble's disappearance, not only will she be out on the streets, but the shattering of a centuries-old peace could spark an all-out war between worlds.
Millie was a grad student in filmmaking at UCLA when a failed relationship led her to a suicide attempt. She survived but lost her legs. She has spent the last six months in an inpatient psychiatric facility learning to handle her borderline personality disorder.
“The symptoms of borderline personality disorder include: a recurring pattern of instability in relationships, efforts to avoid abandonment, identity disturbance, impulsivity, emotional instability, and chronic feelings of emptiness, among other symptoms.
The main feature of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a pervasive pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image and emotions. People with borderline personality disorder are also usually very impulsive, oftentimes demonstrating self-injurious behaviors.” – Steven Bressert Ph.D
That describes Millie. She is working with a therapist but she doesn’t think that it is going well. Then she is recruited for a job.
The Arcadia project manages human-fey interactions. The branch in Los Angeles works with the fey in Hollywood. The project is staffed by people who all have mental health issues. During her probationary period she just needs to live in a group house and find one missing fey. How hard can that be?
This is a fairly standard urban fantasy plot with a missing person that leads to a larger problem. It is the characters in the Arcadia Project that make it stand out. How many books have a disabled, mentally ill, bisexual main character who gets to be the hero?
Millie’s mental illness and her new life as a double amputee are huge factors in this book. Her mobility challenges are taken into account whenever she needs to go out. Even seemingly simple decisions like whether or not to take a shower have to be carefully considered. If she gets her legs wet then she can’t use the prostheses for several hours. If she needs to run she needs to get the hydraulics in her knee on the right setting and sometimes she messes that up. Even small things like should she take her wheelchair up to her second floor room (no elevator) or leave it downstairs in the living room where it will be in everyone’s way are considered. Trying to get to the house was hard by herself with a wheelchair, a cane, and all her bags.
Mental illness is a large part of this story. Millie feels like she hasn’t made any progress in therapy. Once she is out on her own though we see that she has learned how to help herself. She uses several different techniques that she was taught to help her deal with rage and insecurity. She isn’t perfect though. She still lashes out at people. She also clings to anyone who shows her kindness and feels incredibly insecure if she feels like they are pulling away.
Millie’s boss, Caryl, has been through extensive emotional trauma. She is a wizard and she is coping by splitting her rational and emotional mind. She keeps her emotional mind in an invisible dragon construct so she can be entirely rational while she is working. This is working for her but Millie comes to see that it isn’t healthy in the long term.
The author has spoken about being mentally ill. These are from her AMA on Reddit.
“I didn’t expect Borderline to get published. Honestly. It was the story I wrote because I needed to write a novel or I’d explode, and it was the only novel I could write at that point in my life. So I wrote it, and when it was finished I did what I did with the first four novels I’d written, and shopped it around. I was shocked when my first choice of agent offered to represent it. Slightly less shocked when he landed it with a big publisher (because that’s why he was my first choice agent). Extremely shocked when it got starred reviews, and the Nebula nomination just about broke my brain.
This is not false modesty. I actually spent a week in a psychiatric hospital for suicidal ideation in 2013, and a huge part of it was that I was 38 and had pretty much decided that I’d failed as a writer and was never going to make it, that I’d wasted my life. BORDERLINE was already out there. My agent was already reading it. That’s how little faith I had in it.”
“I was in a psych ward on October 1, 2013 because I thought my life was over.
I heard back from my agent with an offer of representation twenty-nine days later.
In a sense, the entire Arcadia Project series has become ABOUT this. About how we inevitably pick the stupidest, stupidest times to think our lives are “over.” What might we live on to do and accomplish if we give ourselves a second chance?”
I’ve already requested the sequel from the library. I’m looking forward to seeing where this series goes.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Backlist Books
- Books Set in North America