Lindsay Wong’s memoir, The Woo Woo, takes a look at growing up in a family plagued with mental illness. Equal parts heartbreaking and darkly comedic, The Woo Woo explores the author’s complicated relationship with her parents, siblings and extended family as well as her own mental illness after being diagnosed with a neurological disorder in her twenties.
Now in her thirties, Wong has lived a very challenging life. Her grandparents, her parents and her Aunt have all had varying forms of mental illness, which led her to believe she would not be able to escape it herself. So, you can imagine growing up with the looming threat of everything from depression to schizophrenia hanging over your head would lead to constantly questioning your own mental state.
Even though the bulk of this story takes place in the nineties and the early 2000s, it is not like we’ve really come close to reducing the stigma associated with mental illness despite countless public awareness campaigns. In Asian culture, it can be even more maligned. Its existence is often denied outright and completely ignored – so we get situations like Lindsay’s where it’s based on superstitions and ghosts.
Given the heavy nature of the book, I did find it to be a difficult read, even with the comedic tone that it’s presented with. There are only so many times you can hear her parents calling her “a retard” before it begins to feel repetitive and loses its impact. I certainly do not want to make light of her struggles because I cannot even imagine growing up in the environment that she did (and mine wasn’t the best at times to be honest), but I didn’t really get as much out of this story as I expected given the effect the other four books in the Canada Reads competition had on me.
The Woo Woo is proof that no matter how screwed up your upbringing, you can come out OK on the other side. Given all that Wong had to deal with by such an early age, it would not be shocking that she end up as a statistic rather than the successful writer she became. I don’t know if it can win the debates later on this month, but I’m looking forward to how Joe Zee defends it.