Book Review: Even If Your Heart Would Listen by Elise Schiller
As a member of the BookSparks BookSharks crew, I was sent the memoir Even If Your Heart Would Listen in August to read and review.
I typically take longer to read nonfiction than fiction; there' something about memoirs in particular that make me slow down and really absorb what I'm reading. This was true of EIYHWL, but I also could not put it down.
In January 2014, Elise Schiller’s youngest child, thirty-three-year-old Giana Natali, died of a heroin overdose while a resident in a treatment program in Boulder County, Colorado. Even if Your Heart Would Listen is about Giana’s life, which was full of accomplishments, and her mental illness, addiction, and death. Using excerpts from the journals, planners, and letters Giana left behind, as well as evidence from her medical records, Schiller dissects her daughter’s treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD) at the five residential and several outpatient programs in eastern Pennsylvania where she tried to recover, taking a close look at the lack of continuity and solid medical foundations in the American substance-use treatment system even as she explores the deeply personal experience of her own loss.
Poignant and timely, Even if Your Heart Would Listen is a meditation on a family’s grief, an intimate portrayal of a mother-daughter bond that endures, and an examination of how our nation is failing in its struggle with the opioid epidemic.
My thoughts (some spoilers about events in the story to follow.): You might think that this memoir is hard to read because of the topic, and you're right. But it's also necessary. Even If Your Heart Would Listen is not necessarily as graphic as I've heard other books about addiction can be. What makes it hard to read at times is the honesty and the intimacy. You really get to know Schiller, her daughter, and her family. You understand the pain and frustration of trying to help someone with OUD, using an industry that's scatterbrained, not regulated properly, or focused on entirely the wrong things.
A couple of parts in this book really got to me. One was a letter written to Giana by her sister Louisa on the first anniversary of her death. Louisa takes care to write down every minute detail of the last day they spent together, down to what Giana wore and what they read and talked about at Barnes and Noble. The moments leading up to and after Giana's death are heartbreaking.
And the second was Schiller's investigation of the treatment facility where Giana died, a place called The Rose House in Boulder County, Colorado. At the time of Giana's death, Schiller learns that The Rose House is unlicensed. State of Colorado regulations regarding boarding, food and health, dispensing medications, and employee qualifications were incredibly lax. I was shocked; I had no idea. And this isn't limited to my current home state, either. Every state has different regulations regarding substance use treatment facilities.
I would wholeheartedly recommend this memoir to anyone whose life has been impacted by addiction or mental illness. And if you're lucky enough to have not experienced it, this book provides great insight into what it's like.
Thank you to BookSparks and Elise Schiller for sending me a copy of Even If Your Heart Would Listen to review. You can find more information about the book and the author on the SparkPress website.