Shepard, Elizabeth. H. New York: Viking, 1995.

Reason read: May has a Mental Health Day.

In a nutshell: H is an epistolary novel about a 12 year old boy named Benjamin. In the first third of the book (50+ pages) it is through a series of letters written by his parents and sister, a therapist and camp employees that we learn Benjamin has mental issues (Autism? Depression? Bipolar? It’s never fully explained.). For the rest of the book Benjamin gets to speak for himself via letters to “Elliot” his female stuffed letter H. These letters, found hidden under his camp bed, reveal just how disturbed Benjamin’s thoughts can be. After camp his condition worsens and he is sent to a psychiatric hospital where, under doctor supervision, he is finally medicated. But is he cured? Is there such a thing as cured?

Throughout the reading of H there was the constant bubbling up of questions. If Benjamin is twelve years old and is not already medicated for his issues, why not? His therapist says he is considering medication; why now? Has Benjamin’s condition worsened? How long has he been considered autistic and/or depressed? Is Camp Onianta specialized enough to handle mentally troubled campers? What kind of camp writes a letter to inform parents that the bus arrived? And if Benjamin is considered a mild case; mild enough to attend a generic camp, why so many letters of warning from his parents and therapist before the start of the season? And speaking of the parents, camp is supposed to be a sociable event. Why tell the directors Benjamin is happiest when left alone? Isn’t that the antithesis of “camp” atmosphere? Why is mommy the only one who writes? Why do Benjamin’s parents contradict one another about his interests in letters to the camp directors? Do they not know him? Or do they want different things for him?

I find it really interesting that the camp directors give in to Benjamin’s whim by referring to his stuffed H by name. It’s “Elliot is an obstacle” rather than “the stuffed H is an obstacle.”

As an aside, I have lost track on what is a short novel and what is a long short story. H is only 160 pages long. Nancy Pearl could have included this in her “Good Things Come in Small Packages” chapter.

Author fact: H is Shepard’s first book.

Book trivia: What makes H unique to me is the multiple points of view. Letters from camp directors, parents, counselors, siblings, even the stuffed ‘H’ paint a fuller picture.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Epistolary Novels: Take a Letter” (p 80). For those of you keeping score I know you are saying I just read a book from this chapter. But. But! But, it was for a different reason. Sometimes it just works out that way.


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