With I Am Not Alone, Francisco X. Stork has penned a powerful and poignant story. His protagonist Alberto Bocel is an undocumented Mexican in the United States working in order to send money back to Ticul, Mexico, for his mother’s medical bills. Alberto endures symptoms of a mental condition that leaves him oscillating between a cloud of forgetfulness or battling the voice in his head. As a result, he feels broken. When Alberto is accused of murdering Mrs. Macpherson, he wonders if he is capable of such cruelty. Did the voice in his head—whom he has named Captain America—use his hands to commit murder?

At eighteen, Grace Reuben also feels broken. Derailed by her parents’ divorce and her dad’s recent abandonment of her and her mother, Grace is angry and confused. What was clear before about her motivation, goals, and the direction of her life is now hazy. Grace descends into a bitter kind of sadness where she experiences a “disturbing dislike for things and people she had liked before” (32). She begins to doubt the truth behind love, which she previously didn’t believe could end. Now, she’s questioning her two and a half year relationship with Michael and whether she should even attend Princeton to pursue a career in psychiatric medicine.

Grace’s life intersects with Alberto’s when he comes to clean the windows of the Reuben’s new apartment. She treats Alberto with kindness, a kindness he notices and comments on. Because they both sense the other’s brokenness, the two teens bond. They also find solace in working pottery together, a passion that Alberto shares with Grace. “When I make pottery, I concentrate. I pay attention to how my hands touch the clay, how to move my fingers so I can make the clay match the picture in my mind. It’s a happy concentration. . . . It’s like being with a good friend” (52).

When Grace realizes the truth, that Alberto is mentally ill and a fugitive from the police, she still finds him stunning and kind. He enters her heart, even though she is torn: simultaneously drawn to him but wanting to “run the hell away from him” (157). Her simple, straightforward, goal-oriented life is about to become complicated, mysterious, and scary.

With this story revolving around faith, courage, and love, Stork encourages readers to never lose sight of the person behind the symptoms of mental illness. Rather than focusing on a set of unpleasant behaviors that require modification, we need to see the person and respond to the call for our involvement when it comes.

  • Posted by Donna

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