Book Review: The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North

This novel appeared at a much needed time in my life touching parts of me that rarely saw light. Having been a ‘train wreck’ myself, I can relate to the damage—not specifically but in general. The inability to share that damage left me floundering. I believed I was alone in being so broken. I was ashamed and terrified having slipped back into a pattern that had almost consumed me prior.

Trauma and depression do that. It’s mundane like that—insidiously stealth taking a piece of you each day till little remains and suddenly you’re standing in the midst of all that wreckage that you caused and don’t even know how you got there.

Sophie’s story told through the eyes of the people around her benefited me in ways I cannot give many words as little of our lives are similar. It’s been a while since I read the book, but I remember walking around with her story in my head for weeks attempting to extrapolate hers from mine and why it touched me so emphatically.

I credit Anna North—her words and the vision she so flawlessly constructed for Sophie. This story impressed in me how important it is to share how damaged we are, especially for women, and how we are shamed, reluctant to do so.

I adore Sophie. She is a brilliant intriguing character once again considered ‘unlikable’—oh how I prefer and prize those ‘unlikable’ female characters. I love how Anna illustrated Sophie’s relationship to her art from multiple viewpoints. I connected to that so completely that it scared me at the time. How human can I be if I can only relate to my art and not to actual people? My empathy for Sophie became empathy and love for the darker parts of myself as well as allowing me to explore and evolve artistically in those shadows. That’s the true brilliance of an author like Anna and this book, and I’m forever grateful for that.

“But now when I think about that night, I think about something my stepdad once said when my mom yelled at him for quitting AA. He just told her in this sad, quiet voice, “Sometimes the sickest part of me just seems like the truest part.”

“Maybe that was how you had to live, eventually—just let things be and never ask yourself if they were what you really wanted.”

“It’s like having everybody mispronounce your name, every day. And at first you try to correct them, but they keep fucking it up, and then you start to wonder if maybe you’re the one who’s wrong and that really is how to pronounce your name. And after a while you start to wonder if you even have a name. Are you even a person? Do you even exist? Who fucking knows?”

“I tell them that a life is a heavy burden and imagine if someone just carried it for you for a while, just picked it up and carried it.”

“…you always wanted to be a writer and then, by the time you finally started to become one, writing was valued so little that you were apparently supposed to give it away for free.”

“Well, she just saw people so clearly, you know? You can tell from the work. She saw people for what they really are, and I think if you’re that perceptive, you just can’t live in the world for very long.”

“I believe it pained Sophie how poorly other people understood her, how little she could make herself understood, how easy it was to turn her into an angel or a monster.”

“Maybe she just gave up. She was so terrible at being a normal person and doing normal-person things, and maybe she just wanted to quit trying. That’s what I think most of the time.”

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