Her mental illness had first appeared when she was 22, and by the end it had left her impoverished, isolated, and at the mercy of voices she could not escape. None of it seemed fair, especially when you knew the whole backstory: when you saw the photos of her as a child and a teenager, so full of promise and optimism, before mental illness seized hold of her and quashed so many of her dreams.

At its heart, Is There No Place on Earth for Me? accomplishes what anyone who has loved someone with a mental illness would want: a portrait of a woman battling schizophrenia that tells the whole story, how the illness ravaged her life and how she fought back, how the system did and didn’t help her, and how, through it all, she persevered. Sylvia herself provided the book’s title. She was a student at New York’s High School of Music and Art when she had her first psychotic break. At 16, in an ambulance on the way to the hospital, she asked her mother, “Is there no place on earth for me?” It’s a question she asked again and again over the next years—and by the book’s end, this question haunts the reader, too.

*Editor’s Note: The name of Superman’s mermaid girlfriend is Lori Lemaris, not Lois Lemaris.

 

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Jennifer Gonnerman is a contributing writer for New York and Mother Jones. Her book Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett was a finalist for the 2004 National Book Award.