As I was scanning to check the stats on one of my novels, I came across a book in a similar category that caught my eye. It wasn’t the book title or cover that caused me to pause and drop my jaw, it was the five bright yellow stars, the average rating from an accumulated 267 reviews. My curiosity was immediately piqued and I had to investigate to learn what kind of magic this book contained to make its readers fall madly in love with it.

The book was titled Therapy by Kathryn Perez, and the common denominator that her fiction novel shared with mine was that both of our main characters were afflicted with borderline personality disorder. . . so I knew the content would be mentally heavy. As I peered through her numerous raving reviews, many of the same words popped out : “heartbreaking”, “gut-wrenching”, “roller-coaster of emotions”, “cried too many times to count”, “you will need therapy after reading this”. I then glanced at her negative reviews – a mere 1.5 % of the reviewers – and they stated that the book was “too depressing” “emotionally painful” and “you will need therapy after reading this”. I was fascinated that the reasons why 1.5 % of the reviewers disliked the booked matched the very reasons why the other 98.5% of the reviewers loved the book! This left me to wonder . . . why do we like to read about characters and stories that leave us feeling depressed or emotionally drained?

I believe the answer is two-fold. First, as humans, we were created to feel a wide range of emotions. During our daily lives, most of us are forced to keep our emotions in check while we are at work, out in public, and even at home – where many of us were taught as young children that we were not allowed to display our emotions, particularly the “ugly” or “negative” ones, because they were inappropriate or showed that we were weak and/or out of control. Perhaps we enjoy to tap into these “taboo” emotions when we read because it’s one of the few societal accepted means where we are allowed to unleash them!

Secondly, engaging in these particular emotions will leave us in a highly vulnerable state and open to getting hurt. But, when we are reading a sad story, we’re safe to exercise our vulnerability and be emotionally wide open because the characters in the book can’t hurt us like real people can!

So, as I download a copy of Therapy into my kindle, I do some emotional inventory of myself. Coming off a real-life emotional roller-coaster recently, I decide to save this read for a time when I need to flex my emotional muscle. For, I wouldn’t want to accidentally turn this magical 5-star book into a 1-star read. 😉

— Kelly O’Callan