Book Review: Where Darkness Meets Light

“A poetry collection depicting the trials and tribulations of living with mental illness and the journey of one girl’s struggles to try and overcome them.”

Where Darkness Meets Light by Sabrine Elouali is a poetry collection centering around the difficult experience of mental illness including depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. It’s at different moments desperate or hopeful, expressing the juxtaposition of the struggle of mental illness to honor your suffering and fight the temptation to give in to it. There were a few poems that blew me away, as if the author saw into my own struggle with mental health and was able to express it from an angle that was both beautiful and haunting.

Elouali doesn’t promise a smooth ride from the beginning. The collection opens with poems centering on tough decisions during life’s at times impossible challenges, loneliness and neglect. As the narrative progresses we see different glimpses into the author’s mind, and find it to be a familiar, albeit dark place. But we also see the glimpses of light that will form a lifeline, rather than leaving us to waste away in the darkness—a purposeful decision by the author, which I’m certain represents their own dedication to not become stagnant.

From the perspective of someone with mental health concerns, I could appreciate the depth to which Elouali covered the disorders and subjects raised, while not relying on the “toxic positivity” trend that is so prevalent in mental health advocacy. While not all the poems affected me on a personal level (to be expected in a collection of poetry) many of them touched on things even I haven’t been able to express adequately on my own.

Audience

If you or anyone you know has mental health issues, this is a collection that would be well worth your time. It takes a deep dive into some tough issues, but does it in a way that’s palatable and profound. If you’ve experienced these struggles yourself, it will feel like looking into a mirror at times. If you’ve watched loved ones struggle with these issues, this is one way to better understand their mindset and the battle they face.

From a poetic perspective, the majority of the poems follow a rhyming scheme, with a few outliers such as OCD And Me breaking that pattern purposefully, and to brilliant effect. They vary in length and tone, but follow a definitive narrative through the book, from a life of darkness to that of lightness—though not in a caustically positive way. I’d say the resolution feels more realistically hopeful, which feels all the more attainable for those of us struggling. The idea of things one day being sunshine and rainbows feels unrealistic and almost crass when history has taught us that happiness is fleeting, and mental illness comes in waves or stages.

What this book is not is a way to assure the mentally stable that mental illness can be cured through the power of positive thinking. If you’re looking for a shallow coffee table book filled with positive phrases and mantras, this is not the book for you. If you’re looking for a realistic, down to earth book that makes a concerted effort to tackle the very difficult subject of mental health in a way that both honors the struggle and portrays there being still hope, look no further.

What I Liked

Personally I gravitate to more free-form poetry, which is probably why the poems that broke the rhyming pattern really resonated with me. But there’s also an argument to be made that it could also be their differentiation that brought them to my attention. Regardless, rhyming or no, each poem had a purpose—there was nothing superfluous or padded in this collection. Everything was slimmed down to bare bones to achieve a goal.

My favorite poem was the quietly profound A Veiled Window; I immediately messaged a friend about it because I was shaken by how much it resonated with me. Some other favorites included the aforementioned OCD And Me, Paper, and Your Brain. There were so many moments reading this that I had to re-read and bookmark because they made so much sense to me based off what I’ve personally experienced.

This is one of those books that I would get copies of to give to my friends who also struggle with mental health issues. Those of us who have been there can relate to these patterns, behaviors, challenges, and thoughts. But most importantly, the hope that Elouali offers by the end of the collection feels like the first warm breeze of spring or a drizzle on a hot summer day. It’s a relief so palpable you can feel it like the quenching of a thirst, and it’s something that’s meant to be shared.

Trigger Warnings: Mental Illness (Depression, Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), Reference to Suicidal Ideation

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