ARC Review – A Strangely Wrapped Gift by Emily Byrnes


Poetry, YA | 192 pages | 03.10.2020 | Central Avenue Publishing


2 I decided to review this ARC since it promised to reflect on mental illness and I strongly believe that poetry is a fantastic medium to do this. The author’s foreword was beautiful and I felt extremely connected to her. I liked the idea to split this collection by seasons (summer, autumn, winter, and spring) and looked forward to seeing seasonal growth if you will.

Unfortunately, this didn’t shine through as much as I had expected. The poems are incredibly personal; there are love and loss, there is profound sadness, there is encouragement, there are struggles and understanding, but what there’ isn’t is a feeling of change. I was rooting for the author and her prose described movement in her life but it just didn’t feel real. It didn’t feel something was actually changing. And honestly, maybe that is the point. Maybe sometimes we don’t grow even if we’d hoped we would.

Another frustration I felt was reading this book came from the lack of pervasiveness of mental illness in the collection. Mental illness is still wildly underdiagnosed and the stigma society puts on people suffering from it is a real issue. I was expecting the poems to echo this.  Instead, while a few of the poems dealt with this in an honest way, the overwhelming majority didn’t mention it at all. I wished for more. I don’t mean to say Emily Byrnes (Juniper) is not talented because she is (more on that in the paragraph below) …  I just think she missed an opportunity here.

The present collection features poems of various lengths ranging from a few lines, almost a signature of modern poetry, to more complex ones. In my opinion, her shorter poems had too little punch, grit, or darkness that is needed to really hit home for me. Yet, the lengthier ones highlighted Byrnes’s craft and her expertise. She wonderfully played with metaphors and allegories. Her sentence structure was intriguing and evoked emotion. Her word choices were unusual and kept me engaged. Indeed, I would have loved to see a collection in that style.  Overall though, despite the lower rating of this book, I am looking forward to reading more of her work in the future, and I hope that she raises her voice even further to bring awareness to mental health through this genre.

I would like to thank NetGalley, the publisher and the author for my advanced copy of this poetry collection in exchange for an honest review.

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