Survive and Keep Surviving (Mel Mallory)

Reviewed by Diane R. Wiener

CW: Sexual assault, mental health trauma

In communication with me about their new book, Mel Mallory referred creatively to their collection as a “YA hi-lo verse novel.” The protagonist, Mara, is a high school senior. Mara is an “outcast” who experienced mental health trauma in the aftermath of sexual violence. While these subjects are surely intensive, heartbreaking, and infuriating, the versed novelisms / poems have an at-times oddly light quality requiring both a sense of humor and open-mindedness on the part of the reader.

The title may not “say it all,” but the title’s tone is well-set. We are called upon to bear witness—not just visually—to a character who experienced an understandably deep humiliation during and in the aftermath of a “public psychotic episode.” Mara “is ready” to seek acceptance; she does so in part by grappling with a commitment to public speaking (“her least favorite class”).

The book is an enactment of the practices of boldly publicly speaking about taboo subjects. In Mallory’s refusal to shy away from #MeToo truths and assertions of inequity, abuse, and harm that are as egregious as they are tragically commonplace, Survive and Keep Surviving insists upon truth-telling at its core.

In “Wounded,” the italicized question, “What’s it like / to be psychotic?” are the poem’s penultimate and last lines. The protagonist begins, “We never agreed / on that question, / I’m sure of it.” The question, one that “hits like a bullet,” is not as important, by far, as the boundary that its presence has disrespected and denied in having been asked in the first place.

Questions are present throughout the book, as are vocal shifts, often but not always accompanied by or shown via italics.

In “My Question,” we learn:

When I open my
mouth, the words fall
out like marbles,

spilling out without
any control.

“Psychosis 101” has six “lessons,” distributed throughout the book. Themes and titles like “Prom,” “Celebration,” “Sunlight,” and “Focus” are not merely juxtaposed but exist awkwardly and necessarily alongside “Scream,” “Explode,” “Worst Words,” “Guilty,” and “Haunted.”

The teenager’s vast angst in the wake of interpersonal violence—that is clearly a “symptom” of social violence and embedded, complex systemic oppressions—requires the facing of fears and an unwavering commitment to brave conversations. The accountability that is expected is in alignment with the public speaking. Perpetrators both young and old must be held to a standard and response that exceeds “normalized” ableism, mentalism, and sanism.

Title: Survive and Keep Surviving
Author: Mel Mallory
Publisher: West 44 Books (an imprint of Enslow Publishing LLC)
Date: 2022

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About the Reviewer

Diane R. Wiener (she/they) became Editor-in-Chief of Wordgathering in January 2020. She is the author of The Golem Verses (Nine Mile Press, 2018), Flashes & Specks (Finishing Line Press, 2021), and The Golem Returns (swallow::tale press, 2022). Diane’s poems also appear in Nine Mile Magazine, Wordgathering, Tammy, Queerly, The South Carolina ReviewWelcome to the Resistance: Poetry as ProtestDiagrams Sketched on the Wind, Jason’s Connection, the Kalonopia Collective’s 2021 Disability Pride Anthology, and elsewhere. Her creative nonfiction appears in Stone CanoeMollyhouse, The Abstract Elephant Magazine, and Pop the Culture Pill. Diane’s flash fiction appears in Ordinary Madness; her short fiction is published in A Coup of Owls. Diane served as Nine Mile Literary Magazine’s Assistant Editor after being Guest Editor for the Fall 2019 Special Double Issue on Neurodivergent, Disability, Deaf, Mad, and Crip poetics. Diane has published widely on Disability, education, accessibility, equity, and empowerment, among other subjects. She is a proud Neuroqueer, Mad, Crip, Genderqueer and Enby, Ashkenazi Jewish Hylozoist Nerd (etc.) who is honored to serve in the nonprofit sector–including as a Zoeglossia Board member. You can visit Diane online at: