Snowflake by Louise Nealon

Snowflake is a novel that looks at feeling like an outsider, mental health, and knowing your home, as an eighteen-year-old from the Irish countryside starts at university. Debbie lives on a dairy farm with her mother and Uncle Billy, having grown up with Billy’s stories and her mother’s seeming eccentricities. When she starts at Trinity College, commuting into Dublin from the farm, she finds the two worlds hard to inhabit, whether it’s dealing with things with her family not going well or navigating her new friendship with Xanthe and Debbie’s own relationship with going out drinking.

This book was a bit unexpected in some ways, as the start feels like any novel about an outsider figure starting university and some of the difficulties of being caught between the countryside and the city, but then later on there’s quite a lot of serious tragedy and mental health stuff, including someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder and an attempted suicide. The novel has a lot to say about mental health (like Debbie’s feelings about her own failed attempt at university counselling when her friend seems to be easily diagnosed with depression, and the fact that when one of the characters from the countryside needs mental health care they have to go into the city) and maybe the blurb’s focus on ‘eccentricity’ and weirdness recreate some of the issues within the novel about the intersection between mental health and seeming “weird” or an outsider.

The novel itself is an engaging read with quite a fast pace that doesn’t dwell on particular events for long, though it takes place over only a number of months. In spite of the sometimes sad subject matter, it has a general positivity, especially from the ending, that shows how people can feel at home and in the right place even when they don’t feel “normal”.