Black-Eyed Suzie

by Susan Shaw

ISBN-10: 1590785339

“I live in a box with four sides, tall and brown. I cannot get out.” With these words, readers enter the world of Suzie, a dark-eyed twelve-year-old who desperately needs to feel safe and worthy of love. Suzie’s “box” is a psychological prison. In it, she sits with arms wrapped around her legs, feet on the cushion of a gold living room chair, knees pressed against her chin. She can no longer eat, sleep, speak, or walk. Although she doesn’t know it, living in a box threatens her life. Suzie’s mother, a singer who feels she sacrificed her career in order to raise a family, insists that Suzie is just “going through a stage.” Suzie’s father is rarely home. Only Suzie’s older sister Deanna makes an effort to understand what’s happening, but even Deanna can’t help. Life begins to change when Suzie’s Uncle Elliot stops by unexpectedly. Realizing at once that Suzie is in serious trouble, Elliot demands that she be taken to a hospital.

Suzie suddenly finds herself in St. Dorothy’s, a mental hospital where she begins a long and fear-filled journey. Here, she meets an understanding therapist named Stella and a boy named Joshua, who offers his friendship while struggling with a tragedy of his own. However, Suzie also meets Karen, a patient on the ward who both terrorizes and challenges her. To make sense of her world, Suzie must piece together a puzzle that involved seemingly unrelated clues—a broken bicycle, a torn picture, peacock feathers, ducks swimming in a pond on the hospital ground, a batch of burned cookies. When the pieces finally come together, they reveal a secret that will change Suzie’s life forever. However, they also give her a chance to regain her voice and reclaim her spirit.


Twelve-year-old Suzie has completely lost touch with reality. She is unable to eat, talk, sleep, or walk and sits in a cramped fetal position and cries. Her mother is infuriated by this "stage" she’s in; her father is concerned but distant. It is only when Suzie’s uncle forces the family to acknowledge that something is wrong and she is hospitalized that the child can begin to heal. The book is narrated by the inner voice of a character who can’t speak because she simply “doesn’t have any words,” and she is the only character who is fully developed. Details of the abuse that caused Suzie’s breakdown slowly emerge, but when the girl is confronted with the danger her older sister is in, she heroically responds. Once the truth is revealed, Suzie’s recovery is unrealistically quick, but this is a riveting story that could well serve to help other children deal with a difficult family situation.
Mental illness is movingly portrayed in this first novel. Twelve-year-old Suzie has become nearly catatonic; she cannot eat, sleep, or talk, but spends her days hunched in a chair. Only in this position does she feel safe from her mother’s wrath. A concerned uncle sees her in this state and gets her into a mental hospital, where, with the help of empathetic caregivers and an excellent therapist, she finds the courage to talk about her mother’s physical abuse. Short, diary like episodes immerse the reader in Suzie’s worlds, both her real world of physical and verbal abuse and the seductive, cocoon like fantasy world she embraces to escape her mother. Suzie’s recovery seems a bit quick, and remarkably without any setbacks or regression; but Shaw’s depiction of the intricate family dynamics that support an abusive situation is both realistic and sympathetic.