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  • Written by Bebe Moore Campbell
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72 Hour Hold

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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 336 | ISBN: 978-0-307-42425-9
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Synopsis

In this novel of family and redemption, a mother struggles to save her eighteen-year-old daughter from the devastating consequences of mental illness by forcing her to deal with her bipolar disorder. New York Times best-selling author Bebe Moore Campbell draws on her own powerful emotions and African-American roots, showcasing her best writing yet.

Trina suffers from bipolar disorder, making her paranoid, wild, and violent. Watching her child turn into a bizarre stranger, Keri searches for assistance through normal channels. She quickly learns that a seventy-two hour hold is the only help you can get when an adult child starts to spiral out of control. After three days, Trina can sign herself out of any program.

Fed up with the bureaucracy of the mental health community and determined to save her daughter by any means necessary, Keri signs on for an illegal intervention. The Program is a group of radicals who eschew the psychiatric system and model themselves after the Underground Railroad. When Keri puts her daughter’s fate in their hands, she begins a journey that has her calling on the spirit of Harriet Tubman for courage. In the upheaval that follows, she is forced to confront a past that refuses to stay buried, even as she battles to secure a future for her child.

Bebe Moore Campbell’s moving story is for anyone who has ever faced insurmountable obstacles and prayed for a happy ending, only to discover she’d have to reach deep within herself to fight for it.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

Right before the devastation, I had a good day. God should have pulled my coattail then and there: “Enjoy this while you can, honey, because Satan beat me in a poker game last night, and he’s claiming you and yours sometime soon.” After all the praying and tithing I’ve done, I deserved a heads-up. Damn. Whatever happened to sending a sign? Lean cow, fat cow. Burning bush. Dove with an olive branch. Yoo-hoo! Something.

It was probably better that the events evolved with no foreshadowing. Preparation wasn’t possible. And what difference would it have made anyhow? Knowing that the hounds are tracking you doesn’t mean you won’t get caught; it means you have to get to the swamp fast.

So there I was, clueless: lolling in the bed, stretching my legs and my toes—which needed a pedicure—ticking off a list of things to do in my head, I began to wake up. It was the second Saturday in April. Sunshine was making its way through a thick haze. Rising up, I stared out of my bedroom window, squinting a bit as I tried to discern the LA skyline, framed neatly between the two huge palm trees in my backyard. Thick pea soup almost obliterated the view, but I didn’t look away until I sighted those buildings. Once I knew the city had survived the night, my shoulders came down. Anything can happen at any time in an earthquake zone, and I’ve learned to take nothing for granted. I’ve gone to bed some evenings only to awaken at dawn to broken windows and cracked dishes. That the Bank of America and Wells Fargo headquarters hadn’t been shaken and dashed into oblivion during the night meant I had survived as well. I’m always grateful for a morning with no tremors, no frantic dogs barking.

Trina was beside me, not a heartbeat away, her hip pressed into my thigh. She felt warm against me, the pressure of her body weight comforting. The day after her eighteenth birthday, when most girls were declaring their independence, my daughter was still creeping into my bed. Even when she hated me, she wanted to be close. She was still fresh from last night’s bath and smelled like Dove and that pale yellow lotion in the big plastic bottle. That staple of American vanities and kitchen counters promises to banish dry skin forever but can’t even begin to handle seriously crusty feet. My grandmother’s feet at the end of February would have had that lotion begging for mercy. But then, when you grow up plowing Georgia clay barefoot in the hard times, nothing on or in you remains soft. For Trina’s smooth, buttery skin, that watery lotion worked just fine. The toes pressed against my calves were just as supple as the rest of her and just as lovely. Gazing at my sleeping daughter, I could take her in without annoying her. Such a pretty child, I thought. There wasn’t a blemish on her honey-colored face. When she was a little girl, I was lulled by the well-wishing smiles of strangers who were bewitched by the dazzling enormity of her round eyes and endless smile, her marble-sized dimples and naturally sandy hair. Trina seemed to take the attention in stride, but it inflated me. My gingerbread-brown face was symmetrical, with two eyes placed where eyes should be, lips that weren’t full or thin, a nose that would keep me alive, hair that was thick and strong but otherwise unremarkable. Nobody turned to stare at me when I walked down the street, not the way they did with Trina. I used to think of her beauty as an insurance policy that would guarantee her a perfect life. A lot of people who aren’t beautiful think this way.

It was six o’clock, and I had a standing appointment with the treadmill and some free weights. Trina stirred, then turned over and stared at me.

“Hey, grown woman,” I said, teasing.

“My back hurts,” she said, her voice still tinged with sleepiness. She yawned and arched her body, then settled herself beneath the covers.

This was a setup, and we both knew it. “Well, you should get on the floor and do those exercises I showed you. That will get the kinks out.”

“Aww, Mommeee!” she wailed, fully awake.

“Aw, Mommy, what?”

“Can’t you rub it just a little bit?”

I felt a twinge of annoyance. She knew I worked out every morning. “Turn over.”

Her motion was languid, a movement befitting the idle rich.

I leaned over my daughter and began kneading her back and shoulders. There were no knots of tension anywhere. She became limp beneath my fingers. In a few minutes she was asleep again.

Downstairs in my kitchen, I stopped to get a bottle of water before going into the small gym located next to the garage. Thirty minutes on the treadmill at five miles per hour, followed by fifteen minutes of lifting free weights, then about twenty minutes of floor exercises—that was my routine. I’ve always been into fitness. I opened the windows, turned on loud salsa music, and began my workout. By the time I had finished running in place, my forehead was dripping and my clothes were damp. I reached for the free weights, lifting and lowering, extending and holding, until my biceps were ready to secede from the rest of my body. I forced myself to do two hundred sit-ups and fifty leg thrusts, panting and sweating like a beagle on crack. Forty push-ups to go. I counted from one to ten, then ten to one, then twenty to one. Shrink the challenge—my way of psyching myself out. All my muscles seemed to be bursting when I finally began stretching. Time for euphoria. I did it!

“Let’s go somewhere, Mommee,” Trina said when I returned to the bedroom. She hadn’t moved from the spot where I’d left her.

“Like where?”

Trina paused for a moment, considering her options, confident—now that the morning had begun with her first request being granted—that her every bidding would be honored. “Let’s go downtown and get some flowers.”

Her voice was childlike, with a smooth, unperturbed lilt, a tone that made her sound so vulnerable. This eight-year-old voice gave me reason to pause, to ponder. She hadn’t sounded like that in a long time.

Trina was incapable of moving fast in the morning. If prodded, she turned first irritable and then insufferable. I, on the other hand, dressed quickly. But then my uniform for Saturdays was easy: sweats and sneakers, no makeup, no hairdo, totally unlike my fashion-plate weekday attire. I glanced in the mirror in my bathroom; my mother stared back at me. Impossible to escape her: same eyes, same mouth and smile, same cheekbones. I closed my eyes and untied the silk scarf that held my short bob in place. Two strokes of the comb, a few little flips with my fingers, and I was done.

From the kitchen I could hear Trina thumping around inside her room, opening and slamming drawers. She was her own personal tornado; the mess she’d leave behind her when she finally descended would be a viable submission for a Guinness record. She had on both the television and the radio. Hoping she wouldn’t take forever, I made breakfast, cleaning up and putting things away as I cooked. The birthday cake I’d baked was still on the counter, the eighteen candles intact. The stove, floor, and sink were spotless. If I couldn’t control my child, at least I was in charge of my kitchen.

When she was finally dressed, Trina bounded down the stairs like an exuberant puppy. “You fixed breakfast. Yummy.”

There it was again, the baby voice.

I made breakfast most days, not that I’m such a little Betty Crocker but because Trina had to eat well. We sat at the kitchen table and gobbled up the nonfat bran muffins, scrambled eggs, and oatmeal I’d prepared. I poured hot coffee for me and orange juice for Trina. Taking the plates to the sink to scrape them, I could see Trina from the corner of my eye, stealing a sip from my cup. My shoulders tightened, inched upward. Trina wasn’t supposed to have caffeine. But then she reached for the small bottle of pink pills that was between the salt and pepper shakers. She shook out one, placed it carefully in her mouth, and swallowed it with the hot liquid. For the last three or four months I hadn’t had to remind her. She took another sip of coffee and then several more. Maybe she was having trouble swallowing the pill.

“You don’t have to keep staring at me,” she said, when I sat back down.

“I can’t look at my own gorgeous child?” I always tried to stop myself from watching Trina, or at least being caught at it.

“I know what I have to do. I want to go to school in September.”

“I’m not worried, sweetie.”

Some days that was true.

Crenshaw Boulevard was just beginning to open its eyes as we made our way down from the hills of View Park, the quiet neighborhood that looms above the usually bustling business district. It was just after eight o’clock and the mall was still closed, of course, as were most of the stores that lined the street. But the small army of hucksters whose domain was the block just north of Slauson Boulevard had already queued up.

Their wares were arranged neatly on tables near the backs of their vans or on portable shelves that were as close to the oncoming traffic as was legally possible. Or illegally possible. CDs, tapes, African garb, a few food items, some household products, and clothing were for sale, as well as the occasional bootlegged video. “Pssst. Got that new Chris Rock, right here. Gimme five.” The most colorful items were the T-shirts and caps hanging from the chain-link fence that surrounded a vacant lot and served as a backdrop for the makeshift outdoor mall. There were no hordes walking along Crenshaw. Customers had to be hunted, then captured. Several salesmen waded into traffic, vigorously waving their goods.

I beeped my horn as I passed Fish Man, a portly gentleman who sold fresh salmon from the back of a white van at prices that were far lower than at the grocery store. A few feet away Mr. Bean Pie, representing the capitalistic interests of the Nation of Islam, clad in the requisite suit and bow tie, hawked newspapers and mouth-watering pies created from the lowly navy bean to drivers stopped at the red light. Beyond the bakery section, young men were approaching idling cars, holding up T-shirts, caps, and all manner of Lakers regalia, not to mention American flags in every size, for every conceivable place. I whizzed by them. I had a flag sticking in my lawn and one on my car and no longer braked for Old Glory.

The last enterprise zone belonged to Crenshaw’s most ubiquitous sales force: the Incense People. Later in the day they would prop themselves in front of Laundromats and beauty parlors, slouch against the exterior walls of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Rite Aid, and Savon Drugs, waving their wares and chanting “Buy some incense” to anyone who ventured close enough to be considered a possible sale. Based on the sheer size of the IP workforce, it was a wonder that a mushroom cloud wasn’t hovering over South Central at all times. Either we were the dope-smokingest folks in the city or we were meditating around the clock. Maybe both. Several young men were eyeing my car, their fists dangling the telltale plastic bags, but fortunately the light was green. Among the legions of hucksters, the IP were the risk takers and had been known to jump in front of moving vehicles, defying death and dismemberment for the sale of a one-dollar bag.

Half a block away, Crazy Man was standing near one of the IP. Some of my neighbors referred to him that way, and even though I, of all people, should have known better, I did too. Mumbling to the air around him, he appeared to have schizophrenia but seemed harmless. According to some neighbors, he had been normal until he came back from Vietnam. Others swore his troubles began during high school. Crazy Man trekked in and around the community all day long, returning at night to his mother’s house. His hair was a matted clump that hadn’t seen shampoo, comb, brush, or scissors in a decade. He was clad in ancient dirty pants and a ragged shirt. His feet were bare and filthy. It would take heavy-duty equipment to get him clean. That and a crew. If mania and hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia have an odor, then that’s what was rising out of his pores. Maybe pain, loss, and fury too.

The light ahead of me flashed yellow, and I sped up to get across the street. Just as I pressed down on the gas, I heard “Trina! Keri!”—a loud, exuberant yell. Trina turned around, and I glanced in the rearview mirror. A teenage boy in the car next to us was waving and shouting.

“Mom, that’s PJ. Yo, PJ, whazzup?” Trina screamed out the window. I waved. My ex-boyfriend’s son was one of my favorite people, and I hadn’t seen him in the months since I’d broken up with his dad.

“Thanks for the cash!” he yelled as his car sped away. When I caught a glimpse of him, he wasn’t smiling. Sometimes he looked so sad to me.

“You’re welcome!” I hollered back, then chuckled. Only two weeks earlier I’d stuck three twenties into a birthday card and mailed it to him.

I craned my neck to get a better look at PJ, and at that moment Crazy Man stepped off the sidewalk against the light, directly in my path. There was no time to stop. To my right was an SUV; a man was driving and there were children in the back. Another man stood on the median, holding a bag of incense in his hand. If I braked and then aimed toward the median, maybe the concrete riser would slow me down enough for him to get out of the way. It was my only option.

When my front tires hit the concrete, the huckster jumped back and his incense went flying into the air, along with some hand picked words for me. I froze momentarily, grateful that the move I’d executed had been successful, then caught my breath, put the car in reverse, and backed up into my lane. Around me horns blared as I put my car in drive and continued forward, feeling a surge of rage as I passed Crazy Man. His face was placid as he stared vacantly straight ahead, seemingly unaware that he’d ever been in any danger.

“What’s up with that stupid fool?” Trina asked.

“Not thinking, I guess.”

“Dag.” She brightened. “Did you see PJ?” She started laughing. “He was trying to look all hard and everything. He has a mustache.” She giggled again.

“Does he really?” I always thought of PJ as my little boy, which of course he wasn’t.

Trina and I had been going to the flower district since we first moved to LA from Atlanta, nearly ten years earlier. Located downtown, only blocks away from the huge aquamarine convention center and the massive Staples Center, home court of the Los Angeles Lakers, the flower mart was part of a larger area that housed the city’s garment, jewelry, and fabric districts. In cramped, airless buildings, immigrant women who couldn’t say union in English bent over sewing machines, stitching the bodices of prom gowns and swimsuits. Koreans mostly sold not-so-well-known brands and designer knockoffs. Israeli wholesale jewelers played dialing for diamonds. And Iranian merchants offered fine silks, woolens, and blends for less than a third of the price of the city’s retail fabric shops. It was Seoul meets Tel Aviv meets Tehran as borders blended.

The flowers were the province of the Latinos, and there was as much Spanish as English, not to mention Spanglish, in the air as Trina and I meandered from florist to florist. Sellers were set up in adjacent stalls under one gigantic roof. Prices and quality varied, and years of experience, as well as my southern-girl origins, had taught me that it paid to compare. Trina, on the other hand, was not the child of a grandmother who’d survived the Depression and had instilled in her the belief that frugality and deferred gratification were the only entrance fees for Baptist heaven. I had indulged my daughter when she was a child. I hadn’t overindulged her, but I had wanted her to grow up feeling as entitled to lessons and trips as the white kids at her private schools. That Saturday morning, her sense of entitlement was in full display; she stopped at each flower stall and said, “Mommee, let’s get some of these,” with no regard for cost.

That baby voice again. My daughter acted more like a preadolescent than someone now legally entitled to do whatever she wanted without my permission. Watching her drift from flower to flower, I had the feeling that she would be a child for a while longer.

The birds-of-paradise caught my eye. They were huge and bright, and even though the same flowers dotted many of the lawns in my neighborhood, they didn’t grow on mine. “How much?” I asked a stocky man who had just wrapped up flowers for another customer.

“They very beautiful now.”

“Yes, they are. How much? ¿Cuanto cuesto?”

As he added up numbers in his head, a young white couple behind me chatted animatedly. I heard the words screenplay, producer, and green light and turned to see the requisite bony blond girl and her handsome, scruffy boyfriend. They weren’t much older than Trina. In Los Angeles, Hollywood hopefuls are as ubiquitous as the lattes grandes they slurp. There is no escaping their driving ambition. Irritation swept over me. Just looking at them, I wanted to slap both those faces, to knock away the self-assurance that was etched there. They were bubbling over with enthusiasm and confidence, so sure they were on their way. I didn’t want their oh-so-important moneymaking dreams to come true. The last thing on this earth I wanted to see was more of their images on screen, more of them kissing, having fun, being dramatic, or saving the day. I gave them a surly glance, but they didn’t even notice.


From the Hardcover edition.
Bebe Moore Campbell|Author Q&A

About Bebe Moore Campbell

Bebe Moore Campbell - 72 Hour Hold

Photo © Barbara DuMetz

Bebe Moore Campbell was the author of several New York Times bestsellers: Brothers and Sisters, Singing in the Comeback Choir, What You Owe Me, which was also a Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2001, and 72 Hour Hold. Her other works include the novel Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and the winner of the NAACP Image Award for literature. Bebe Moore Campbell died in 2006.

Author Q&A

Q: 72 Hour Hold takes on some taboo subjects in the African American community, among them mental illness and homosexuality. What made you want to explore this terrain?

A: I have both gay and mentally ill loved ones. I don’t think either group deserves to live marginal lives. Both groups are greatly stigmatized, particularly black people with mental illnesses. I feel that it’s my job as a writer to create a community dialogue when silence is killing us. And in the black community, silence about homosexuality and mental illness are resulting in death. The HIV rates in our community are astronomical, as are incarceration rates for black males. So often, mentally ill black men wind up in prison. In fact, the prisons are the largest mental health facilities in the nation. I’m hoping that my book will give all people permission to bring homosexuality and mental illness out of the closet and to become activist “stigma busters.”

Q: Why do you think the African American community has difficulty talking about these issues?

A: Many black people feel the historical stigma of race as a burden they still carry. To add something else to that weight, be it homosexuality or mental illness, can feel unbearable. In addition, the black community tends to be religiously fundamentalist. Often the church encourages taboos regarding homosexuality. Some churches may preach that prayer, as opposed to medication, will control mental illnesses. Often people are made to feel personal failure when they don’t get better.

Q: Do you hope that your novel will make it easier for people to speak more freely about their own experience? 

A: I’ve written a work of fiction. I believe that the courage of real people telling their stories will spur others to share their own. I was really happy to learn about Jane Pauley going public about having bi-polar disorder. If my novel helps to create the atmosphere for more truth telling, that makes me proud.

Q: Where does the title 72 Hour Hold come from?

A: It refers to the three-day period when a hospital can hold a mentally ill person against his will, if he meets certain criteria: 1. The person is a danger to self; 2. The person is a danger to others; 3. The person is gravely disabled. During that time the person can be evaluated and medicated.

Q: This book is very much about relationships and families and the things that test those bonds. Do you think that the things that test families are also the things that bring out their greatest strengths?

A: I’ve come to believe that adversity is the only thing that can make a person strong if that person wants to be strong. Adversity can also mow down a person or a family. The person who gets destroyed is the one who tries to resist what’s happening. The person who bends, who takes the journey with an open heart and mind will ultimately wind up where he is supposed to be.

Q: At the center of the novel is a mother/daughter relationship. What is it about mothers and daughters that make that relationship such rich territory for a novelist?

A: The crux of the relationship, in all its myriad variations, is ultimately about acceptance, giving it, getting it, withholding it. After puberty, daughters have a really difficult time accepting mothers. Their rejection is always cruel, far worse than anything a lover or even a husband could mete out. The cruelty is interesting, the various ways it plays out. And the forgiveness is even more so. This mother/daughter stuff is like a gold mine for a writer.
 
Q: In an effort to help Trina, Keri endures incredible abuse--both physical and verbal--at the hands of her daughter. Would Keri have been wrong in deciding to turn her back on Trina? Are there any unforgivable acts between a mother and daughter?

A: I think any mother would have been justified in walking away from an abusive daughter. I’ve known women who have. But when a mother walks away, it’s never a permanent separation. Mothers don’t divorce their children. A mother’s leaving the volatility of dealing with a mentally ill child is the last resort, a way of enforcing boundaries. Her deepest desire is always to re-establish the relationship once the child begins to heal.

Q: In the novel, the son of Keri’s boyfriend reveals that he is homosexual, a fact which is accepted by everyone in his immediate family. This is not always the case. What does their reaction say about acceptance?

A: The universality of the acceptance says that Americans have come a long way. In spite of hate crimes, we are definitely a more open and tolerant society. My characters reflect the fact that in this society, we are beginning to accept the role that biology plays in sexuality.

Q: Mental illness, specifically bi-polar disorder, is something you’ve had to confront in your family. Is it difficult to write a work of fiction about this topic?

A: Writing a novel is a difficult job, regardless of the subject. Because I know about mental illness firsthand, I didn’t have to do as much research. I must say, I had a great deal of passion for what I was writing about. I cared a great deal about my characters and was tremendously invested in telling this story well. I was very conscious of not melding fiction and nonfiction. I didn’t live this story.

Q: What are the options for those suffering from mental illness?

A: The good news about mental illness is that recovery is possible. Brain diseases can’t be cured but lots of people suffering from depression, bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia can control their illnesses with medication and psychotherapy. The mental health system is still quite cumbersome and often unresponsive to the needs of the mentally ill. At times the system works against recovery. For example, the criteria for the 72-hour hold precludes bringing someone who may be acting in a very bizarre manner but isn’t a danger to self or others at the time police arrive. And 72 hours isn’t nearly enough time to turn around anyone in the midst of a manic episode. It takes at least 6-8 weeks before psychotropic medication can get into a patient’s system. Meanwhile, the hospital releases many after only 3 days. As more and more advocacy groups, such as the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) get initiatives on the ballot, my hope is that treatment will become more preventative.

Q: You are involved in speaking to groups about mental illness and the resources available to families struggling with the disease. How did you become involved in that outreach and how has that experience shaped your work?

A: I learned about NAMI after my family member became ill. NAMI offered a free, comprehensive 12-week course on the diseases of the brain, as well as support groups for those with mental illnesses and a separate one for family members. Some friends and I had formed our own support group for relatives of the mentally ill. Later, we all took NAMI’s 12-week Family-to-Family course. We decided to open our own NAMI affiliate in the African American community. In publicizing our work, we began to host mental health seminars at black churches. I wrote a children’s book called Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry, about a little girl being reared by a mother with untreated bi-polar disorder. I had begun to go to mental health conferences and schools even before the book came out. Afterwards, I did a lot more. Being a mental health activist means that I’m committed to helping people find recovery, whether that person is a family member or a person with a mental illness. I think that activism has infused my writing. I want my work to change lives.


From the Hardcover edition.

Praise

Praise

"Bebe Moore Campbell shatters our abstract notions about mental illness. . . . [She] is a writer at the top of her form as a storyteller, culture keeper and astute social critic." –Los Angeles Times

“A tightly woven, well-written story about mothers and daughters, highs and lows, ex-husbands and boyfriends, and how a ‘perfect’ life can be completely altered by something entirely beyond our control. . . . Universally touching.” –San Francisco Chronicle

“Stark, incisive and often harrowing, 72 Hour Hold wrenches open the closet door behind which mental illness has been hidden in communities of color. It’s no small task, but Campbell handles it with characteristic verve and aplomb.” –The Baltimore Sun

“I am grateful for Bebe Moore Campbell. . . . Campbell fearlessly unveils the pain of loss and the ecstasy of love. Add to that courage, and the graceful ability to write very, very well.” –Maya Angelou
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

“Shatters our abstract notions about mental illness. . . . [Campbell] is a writer at the top of her form as a storyteller, culture keeper and astute social critic.” —Los Angeles Times

The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group’s discussion of 72 Hour Hold, a gripping novel of family tragedy and redemption by Bebe Moore Campbell.

About the Guide

When Keri Whitmore’s daughter, Trina, a straight-A student headed for a prestigious university, suddenly turns impulsive, needy, and irrational, leaving home at all hours to hook up with drug dealers, Keri is bewildered and frightened. A psychiatrist tells Keri that Trina suffers from bipolar disorder, an inherited mental illness that can make its victims paranoid, wild, and often violent. Keri’s ex-husband, Clyde, refuses to accept the diagnosis, and Keri is on her own in dealing with Trina’s unpredictable and dangerous behavior. At times it seems that the only solution is to have Trina committed to an institution —but since Trina is over eighteen years old, Keri can’t sign her in. At a support group for families of the mentally ill, Keri meets Bethany, whose daughter is even more seriously ill than Trina. Bethany has found a group of experts who engage in illegal “interventions,” in which the patient is forcibly held and treated until stabilized. With her own carefully organized life falling into chaos in the grip of Trina’s illness, Keri is forced to confront the most painful experiences of her past and to heal herself, even as she struggles against the odds to find treatment for her daughter.

About the Author

Bebe Moore Campbell is the author of three New York Times bestsellers: Brothers and Sisters, Singing in the Comeback Choir, and What You Owe Me, a Los Angeles Times Book of the Year. Her novel Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine won an NAACP Image Award. She is the author of several children’s books, including Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry, and has written a play, “Even with the Madness.” Her writing has appeared in Essence, The New York Times Magazine, and other publications, and her commentaries have been heard on National Public Radio. Ms. Campbell lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Ellis Gordon, Jr., and their family.

Discussion Guides

1. The novel is narrated from Keri’s point of view. How does she present herself as a character in the opening chapter? What are the traits that have made her a successful businesswoman? How does her character contrast with that of her teenage daughter?

2. Dr. Ustinov tells Keri, “your daughter is bipolar” [p. 25]. Consider the terms in which Dr. Ustinov presents Trina’s illness to Keri [p. 29]; his approach is purely factual, while hers is psychological and filled with guilt. Does Keri begin to lose her guilt about Trina’s illness as the novel proceeds, or does she continue to feel that in some sense, it’s “always Mommy’s fault” [p. 30]?

3. Friendships between women are important in this novel. What kinds of support and strength do women offer each other? Discuss examples of the loyalty and love shared between female characters in the story.

4. How does Keri’s history with her mother’s alcoholism affect her approach to Trina’s illness? In what ways is Keri’s refusal to forgive her mother understandable, and in what ways does she refuse to realize that her mother might also be considered to have a brain disease? How does Keri eventually make the choice to let her mother back into her life?

5. In what ways does 72 Hour Hold help readers question the phenomenon that having a perfect child (high-achieving, popular, talented, beautiful, etc.) contributes greatly to a parent’s self esteem and social status? Does Keri eventually let go of these ideas? If so, how?

6. What is the effect of Campbell’s frequent use of the metaphor of slavery—its images, its terrors, its punishing psychology—throughout the novel? See, for instance, page 3 (“the hounds are tracking you”) and page 28 (“I embarked on my own Middle Passage that night, marching backward, ankles shackled”). If Keri’s experience with her daughter’s mental illness is like the experience of slavery, does the novel yield any sense of liberation from this condition?How does Keri’s relationship with Orlando differ from her relationship with Clyde? At a moment of extreme crisis in the story, it seems as though Keri will get back together with Clyde. Why does she ultimately choose Orlando instead?

7. How does Keri’s relationship with Orlando differ from her relationship with Clyde? At a moment of extreme crisis in the story, it seems as though Keri will get back together with Clyde. Why does she ultimately choose Orlando instead?

8. Just as Keri has to accept her daughter’s illness, Orlando has to accept P.J.’s homosexuality. Why is this so devastating for Orlando? Does the description of the household Keri and Orlando share at the end of the novel suggest that both Keri and Orlando are at peace with their children?

9. What is the significance of Keri’s skill as a masseuse in her approach to healing both herself and Trina? Why is this mode of touching so important to the bond between the two of them?

10. The relationship between Keri and Orlando presents an example of the difficulties self-made women encounter when they find themselves with less-successful men. (Campbell has also written a nonfiction book on this topic.) Why is Keri impatient with Orlando’s lack of success, and how does she come to terms with it?

11. The segment of the novel that describes the intervention, which involves a road trip and a good deal of suspense, adds an element of adventure to this story of family tragedy. What is the effect of these chapters, and how does Campbell make them such compelling reading?

12. Karl, the intervention leader, is the child of a mother who was mentally ill. What do his and Keri’s family histories tell us about the kinds of damage done by untreated mental illness? In what ways can Karl and Keri be seen as overcompensating for—or still reacting to—their painful childhood experiences?

13. In a significant conversation between Keri and Trina on pages 298–299, Trina acknowledges the pain of having to give up the college life she was on the verge of, even as she also acknowledges the danger of suicidal feelings. Does the end of the novel suggest a hopeful outcome for Trina?

14. What is the significance of the green pantsuit with the small stain, which Keri finally wears at Trina’s performance [p. 318]? How is it related to the novel’s epigraph from a Leonard Cohen song: “Ring the bells that still can ring. / Forget your perfect offering. / There is a crack in everything. / That’s how the light gets in.”?

15. How does this novel open up the inside world of families dealing with severe mental illness? What did you find surprising about the story? How do other books on the subject of mental illness that members of your group may have read compare to 72 Hour Hold?

Suggested Readings

Deborah Digges, The Stardust Lounge; James Garbarino, Lost Boys; Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time; Kay Redfield Jamison, Touched with Fire and An Unquiet Mind; Edward Jones, The Known World; Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted; Jamaica Kincaid, The Autobiography of My Mother; Terry McMillan, Waiting to Exhale; Toni Morrison, Love; Mary Helen Washington (ed.), Black-Eyed Susans and Midnight Birds.

  • 72 Hour Hold by Bebe Moore Campbell
  • July 11, 2006
  • Fiction - Literary; Fiction
  • Anchor
  • $14.95
  • 9781400033614

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