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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Krea chapter.

TW: Suicide, Mental Health

“Sometimes I would see myself as a book with bad binding. You know, like one more reader, one more face-down on the bed and I was going to spill everything, lose control”
― Jerry Pinto, Em and The Big Hoom

I’m not one to generally write book reviews because I always found them somewhat arbitrary. Isn’t there a saying, “Those who cannot write, review”? However, if there’s anything this book has taught me (which is a plethora of things), it is to write.

With our own coming of age, a bittersweet realization is that our parents aren’t just…our parents. Like us, they too were once kids with no worries in the world, they too struggled with a subject in school, had crushes, witnessed loss and failure, joys and victories, and made mistakes. They’re just human beings, like the rest of us. And like the rest of us, they too can suffer from mental health issues.

The fiction novel, Em and the Big Hoom, written by Jerry Pinto, (loosely based on the author’s life) revolves around the Mendes, a lower-middle-class, Roman Catholic, Goan family, living in Bombay in the late twentieth century. The book captures the life of the unnamed narrator and his sister Susan who live with their parents Imelda and Augustine, mainly referred to as Em and the Big Hoom.

Early on, we are let in on the fact that Em is quite mentally unwell. She is suicidal, manic, extremely depressed, and can be crude and cynical at times. But just like the lows, the highs are quite extreme as well. Em is supremely witty, conversational, tender, loving, and motherly (Even though she never seemed to like to be referred to as a mother). Em is bipolar.

The story, told to us through the son’s perspective and fragments of letters, diary entries, and scribbles of Em, is one that cannot be categorized into a specific genre. It is a love story, a coming-of-age story, and a story of mental illness. We see the lives of the 4 characters change over time as Em’s mental health progressively gets worse. The book displays the harsh realities of being a child witnessing the protracted and slow-burn downfall of their own mother’s mental health, the harsh reality of losing your loved one and soulmate to the depths of their own mind, and the harsh reality of the burdens and hardships that come living with someone who suffers from mental disorders.

As mentioned earlier, we are given a glimpse into the lives of the Mendes’ through the son (narrator); who is a gentle, observant, and justifiably scared and confused boy who reads his mother’s letters and diary entries and reminisces on conversations with his family to try and make sense of his mother’s condition, his family, and himself. Over time, he questions whether he is also susceptible to his mother’s mental health condition, which becomes his primary drive to understand his mother better.

“‘Fight your genes.’ The Big Hoom said to us once, to Susan and me. He did not explain. He did not know how to. But we knew what it meant.” 

― Jerry Pinto, Em and The Big Hoom

The novel also points out the barbaric and orthodox treatments, the lack of education, and the societal perceptions in the field of psychology and psychiatry in India during the twentieth century.

The author’s ability to make you smirk at things the characters say on one page and make you tear up on the page right after is what made this book so unique to me. To find little pockets of joy; in the text, in hardships in life, and even in ourselves during periods of distress is a lesson I’ve taken away from this book.  Em and the Big Hoom is a must-read for everyone. An eye-opening experience that breaks down the idea of normalcy. It addresses the need to talk about mental health more openly, not only within our families but also around others. It teaches us to be more empathetic, more understanding, and kinder to everyone.

“I wanted to understand her predicament because I was her son and I loved her with a helpless corroded love.”
― Jerry Pinto, Em and The Big Hoom

Hello! I'm a fourth-year student studying Politics at Krea University. In my free time, I love writing, creating digital art, and reading books that eventually lead me to spiral. I hope you enjoy reading my articles!