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January First Reader’s Guide

By Michael Schofield

January First by Michael Schofield

READERS GUIDE

To learn more about Jani’s journey and the Schofield family’s continued involvement in outreach, research, and providing aid to others, please visit the Jani Foundation at www.janifoundation.org. The Jani Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping those who suffer from schizophrenia and other severe mental illnesses.

Jani’s parents are in a battle they can neither control nor predict. The enemy: a mysterious mental illness threatening to overtake their firstborn child. A restless baby, January (Jani) Schofield developed into a spirited, “imaginative” toddler and then an extremely troubled girl. Her imaginary companions (peculiar friends such as a rat for every day of the week and a girl named 24 Hours) are, to Jani, very real hallucinations with the power to bite, scratch, and hit her if she does not do what they want. Her erratic and often violent behavior, baffling to doctors, is all-consuming for her parents, who struggle to protect her unusual genius and find her the help she needs. January First is the story of their journey to understand their daughter’s illness and create a life—and occasional moments of joy—for their family.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Did you know about childhood-onset schizophrenia before reading the book? Were you surprised by what you learned in the book?

2. Do you have any personal or family experience with childhood mental illness? Did any of the Schofields’ experiences ring true for you?

3. Why is Jani’s story (and other stories of childhood mental illness) so polarizing in our society?

4. Have you read Michael’s blog (janisjourney.org)? What did you think of it? Why do you think Michael chose to write a blog and then this book about his family’s experience?

5. Michael’s early opinion is that Jani is frustrated by having such a powerful mind trapped in a very young body. Do you feel there is any truth to this? Is Jani aware of this disparity?

6. For Michael, the realization that Jani truly does not understand (or remember) the reason for any given “time-out” is a pivotal moment. What is the significance of this realization?

7. What do you think of the family’s decision to have a second child? What were their motivations? Are Michael and Susan good parents to Bodhi?

8. How do you imagine Susan’s telling of the story would differ from Michael’s?

9. Michael struggles with the challenge of maintaining, essentially, two different personalities in his two major roles: as a teacher to his students and as a parent to Jani. Do parents of more neurotypical children face this divide? What other roles must parents accommodate in their daily lives?

10. During one of his darkest times, Michael suggests separating the family permanently to secure a normal life for Bodhi, effectively disappearing from Susan and Bodhi’s life. How do you imagine this scenario would have played out?

11. What do you think of Michael and Susan’s marriage?

12. Do Michael and Susan feel guilt for Jani’s illness? Is there anyone to blame in the book?

13. What roles do faith and religion play in the story?

14. How do you imagine your family would cope with a severe mental illness like Jani’s? Do you sympathize with the approach of attempting to acknowledge and even embrace the child’s hallucinations, the role of “tough parent” enforcing behavior modifi cation, or more aggressive medication and/or institutionalization?

15. Why do you think the book is titled January First? Is this an apt name for the Schofields’ story? Does the book have a larger message aside from the family’s personal story?

 
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