Series Sunday: Featuring Wren Handman's THE PHANTASMER CYCLE
As a part of Series Sunday, a feature highlighting the captivating series that we have in our catalog, we want to take today to focus on Wren Handman's emotional and magical THE PHANTASMER CYCLE. It is particularly poignant while we wrap up Mental Health Awareness Month as this series deals with narratives surrounding mental illness with care and compassion. A tight knit family, facing down the struggles that are woven into the fabric of their existence, navigates these tight spaces and fantastical new abilities and magical realities.
Sylvia is just a normal girl with huge, normal problems – her mother’s attempted suicide; how to adjust to life on the Upper East Side; trying to make friends in a rich prep school where she doesn’t belong; whether or not to trust the cute boy with the dangerous eyes. She thinks that’s more than she can handle, but she tests the limits of her endurance when she learns that she is the long-awaited Phantasmer—a human who can change the fabric of Fairy simply by believing in a new story. Sylvia’s life is thrown off course as two warring Courts, the Seelie and Unseelie, both attempt to co-opt her gift to fight the other Court, which she has to deal with while trying not to get kicked out of school for fighting. And it doesn’t help matters that the fairies begging for her help are both attractive young men with their own agendas.
When dealing with themes like a parent who grapples with mental illness—especially a mother—it is so often the case that the narrative leans into negligence or even an unsympathetic and unnuanced look at a woman struggling. Wren Handman turns away from this approach, however, and instead has created a supportive family unit. Even though Sylvia's mother was recently institutionalized, it doesn't stop her from behaving like a parent. The relationship between mother and daughter is preserved specifically because they can communicate and are given the space to work through their traumas. It is so important to have stories that give us these examples—examples of struggle, of communicating even when it is difficult or scary to do so, and a family that comes together no matter what is thrown at them. It is also important to see a character who is allowed to be complex and who is many things outside of their mental illness. It is important that Sylvia's mother is given room to be a fully actualized human being.