Visitation Rites by Pamela Laskin
reviewed by K. T. MITCHELL

Diversion Press, 2011
Throughout almost all cultures, elaborate rites of passage, ranging from bar mitzvahs to quinceañeras, externalize the turbulent inner changes the transition between childhood and adulthood brings for each adolescent.  In her latest book, Visitation Rites, Pamela Laskin alludes to those externalized events within the context of a family that has been broken by mental illness.  Although this novel is targeted at an adolescent audience, the rich characterizations, which are amplified with intense dialogue, are sure to draw in teens and parents alike.  

Visitation Rites is told from the perspective of Pati, a twelve year old who grapples with the fall out of her mother’s schizophrenia. Laskin deftly approaches the delicate subject matter of mental illness with a thoughtfulness that is tempered with her heroine’s sincerity.  Through Pati’s internal monologue, readers are privy to events most families would take great pains to hide; violent outbursts, inappropriate nudity, verbal abuse, physical abuse and a father’s anguish as he watches the woman he loves fall to pieces. Pati feels she is held hostage by her mother’s psychotic bouts and the divorce agreement that grants Pati’s mother, Sarah, weekly visitation rights.  Pati resents Sarah for being “taken away” “while the neighbors sat and gawked” because these embarrassing scenes made Pati the neighborhood pariah in Kew Gardens.  When Pati’s father remarries and the family relocates to Park Slope, Pati is determined to keep Sarah’s illness a secret in order to fit in with her peers.

After long enduring the torment of withholding the dreadful secret of her mother’s psychosis from her new friends, Pati skips out on a visit with Sarah to hang out with her nosy friend Jayne.  Pati’s decision ultimately is the catalyst that paves the way for Jayne to reveal a secret that strengthens their friendship and gives Pati a new perspective. 

While the message of the final confrontation between Pati and Jayne is quite powerful, the novel abruptly ends there, leaving readers to wonder if Pati develops a new perspective of the relationship with her mother after her experience with Jayne. Visitation Rites’ quick ending deprives readers the satisfaction of witnessing Pati’s final rite of passage, the psychological growth that is developed through understanding every family harbors dark secrets. Perhaps most important, we do not get to see how Pati grows in compassion for Sarah.   Pati never owns up to skipping out on Sarah. In fact, the very last fantasy Pati has is of canceling a meeting with her mother to ride freely with Jayne again.

The inclusion of these rites of passage would have been an excellent finish to an otherwise beautifully written book. Laskin’s writing is brave and honest, which sets Visitation Rites apart as a standout young adult novel and leaves readers craving more.
K. T. MITCHELL is is the author of Blue Line to Wonderland, a collection of poetry, and Aftermath of a Sociopath, a collection of short fiction.  She is concurrently pursuing a Masters in Education at Harvard and a PhD in Education at University of California, Davis.  To read more, go to www.kenyamitchell.com.